E3 2012: The Walking Dead Episode 2 goes even darker than the first

I’ll admit, I had little faith that Telltale could create an adventure game that would do justice to Robert Kirkman’s phenomenal comic book series The Walking Dead. Outside of the pilot episode, the AMC TV series based on the comic is far too dull and not nearly as oppressively dark as Kirkman’s fans have come to expect, so it seemed crazy to think that a relatively small gaming company could do better. Yet, when Telltale launched the first episode of The Walking Dead in April, I was blown away at how pitch-perfect the game’s tone was and, more impressively, how the company managed to retain the key theme of Kirkman’s series — it’s a zombie story that focuses on the interactions between survivors and their ability to cope in the face of the apocalypse, instead of just shambling corpses — while creating a title that’s genuinely fun to play.

A few moments ago I watched a demo of the first 20 minutes of The Walking Dead Episode 2, and I’m giddy to be able to say that it looks even darker and more faithful to the themes of the source material than the original.

To wit: Within the first few moments of starting Episode 2, you come upon a group of survivors in the woods, one of whom has his leg caught in a bear trap. Zombies approach, panic ensues, and in an effort to get away from the undead, protagonist Lee chops the guy’s leg off with an axe. The scene is utterly brutal. It takes at least three whacks to take the man’s leg off at the shin, he’s screaming the entire time, and when you pull the axe away, he reels back, passes out, and you can clearly see that his once functional leg has been reduced to bloody meat and splintered bone. 

I’m not highlighting this scene because of the gore — though, in fairness, that is a pretty crucial component of Kirkman’s comics, and yet another aspect of the adaptation that Telltale utterly nails — but instead because you also have the option to not cut off the guy’s leg. We didn’t see how this would affect the story, but based on this scene and the following 20 minutes, it seems that Telltale has gone to great lengths to make your decisions even more crucial to the story in Episode 2. Save one survivor and you may lose another, and along with them, all the skills they could have offered your group of survivors. Likewise, events may or may not occur based on your choices that can actually alter the physical landscape of the game. Those who played through the first one will see their choices in that game reverberate throughout Episode 2 continuously. 

While it’s unclear exactly how far the story can deviate based on certain options, it does seem that Telltale has crafted a very expansive, branching plot for this episode. Given that the game falls squarely into the adventure game genre, that’s both a clever way to promote replayability and give players a sense that their decisions actually matter. Given that they are quite often literally life or death choices, it’s nice to see actual gravitas implemented via clever game design.

Episode 2 hits the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac and iPad platforms later this month, and if you loved the first episode or prefer your zombie games to be more about the existential issues that surround a plague of shambling dead than simply shooting every zombie in sight, I would urge you to give it a shot. I’d hate to see this five episode series go the way of so many other episodic games of the past decade, and end production halfway through.

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