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Zombie game stumbles

Second season of Walking Dead lacks life of first

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Clementine battles zombies in Walking Dead: Season 2.

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Clementine battles zombies in Walking Dead: Season 2.

No one saw it coming. Telltale's first season of the Walking Dead game, a harrowing five-episode adventure set in the zombie-filled universe, not only managed to live up to the other properties sharing the Walking Dead name, it surpassed them.

Casting players as an escaped convict who sought redemption by protecting an eight-year old girl named Clementine, the first season let your actions and decisions mould this little girl into the kind of person you think she'd need to be to survive in such a vicious world. It put you through an endless parade of brutal scenarios and, all the while, questioned if it was right to teach morality to someone growing up in an amoral world.

It ended on a perfectly ambiguous note: Clementine, alone, spies two figures with unknown intention off on the horizon before abruptly cutting to black. It left you not with answers, but the hope you had the made the right decisions to help her survive.

As Season 2 opens up, the player is now in control of Clementine and much of the ambiguity from the previous five episodes has been erased. Regardless of your decisions throughout the first season, the Clementine in this game is a hardened and weary survivor, far more capable of living in this hellish landscape than almost all the other adults she meets. She fights and escapes a pack of bandits, survives a run-in with a feral animal and stitches up her own bloody wounds when no one else will.

This does two things: it negates pretty much all of the decisions you made in the first game as Clementine turns into an unstoppable badass surviving machine, regardless of how you tried to influence her, and it eliminates any chance for her character to grow throughout the season. Now that she has become the prime example of the kind of self-reliant brute you need to become to survive in this world, what's left for her character to do except go through the motions?

The game can still thrill in the moment -- the encounter with the feral animal is as tense and disturbing as the most shocking moments from the first season -- but these brutal outbursts don't stick with you for days like certain scenes from the first season did. There are no consequences except death, no motivation except survival and no real way to get engaged with the story because none of it will have any bearing on a protagonist who has already reached the end of her arc.

There's a bountiful supply of spilled guts, an unrelenting bleak tone and more than enough zombies for this to bear The Walking Dead name, but as the second season gets underway, it feels less transcendent than perfunctory.

Mel Stefaniuk is a freelance writer whose love of both video games and writing have been intertwined since growing up with the text adventures of the 1980s.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 23, 2014 C12

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