- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fans of AMC and writer Robert Kirkman’s legendary zombie apocalypse television show will find a way to relieve their addictive cravings during its hiatus with the beginning of Telltale Games’ latest interactive epic The Walking Dead: Season 2 (Rated Mature, downloaded and reviewed for Xbox 360, $4.99 per episode).

Much like last year’s smash, episodic gaming drama that, again, marvelously looks ripped from the comic-book series, the five-part animated story continues to follow the depressing life of Clementine.

This young girl, now 10 years old, has been exposed to more horror and heartbreak in a few years than anyone should suffer in a lifetime.

For the first episode available of her latest adventure titled “All that Remains,” Clementine is found two months after the tragic relationship with her surrogate parent Lee. She is first seen tagging along with Omid and his pregnant girlfriend Christa stopping at Gil’s Pitstop (remember the truckstop from The Walking Dead interactive episode 400 Days?).

This short interlude does not end well for her friends, and we fast-forward to 16 months later as Clementine stumbles upon another group of humans. Injured and alone, her life is now a chess game of survival as defined by knowing who to trust, who has an agenda and who is most dangerous.

A player’s objective requires that he guide her down the most prudent paths by exploring environments, picking up and using items, talking to other humans and avoiding flesh-eating zombies.

For example, climbing over a fallen tree, looking at a sunken canoe, reading a warning sign, pulling nails from a board with a newly found hammer, starting a camp fire with an old drawing and lighter, all encompass her routine and help shape Clementine’s existence.

As always, quick-minded decisions when talking to other characters or reacting to dangerous situations are also key here as a meter winds down while the player makes a choice, helping to add to the stress.

Take an encounter by Clementine with a group of humans holed up in a farmhouse. At one point, she must carefully beg for her life and decide whom should she beg, too. Is the logical Pete (a trusted moral compass of the new group and a self-procalimed “BS detector”) worth aligning with, or does she plead to Dr. Carlos (a man trying to protect his own daughter from the horrors of the undead)?

A player’s dialogue decisions also help craft the narrative of future episodes by building or shattering trust with associates.

Throughout, use the controller’s analog sticks to move Clementine or maneuver an onscreen target. Hone in on the target and look for hot spots to interact with by pressing buttons to collect items or start a conversation.

Most of the action is an emotionally draining experience. I could not even trust man’s best friend over a can of beans. The eventual outcome of the doggie encounter was a very sad moment, almost too sad to participate in.

As the plot unfolds over the roughly two hours of game play, it’s obvious Clementine has become a hardened survivor by dealing with the grotesque situations around her.

Be it bludgeoning or impaling a walker, biting an enemy, or suturing her own wounds, she is one tough cookie.

The stunning, macabre animation remains — acting as a tribute to the comic-book series and delivering the best of a vibrant and dangerous, sequential-art universe.

Players will also need a strong stomach as gore-encrusted zombies attack without warning and must be put down with any tool or weapon available.

The Walking Dead Season 2: All That Remains certainly leaves more questions than answers. Still, it starts the simmering process to a story about Clementine that will be irresistible to The Walking Dead fan and any gamer who loves taking part in a great horror story.

Note: Gamers can buy a season pass for $14.99 to get episodes 2 to 5 (saving $5 off of individual purchases). Telltales schedule is to release an episode roughly every eight weeks.

Parental advice: The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), after watching a young girl pummel the skull of a zombie and pull a knife out of its shoulder decided to label this game in “M” and that stands for mature — gamers only 17 years and older need take a bite out of The Walking Dead: Season 2, All That Remains. The game’s violence level is near equal to the AMC television show and will be a dramatically draining event for any older player willing to accept responsibility for Clementine.

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