“All we have ever done is move, but we never seem to get anywhere.” This insightful comment made by a character in “All That Remains,” the premiere episode of The Walking Dead’s second season, perfectly captures how I felt about the momentum of this crucial episode. The Walking Dead’s second season opener sprints through blockbuster action scenes with aplomb, but is then too winded to offer the deep emotional connections that Walking Dead fans will be expecting.
“All That Remains” begins immediately after season one’s cruel post-credits teaser. It establishes some much-needed closure for folks like me who are still nursing emotional scars from last year. Players take control of Clementine, who now has to navigate the world alone, armed only with the survival skills that Lee Everett taught her.
Playing as Clementine brings some welcome familiarity for fans of the first season, but it also brings along new narrative challenges that Telltale does not address in this opening episode. For the first two thirds of “All That Remains,” Clementine is thrown into a vicious circle of mishaps and action sequences that are exciting but, with the exception of one scene that made me audibly gag in discomfort, none of them make noticeable headway in developing Clementine as a newly independent character. It brought back memories of Square Enix’s Tomb Raider from earlier this year: there’s only so much I can learn about a character by watching them get thrashed around across the virtual landscape before I yearn for some honest human interaction.
That said, Telltale has certainly one-upped the awkward, impact-less action sequences from The Walking Dead’s previous season, with more variety in control and a correspondence between button presses and on-screen events that is easier to interpret. The visuals have been kicked up quite a bit as well, with new lighting and depth of field effects that bring forth another dimension of gloom in the environment. Technically, “All That Remains” is an effective showcase of how Telltale has improved on their now-marquee franchise in such a short time. But “All That Remains” suffers from a noticeable lack of heart.
Throughout the episode’s 90 minutes, Telltale comes up with even more ways to shock, scare, and stupefy the player with grotesque visuals, tough choices, and pounding action sequences. When it comes to suspenseful interactive fiction, Telltale is still the best in the business. But, in all the blockbuster bravado, they forget to show the player new ways to feel empathy for virtual characters, a characteristic that defined The Walking Dead’s first season.
Clementine finally finds something of a home by the episode’s end, but the new band of survivors is woefully underdeveloped. After hasty (or completely absent) introductions to a handful of new characters, “All That Remains” awkwardly slams into an unsatisfying ending that occurs ten seconds after making a climactic choice, showing no consequence. It’s hard not to draw a direct comparison with Telltale’s other project, The Wolf Among Us, which had a more complete and satisfying premiere episode that drew players into a completely new world while also populating it with characters to care about.
Not all this is to say that Telltale has botched the opening of The Walking Dead‘s second season though. “All That Remains” is an exciting two hours of interactive fiction, and its gusto with action scenes will keep most players in to the end in one sitting. Dedicated fans who want to know what happened to Clementine (Read: everyone who played the first game) will not be wasting their time with episode one. As part of a whole season, “All That Remains” establishes a foundation that could lead to some interesting places over the course of the next four episodes. What it does not do is inspire unwavering confidence that season two will live up to the first.