The best thing about being late to this party is the fact I don’t have to wait weeks between releases of the episodes. I can binge play the entire season and review as I go…and that is certainly the plan!
We reviewed the first episode earlier this week so check out our spoiler-free review.
So with episode 2 under my belt we can examine whether this season has hit its stride or whether it has hit a wall.
I’m not going to bother reviewing the mechanics here, they’re the same as episode 1. Game-play is still very much taking a backseat to the narrative; that’s what I’m reviewing here. This is an especially pertinent point to make as “A house divided” pushes game-play even further towards the back – there is very little to speak of in this episode…and somehow this doesn’t really matter.
Episode 1 was all about tone setting – now that we know our situation is pretty hopeless we can focus on somethings that are much more important – characters and narrative and; boy, do Telltale focus on them.
Through compelling dialogue and a number of incredibly tense scenes we are afforded a closer look at our new cast of survivors. We get to know them on a personal level, they all have back stories, motivations and short-comings – Telltale have always been good at characterisation and that has not changed here. Our new survivors really feel like individuals now; this allows us to form bonds and opinions about them all, by the end of the episode I had my favourite characters and those I know are going to bad for the group in the long run – I don’t hate any of my group – but some are definitely more likable, relate-able and useful.
Telltale have also worked in a real threat to our group – while the first episode’s antagonist was the world Clem inhabits and it was a powerful technique – we now have an antagonist we can start to measure up and start forming genuine feelings about. His introduction is one of the most powerful moments I have experienced in any form of media. With a level of tension akin to Tarantino’s opening to ‘Inglorious Basterds’; it establishes this character with aplomb. It may only a five-minute scene but it feels much longer. The gravity he commands, the disturbing nature of his persona, his unrelenting voice that gets under your skin (expertly voiced by Michael Madsen) leads you to instantly mistrust him and he quickly shows that he is not to be trifled with. At last we have a character to hate! Perhaps more importantly though is; for the first time in this franchise, we have a character to fear.
The narrative actually moves along a far old lick, the pace doesn’t detract from the character drama, rather it helps accentuate it. I’m going to give away no spoilers but there are moments of terror, tension, comedy, heart-warming sentiment and internal conflict within you; the player. One particular moment had me whooping with glee!
My only criticism with the story is that it is obviously all set-up; while it does have and ending it seems a bit empty at the moment. While I have every confidence that Telltale will make the pay off worth it for us – I just felt that the decisions I made during this episode had no real bearing on the story – on that subject this episode had the hardest decision I’ve ever made in a game a trivial choice of whom to eat my lunch with. I feel my decision will come back to bite me – but for now I’m happy with my choice…
…time will tell if I stay happy!
Overall this season has been exceptionally good so far, undoubtedly a slow burning start, but it has already been an emotional roller-coaster with several tough decisions made and several moments that make the world seem; a little better. The full effect though will be with the payoff that feels just around the corner.