Obviously, Episodes Two and Three of The Walking Dead look and function in the same manner as Episode One, but the one major change is to the quality of the game’s puzzles. Namely, they’re much better.
My issue with Episode One is that the puzzles weren’t really puzzles at all, but more like the player just guiding Lee’s hand in basic tasks that were completely bereft of challenge (e.g. inserting batteries into a radio, using a key to unlock a pair of handcuffs, etc.). With Episode Two and Three, however, Telltale has crafted at least marginally more challenging gameplay, or at least a couple of puzzles that made me stop and think for a moment before figuring them out rather than just going through the motions.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part about the improved challenges is that some of them had that classic adventure game feel to them. For example, there was more than one instance in which I needed to distract another character to get to a certain area or item, and that’s an adventure game staple: a man stands between you and your goal and says something like, “Hey, get away from there,” until you find a way to get him to leave the room or look the other way. Props to Telltale for nailing that true point-and-click adventure game feeling with these moments.
Sure, the puzzles still aren’t all that challenging and ultimately, The Walking Dead is still a game that’s driven by story and not gameplay. But it was still nice to see slightly more complicated tasks like figuring out how to start up a locomotive or sabotage a generator. There are even more intense “shooter” sections, including one that has you moving Lee from one side of cover to another to actually aim at and shoot zombies before they close in on you and your ragtag band of survivors.
Some of it may not be standard adventure game fare, but it’s still nice to face a minor challenge here and there to keep the game from feeling like a glorified cutscene with minor points of interaction. In all, the improvements to The Walking Dead’s gameplay in these two subsequent episodes are a welcome change and ameliorate what was, essentially, the only issue I had with the first episode.
Unfortunately, technical issues, which were basically nonexistent in the first episode, quickly became apparent in Episodes Two and Three. From the start, I noticed that there was a fair amount of lag and slowdown, enough to the point that I can’t say it was a rare occurrence or just a fluke. It was a pretty common occurrence.
More specifically, almost every time the game would hang up and come to a complete halt for a second or two, it was obvious that the problem was occurring due to the fact that I was reaching a turning point — a point in which one of my previous decisions was affecting the present — and the game was calculating which scenario in needed to play out based on my actions. And aside from that being an issue from a technical standpoint, it also ruined the immersion factor.
I like not knowing exactly when and where my decisions are coming into play because it makes for a more seamless storytelling experience, one that is “tailored” to me, as Telltale puts it. It makes me think that that the story that I’ve created is the only way things could have turned out, that my story is the true story of Lee Everett. But when these little glitches and bouts of lag let me see the stitching that cobbles together all of the appropriate programmed scenarios based on my decisions, it comes off as a little cheap, like a choose your own adventure novel.
There were other bugs too, though. At one point, whenever I entered a certain area, the camera would fall through the map and I was be unable to see Lee (and the pop-up HUDs when you place the cursor over interactive objects) and direct him to where I needed to go. Even if I blindly managed to direct him out of the area to the previous room and tried re-entering, the same problem would occur. I eventually had to restart the game, at which point I found that I was rid of the issue, but it was still upsetting to encounter bugs like this when I never across any during my time with Episode One.
For the most part, The Walking Dead is a series that is only getting better as it progresses. I was impressed with the narrative of the first episode, but compared to the way the story unfolds throughout Episode Two and Three, “A New Day” now mostly seems like a means to just set the stage and introduce the main characters. Telltale takes its storytelling to the next level in “Starved For Help” and “Long Road Ahead”, introducing even more engaging conflicts and new characters (and removing many of them from the equation, as well). Indeed, the body count may be high, but there are no cheap thrills here; this is high-class storytelling. You’ll be emotionally invested, whether you’re mortified by horrors of the zombie apocalypse or saddened by the tragedies it causes.
The game’s puzzles have seen some improvements too, with Episode Two and Three challenging the player a little more than the mundane tasks found in the first episode. They’re still not terribly difficult, but they’re at least a little more complex and, at times, have an excellent vintage adventure game feel to them.
Despite the fact that Telltale manages to improve on the relatively minor flaws of the series’ debut episode, “Starved For Help” and “Long Road Ahead” unfortunately introduce new problems of their own on the technical front, with relatively consistent bouts of slowdown and occasional bugs. But those are only minor drawbacks to a series that continues to do justice to its successful source material, so let’s hope those are kinks that get worked out in the future.
Bring on Episode Four and Five.