Well, this is a weird one. Clementine's final fight for survival has become quite meta, as Telltale last week laid off nearly everyone and has left the future of this final season as murky as Glenn under the dumpster
with signs pointing to this second of four episodes becoming the incidental finale of the entire journey. In that light, it's very difficult to review episode two, Suffer The Children
. Without the context of the bigger picture, it's a decent slow-burning episode that builds new characters and sets up for what might've been a great conclusion. As the series may still continue, this review will consider the game as its intended second part of four, but just know that it all comes with the massive asterisk of studio closure.
"Suffer The Children" begins not long after the premiere's big cliffhanger and jumps back to the aftermath of that moment several times throughout the episode. As AJ and Clem have used up what little trust their new allies were willing to give them, they're left to head back on the road and contend with the elements. The move seems weird given how much characterization the premiere gave us for characters from who we are then suddenly moving away, but events occur that push the pair of survivors back to the school not long after their exit.
The rest of the episode is spent back with these characters, like Violet and Tenn, and the pacing takes ample time fleshing out each of them some more. Those who were just background faces in the first episode are brought to the front and given more screen time, and it all goes a long way to carving out who each of them is. As this is intended to be just a four-part season instead of five, the game even uses a time-jump of two weeks to illustrate the survivors' best Kevin McCallister impression while they fortify their home base from incoming invaders. This montage stands out because it feels as though, in seasons past, the game would've spent much longer on it, which is partly to blame for all the years when their five-episode seasons often dragged for a few hours in the middle. Thus, it's ironic that the season that finally appreciates a "less is more" delivery is the one that probably gets cut short due to the studio's financial woes.
All the thematic elements of childhood in the zombie world return in this second episode, and the characters tackle the subject head-on when they are seated around a campfire discussing altering their lives for the apocalypse versus AJ who was born into it. It makes for interesting material for series-long fans who watched Clementine be robbed of her innocence while AJ likely doesn't even understand the concept of innocence. Putting Clem in the Lee role and offering many teachable moments for her and AJ is a fun wrinkle that should push players to ask "now what?" The world as Clem knew it isn't coming back, so what does that mean for her and AJ compared to when Lee looked after her in the immediate aftermath of the zombie outbreak back when people were still adjusting and expecting normalcy to resume?
Is this goodbye?
Even without the awkward shadow of studio closure, this second episode is still just good and not great. For all the time spent on building out these new characters, only a few of them are actually that interesting. A few decision points also feel rushed, like pushing romantic options on Clementine when she's really just met these people and hasn't seemed romantically interested to this point. In the alternate universe where episodes three and four aren't unknown variables, this second episode is still just decent because of these reasons.
Another big cliffhanger and a few other surprises along the way make for a fun episode despite its problems, and overall it feels like another standard Telltale experience. Their rote formula clearly turned plenty away as years went on since Telltale exploded in 2012 and this episode stands as a monument to that sense of complacency the studio seemed to have regarding innovation or engine upgrades. What really stings is it seems like a four-episode season may have been the cure for what ailed this developer, forcing it to trim some fat off the story in a way they rarely did before. Maybe it can still make it to its true finale, although that road ahead is littered with obstacles and the eventual release of two more episodes feels about as likely as Half-Life 3
The achievements, like the premiere's, are not as simple as Telltale veterans may expect. You'll need to manipulate save data and go down multiple branches of the same decision tree, while also paying attention to certain achievements that, if missed, would require total restarts. It's still pretty easy and you can do it all under three hours, but don't go in blindly if you're among those who were able to download the episode before it got delisted.
It's very hard to separate what the episode is at face value versus what it was meant to be. As a second of four episodes, it's only pretty good, offering some interesting character moments and a few really fun twists that may surprise longtime fans alongside other unearned scenes. As the inadvertent and likely finale for Clementine's journey, it feels terrible. It's an episode that never feels right as an ending. Sometimes certain series, often in TV, will sense the end is near and try to provide some semblance of closure for fans, knowing they may not be coming back for another season. Telltale must've known their time was almost up, and even built this season as Clem's abbreviated final fight, but they maybe couldn't have predicted that it would all end even sooner than that. There's still hope for two more episodes, and that fact is really the only reason we're reviewing this anomaly in video game history at all. As it stands, it's worth playing if you can get a hold of it just to see where it might have have been going — and "might have been" appears to be all we have left.
- Some fun story twists
- Clem and AJ are an interesting duo, especially given Clem's origins
- Trims some story fat unlike previous Telltale games, albeit with the caveat that none of that now matters anyway
- Few new characters are interesting enough for their screen time
- One decision tree that feels forced and unnatural
The reviewer spent two and a half hours playing through what might end up being the incidental finale to Clem's years-long journey. He gathered all achievements along the way. An Xbox One season pass was provided for the purposes of this review.
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