There's a lot of fighting game news this time around.
For those of you keeping score at home, that’s two consecutive releases Telltale has flubbed. Although A House Divided — the second episode of The Walking Dead’s second season — may not have the same issues as The Wolf Among Us’ second installment, it certainly has enough issues to put both episodes on the same level.
A House Divided opens immediately after the previous episode’s conclusion, with Clem and whoever you chose to save fleeing the undead. It begins with some legitimately interesting character work immediately undone by the episode’s biggest flaw: the technical aspects.
Telltale needs to up its animation quality in a big way. There were moments throughout the episodes where characters wouldn’t so much talk as flap their big mouths. It was like watching a sock puppet show, except with less polish. And it’s not like Telltale hasn’t been able to pull off good animation before. They just aren’t delivering right now, and that is a major liability, especially when the game attempts to prey upon your emotions.
All throughout A House Divided, the story fails just enough to be disappointing. The episode has big moments in spirit, but they don’t quite stick the landing. Partially because — again, much like Smoke and Mirrors — it all feels like setup. Telltale is stacking its dominos, and its excitement for the inevitable fall shines through.
That’s all well and good, but it’s not good storytelling when the setup is blindingly obvious. In Season 1, events built upon each other naturally. Here, the game is practically nudging you the whole time. Yes, I know, these plot points are going to payoff in a really big way. How about you give me something to chew on in the meantime?
Any discussion of A House Divided’s story will be inherently neutered, due to the nature of its big reveal. Yes, there is a big reveal, yes, it’s dumb, and yes, it will be the thing everyone wants to talk about for the next month or so.
If you are on a platform that allows you to purchase the episodes piecemeal, and spend your time with people who regularly talk about this series, maybe ignore this review entirely and just buy the game. It’s not the worst avenue they could have taken, but I can see how some people might be disappointed.
The rest of the story is fine, at least so far. We’re finally introduced to Carver, who I assume will be our human antagonist for the rest of the series. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have the raw presence of the Governor or the compelling insanity of the Van Guy. It’s nice to see an antagonist who isn’t just an outright villain, though. At times, he feels like a player character that leans very heavily towards self-preservation than anything else. The guy has a very tangible motivation, which is admittedly better than, say, the Governor’s weird obsession with being awful.
If this review feels short, that’s because everything in this episode hinges on the reveal, at least for me. I cannot stress this enough: there will not be a single person who is talking about this game with an interest in discussing anything else. They’re going to want to gush over “that thing” with you. And they’re in the right! It’s a crazy moment, perhaps the most emblematic of A House Divided’s mentality towards foreshadowing. The moment happens and it’s certainly delivered with some weight, but it’s still difficult to not think about the payoff.
Perhaps these faults wouldn’t be as glaring if the characters had a little more life to them. The Cabin Posse is thankfully beginning to get some much-needed characterization, and I’m still having fun building Clementine as a character, but those animations desperately need work. Maybe dialogue would be more affecting if it matched the character’s mouths. It’s often said that budget is not always what a game needs, but it helps when the budget matches your team’s aspirations.
Look, this is the second time I’ve had to say this, but even though this episode was a disappointment, I’m still totally on board. A weak setup episode can often be acceptable in the service of the larger whole. Of course, The Walking Dead’s first season didn’t have a weak episode in the bunch — especially its brutal second installment — but maybe that sucker punch is coming later.
If it doesn’t, well, maybe we should worry about Telltale.