Last week at E3, I had a chance to sit with the folks at Telltale and watch the first 20 minutes of episode 2 of The Walking Dead, their five-part episodic game series based on the comic series of the same name.
AMC's well-known television adaptation is also based on the comics, but in a lot of ways has lost the dark, desperate flavour of the books. It would appear that the writers and designers at Telltale are continuing to avoid making the same mistake; the second episode looks to follow in the first game's footsteps and hew much closer to the bleak flavour of the books.
For starters, you'll obviously want to play Episode One of The Walking Dead before you play Episode Two. You can get a season pass for the game, which I'm guessing most people who played the first episode already did. If you haven't done it, but are curious and maybe like the show, I wrote all about why I think the game is much better than the show. In short: The characters are more relatable, the performances don't grate, there is far less willful stupidity, and the story plays with genuinely interesting thematic material that stands apart from both the books and the show.
Episode Two will pick up three months after the conclusion of Episode One — I'll avoid spoilers here, but Episode One ended with the main party finding something of a safe haven, and setting up shot. Three months later, things have gotten tenser — food is scarce, and no one in the party is a particularly good hunter.
This sort of haven-turned-hellhole turn is very much what the books do well — every time the main characters find a place to stay, it's only a matter of time before it all goes to shit. That sure looks like it's going to happen in the game, as well.
A big chunk of the section I saw involved rationing food. Which, while not the stuff action-packed video games are made of, is very much the stuff that stressful The Walking Dead games should be made of. There isn't enough food for everyone, and so Lee had to decide who got food and who didn't. Characters who got food noted that Lee had been kind, and characters who were ignored also noticed it.
One of the most interesting things that The Walking Dead does is notify you every time one of your decisions "registers". You'll see a note in the upper right hand corner that says, for example, "Kenny noticed that you were kind to his son" or, "Mark will remember that you said that."
It's something I've never seen done in a branching game before, and it lets you know all of the places that you've affected the story. And affect it you will; The Walking Dead can play out in a number of dramatically different ways, depending on who you side with. A character that I let die in the first episode was alive and well in the demo I saw, largely because it was revealed that he was based on an ex-IT guy for Telltale. Heh.
The episode doesn't start out with food rationing — it starts out with Lee and a new character named Mark hunting in the woods. Anyone who's read The Walking Dead knows how jaunts in the woods usually wind up, and so this one takes a quick digression into horribleville, with a no-win scene that was highly reminiscent of several similar situations that arise in the books. (I won't spoil it for you.)
Different people are writing and directing each of The Walking Dead's five episodes, so it stands to reason that there could be variable quality between each one. That could still be the case, but from what I saw, it would appear that the people writing episode 2 are ably following the example of the first episode.
It may not be in black and white, but The Walking Dead Episode Two looks as dark and gritty as ever, and as faithful to the source material.
Episode Two will be available "around the end of June" — the only reason there isn't a firm release date is that they're waiting to hear back on the certification process.