An excellent start that begins on the wrong foot,
Honestly, I'm not quite sure what I was thinking with that first review. Going back to replay the episode again (more than once) I found the writing to be flat, some of the branches to just be broken, and the illusion of choice to be incredibly poor.
The visuals are god awful for a PC modern game, and an excellent example of style not being enough to hold a game up. The textures are muddy at best, and some of the worst textures I've seen this generation are in this game. The lack of proper AA support is a real shame, as that could have certainly helped alleviate some of the issues if I could just make everything look ridiculously smooth, but not the case at all. It performs fine, but I'm running a GTX680, so it sure as hell should.
So lets get into the meat of my new review. I have played the first two episodes so far, and man oh man, have I gone through hell to do so. The game is so incredibly broken (STILL) that it's a miracle I even had the will or desire to go through all that I had to go through to get to the second episode. Or the majority of the time the game has been out since the second episode, the game has been completely impossible to play. It wouldn't launch, no matter what safe mode compatibility bullshit I did. I tried every fix in the book, and nothing. By the first time I got the damn thing to launch, my save was completely gone. Faced with restarting from the beginning, I decided to wait till a later point in the week, only to find out that the game hadn't been fixed, I had gotten lucky one time and the fuckin' thing was back to not launching.
Over the months, I managed to play through the first episode a couple of times, but every time I went back, I lost my progress. It wasn't until recently, after the final episode was finished, that I managed to get into any of the Episode 2 content. I have yet to even try to go into Episode 3, so who knows how that'll go. I'm not super motivated to get into Episode 3 after the first two, which I found to be kinda dreadfully written and executed in a lot of ways.
Looking past the technical hell TellTale has put PC users through with out a lick of help or any chance at a refund, let's tackle the story, writing, and characters.
Starting out, the story was kind of interesting. The choice of a protagonist was pretty interesting, but later leads to some pretty maddening vagueness about the character the player is supposed to be in the role of. I really enjoyed the banter between the officer and Lee. It felt pretty dynamic based on my choices, even as I went through several more times. The writing was pretty sharp. There was one thing that kinda bugged me that ends up being an issue with the game as with many games that don't just state what the character will actually say when you pick a choice. I pick one choice, but Lee decides to stay silent instead.
It's that lack of polish that really shows in some of the dialogue in the first half of the episode, and it really get detracts from the experience. The infamous example seems to be when you are accused by Hershel of lying to him, when you did everything in your power to tell the truth and were never really given any choice in the matter. Yet despite not technically lying, you get chewed out by Hershel for doing so, which broke things a bit for me.
As the episode progresses, I feel they do a much better job of avoiding logic holes and are very consistent. There aren't any cases of prompts being misleading or leading down inconsistent paths, which is actually pretty impressive with how much happens once you reach the convenience store.
However, the convenience store really pushes my least favorite part about Lee: his back story. This particular sub-plot feels like it goes too far to flesh out the timeline, but not far enough to mean fucking anything. You know he's in trouble with the law, you know he was estranged from his family, you know his wife was involved. But the vagueness beyond that is maddening. Considering you are playing as this character, it felt just plain silly not knowing what the hell happened. And worse yet, the game won't even let you sort of "decide" what happened through dialogue, or at least convince those who know about it what happened, because all of the options are ridiculously vague throughout the first two episodes. And it doesn't make it clear if there is a "canon" answer or if you should just decide what happened in a Mass Effect 2 kind of way. So I just found the whole situation frustrating, especially with how Lee also hid from the the fact that he knew what the fuck was going on with the convenience store, leading to delays in a potentially life threatening situation.
As Episode 1 wraps up and you get into Episode 2, there are some things to enjoy. Lee looks and sounds freakin' haggard, and the performance is nailed pretty well. But quickly I found myself annoyed once again with the "choices" you have. It doesn't really give you a chance to smack the two peacocks in the side of the head to get their shit together and stop fucking fighting, but instead kinda forces you to pick sides in a really dumb way. I feel like Lee just gets less and less intelligent and observant as you get into the episode. I'm a pretty pragmatic guy. In a life or death situation, I will go for the logical choice. But Lee seems to kind of stumble through all of that shit. It gets especially obnoxious at the end of Episode 2, but I'll get to that later.
There were parts of the "mystery" in Episode 2 I kind of liked, but I saw the twist coming the moment the first half of the dialogue with the brothers occurred. It was incredibly obvious. It felt like they were going for a Book of Eli moment, but that happens quickly enough and unexpectedly enough that you don't quite see it coming and when you realize what's going on you just get a rising tension that eventually breaks at the crescendo and everything gets fucked. But the amount of time it takes for Lee to even get a little suspicious of the farm, the amount of drawn out crap in the middle of the episode, ruins the whole thing. Once you get into the locker, things ramp back up, but again, because I'd already figured that shit out, I knew what I was going to walk into when I opened the hidden door. It was well executed and pretty graphic, but didn't really do anything to me. Even with the custom assets for the gore, and the performance, which was pretty good, I was more surprised he was was alive at all.
It's around there that I feel the episode goes down hill quickly. And it's here that Lee convinces me he is a stupid, stupid mother fucker. He runs into a room full of people he jsut realized is a bad bunch, two of the three having guns on or near their person. Not only that, but he doesn't think to grab the gun from the one that he could have. So instead, he fucks the entire group. Real smart pal. You don't need military training to know you have to make every effort to prevent your enemies from having the means to harm you. So, GRAB THE GUN.
Once in the meat locker, things keep being stupid. Kenny suddenly turns into an idiot with balls instead a cowardly idiot. And one of my biggest issues of the episode comes up here: everyone behaves like they have a field of vision of about 40 degrees, because they never see anything off camera. It really bothers me that you have no idea what Kenny is about to do before he does it. You couldn't see him walking over? You couldn't shove his fucking ass down and tell him to act like a rational individual? He said himself, it takes five minutes for them to turn after death. That is beyond the amount of time you have any hope of resuscitation of a victim.
This wouldn't have bothered me if Kenny didn't act completely different in every major conflict he is involved in. First, the dumb ass lets a kid die because he's a pussy. Second, he insists on helping the students in the woods. Thirdly, he pretty much emulates Lilly's father. He doesn't feel like a loose cannon, he just feels like he's written by a completely different person every time trying to push their own agenda. And pretty much every time, I think he's an idiot. He just feels incredibly inconsistent. I wanted to smack his dumb ass after that, and continued to throughout the rest of the episode.
But even worse, I felt exactly the same about Lee. What kind of idiot approaches armed assholes TWO TIMES IN A ROW WITHOUT ARMING HIMSELF??? TAKE THE GUN YOU IDIOT! YOU COULD HAVE POPPED THE OLD LADY RIGHT THEN AND THERE! And then that led to a hostage sequence that just felt broken, to the point that when I asked how I was supposed to do it of my friends who had finished it before, I still couldn't do it, because it just didn't act how I was told it should. So I died a LOT before the bitch finally stopped shooting me even if I listened to her when she said to stop.
Through that entire thing, I was so pissed at how stupid Lee acted. He didn't do ANYTHING he should have done to make sure no one got hurt other than the bad dudes, he was slow and stupid, and the guy can't take ANY abuse. He gets hit once and he's down for way to long. I felt myself frustrated at how much of a pansy he was.
Original Review of Episode one:
Episode one of Telltale's The Walking Dead starts off a bit problematic, in more ways than one. The PC version has significant issues with hitching, and when I played through the opening forest sequence, almost every time the camera cut to a new shot, the game would hitch and pause for a couple of seconds, replaying audio and just generally not flowing well. On top of these technical issues, I felt that Hershel's son was incredibly poorly voiced and written, and there were a number of interactions between characters that felt a little off. At one point, Hershel asks you how you met the girl, and if you say something along the lines of "she helped me out of a bad spot" this is considered lying, even though you did meet her when she brought you a weapon to defend yourself while being attacked. There were also a couple of dialogue choices that weren't at all clear what you were committing to, having your character say things you had no part in, and making decisions you didn't agree with.
But other than that, the first episode was really excellent. After that first sequence the technical issues all but go away, the characters are much better written and voiced, and the action of the game becomes very engaging. There's a lot of uncertainty that the game puts in your mind, and that works for the benefit of the experience pretty much every time, making you feel worried and a bit panic-y, as you should be. A few great moments literally gave me chills, and I even had a "Fuck yeah" moment or two when something particularly satisfying occurred.
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this bit of content. I enjoyed the TV series a lot in the early episodes, and am generally a fan of zombie survival, but I find the lack of practicality in the characters extremely difficult to ignore. This game doesn't make that problem go away, but it certainly gives compelling reasons to get through it regardless. Still, it would be nice to give a more logical branch to the character, as I am the type who makes decisions based on logic. I saved the girl at the end because she had a gun and knew how to use it, and was really frustrated by the sequence with the girl at the motel because had it been up to me, I would have told her no about the gun and then buried the ax in her head. She gets her wish, we don't have to run from the walkers that her stupid ass announced our presence to, and we have one more bullet for when we need them.
I also found the easy of control in the game somewhat unexpected, as I went in worried that the game would cater too much to gamepad controls, and that the reticle would be cumbersome and difficult, but with the mouse it handled great. I enjoyed the direct controls a lot over the old Sam and Max style of controls, and never had to struggle with any of the interface, which was a pleasant surprise.
The game looks fantastic, and even on my troubled PC rig runs at extremely smooth and steady framerates. I never dropped below 60FPS outside of the obnoxious hitching and pausing, at max settings including AA. I love the style, even if it is essentially just the Borderlands look but a little less severe, and it really works to draw me into the game. There are a few odd touches, like some transparencies on characters outlines that I assume are supposed to look like sketch marks, and the walkers look pretty terrible, but other wise it's a sharp looking game that runs very well.