The Walking Dead: Season 2 gets its second episode, but is A House Divided another worthy addition to TellTale’s series? Check out Dave Cook’s impressions to find out.
”As Clem you find yourself bending the truth to protect people, even though you know the facts will come out eventually. That’s the real conundrum here, and it amounts to one of the most excruciatingly emotional and morally challenging pieces of gaming I’ve ever encountered.”
You’d think that in the height of the apocalypse people would learn to settle their differences and work towards the preservation of the species, but A House Divided shows that some things never change. It’s a bleak entry in TellTale’s increasingly harrowing series, existing to suck any hope you have for its ravaged world dry. Even the hopeful Clementine begins to question humanity’s survival after seeing so many of her friends die as a result of petty squabbles and fights over resources. How can humanity truly hope to endure the Walker’s advance when its survivors refuse to live and cooperate in peace?
These are all key themes in this month’s episode, which is top-heavy with plot twists and reveals that’ll make your head spin. I’ll refrain from spoiling them here, however. It opens with Clementine and the survivor from episode one’s final scene huddled in a whisky bootlegging shack, pondering hope as Walkers try to beat down the door from outside. It’s a short, but claustrophobic scene that contrasts two people with very different outlooks on the world. He’s losing his grip on hope, while Clem remains optimistic. By the time the credits roll those tables will have turned completely.
There’s a particularly tense scene early on that sees a total stranger enter the home Clem and her group have been hiding in, although only she and Carlos’s daughter Sarah are home. They are defenceless and afraid, but despite the person’s best attempts to put on a friendly face and convince the player that they’re not a threat, you will feel your judgement become warped and strained as you struggle to figure them out. It’s a powerful section, especially once you realise there’s a kitchen knife just out of reach. Do you make a move for it and risk the stranger killing you, or do you ignore it and hope they don’t notice it first? It’s powerful, evocative pacing at its finest.
It’s an episode founded on trust, and the disruption that comes with letting newcomers into the group. One tense fight against Walkers on a fragile rail bridge culminates in an encounter that will have you regretting your actions, all because people in this world have grown so sceptical of one another; fearful of taking a bullet the second their back is turned, or of concealed blades in the waistband. In this world you never truly know who people are or where there motives lie, not when everyday staples we once took for granted such as water or food have have become scarce.
This caution and distrust hits its peak once Clem, Luke and friends reach a fortified ski lodge, which still has its Christmas decorations up. As the team struggle to wolf down a disgusting dinner made from scavenged food cans, the sight of a roaring fire and colourful tree decorations brings warmth to the scene, but underlines the harsh reality that the old world is dead, never to return. Typically; it doesn’t take long before buried secrets rise to the surface and the seeds of mistrust are sown anew, causing the survivors to grow careless and violent.
These people are liars and speak in half-truths, and as Clem you find yourself bending the truth to protect people, even though you know the facts will come out eventually. That’s the real conundrum here, and it amounts to one of the most excruciatingly emotional and morally challenging pieces of gaming I’ve ever encountered. There are slow moments in there that will have you wanting to push onward, and I feel these are perhaps in there to set some variety in pacing, but overall; I enjoyed A House Divided.
There’s also the matter of its very Empire Strikes Back ending, which forces the player to abandon all hope for episode three. But as we know; this is a five-episode season, so it’s clear that hope, as fragile and as impossible it seems, isn’t entirely off the table yet.
Disclosure: to assist in writing this piece, TellTale Games sent Dave a Steam key for The Walking Dead: Season 2 – ‘A House Divided.’