The Walking Dead: All That Remains review
Telltale's acclaimed horror series returns in the first episode of its second season.
Officially, this episode is called All That Remains. A more accurate one would be Pulling No Punches, because if it's about anything, it's Telltale proving it's absolutely not afraid to hit a little girl. Emotionally. Physically. Repeatedly. Anywhere and everywhere it could possibly hurt. No longer are you shielded from the apocalypse by Lee, a muscled man capable of taking charge with both wits and fists. Now, you're just Clementine; small, frail and alone, in a world that hasn't gotten any kinder since the apocalypse. Zombies and scavengers don't discriminate though, and neither does pain. There's no shortage of any of them in store for her.
This being The Walking Dead, I'm going to try to avoid direct spoilers wherever possible. As a capsule summary though... this is more The Walking Dead, with a new story, picking up about 16 months after the last series. Nothing's really changed that much, for better or worse, and while so far it seems to be making a largely clean break from the specifics of the last one, it'd be worth playing the first series if you haven't already. Save games carry across from both that first season and the 400 Days DLC, but the Previously On before the episode starts will give away most of the biggest moments, whether you start with a save or not. You have been warned. (So far there's no real sign of any changes as a result of those games' choices, but it's still very early days.) If you really, really want to avoid any spoilers, the number at the bottom of this page is an 8. Enjoy your adventure!
For everyone else, this episode only drops the broadest of hints about what's coming up over the rest of the series. There's a new set of survivors, and they have a big secret. There are other, nastier figures at work too, their motives as yet to be glimpsed. Really though, neither is the focus here. Episode 1 is all about reintroducing Clem and establishing her as a main character, and it does both very well indeed.
Her experiences in the first series have hardened her - like Lee, you get a lot of say as to how much and in what way - but she remains the little girl who won everyone's hearts in the first series. She still clings to Duck's cap, gets teary over bad memories, and is painfully aware of how vulnerable she is. She also carries a pistol that she knows exactly how to use, isn't going to shed any tears over smashing a walker's head in with a hammer, and... well, let's just say many adults wouldn't relish some things she already has to do.
While Clementine quite often struggled to talk or act like a plausible child in the first series, she's very believable as a survivor, maturity beyond her years now feeling like a core part of her character rather than an occasional writing fumble. She's seen a lot, and if she hasn't got the scars to prove it, it's only a matter of time.
Combat offers a pretty good example of this, especially in how the episode makes Clem's battles with bigger, heavier enemies seem plausible without resorting to River Tam-style waif fu. First, note the absence of the word 'victories'. Neither she nor the game are under any illusion that she can go toe-to-toe with grown men, undead or otherwise, and in most cases getting away is the only good outcome - albeit one that rarely goes better than anything else. Sometimes, though, there's no alternative for her but to to stand her ground, with attacks built around desperate kicks and finding anything to use as a weapon in a way that feels pretty plausible and leaves her as bruised and battered as you'd expect.
That said, while the episode certainly isn't afraid to go here, it doesn't go too far or take any particular pleasure in it. The violence is non-gendered and no stronger than anything we've seen before - certainly, it's no Tomb Raider. Clem simply gets the same treatment as anyone else might; no more and no less. All That Remains' darkest scene is unquestionably one of the hardest to play of the series so far, but it wouldn't have been that much different if it had been Lee. The episode respects Clementine for being able to handle it far more than it uses her innocence to make it sting.
While I'd love to explain more about that scene, and one more in particular, sadly both are impossible to even namecheck without spoiling too much. That one, which you'll know immediately, made me wince. Of the other, which sets it up earlier on in the episode, I'll add: "Well done, guys, you got me." The other encounters are easily up to the standard of the original series, bar a few frustrating moments when characters randomly forget everything that's helped them survive so that they can tap-dance into an obvious ambush, complete with jump scares and tough decisions and trying to figure out who to trust and how much to reveal.
The catch is that a big reason they're up to that standard is that the episode largely resorts to exactly the same tricks as the first series - and that includes anything to help restore the smoke and mirrors that largely got blown away or cracked during the first series. A lot of what worked then is now simply pedestrian, and disappointing to see flatly repeated. Two characters in mortal danger to choose between? Check. Retrieving something from a trapped walker? Check. The story is if anything more linear than much of the first series, moving from scene to scene with excellent narrative pacing but little to no time for any puzzles, or even for pretending that decisions being made have any actual effect on what happens next. After the first series, it's too obvious when they don't.
When things are moving quickly, it doesn't matter too much. In quieter moments, the lack of any real adventuring does start to grate. A scene where Clem has to sneak through a cabin in search for supplies feels like it needed a big arrow labelled GAME GOES HERE, since everyone involved with the episode apparently forgot. The number of characters, the chance of creaking floorboards and carefully carelessly placed decorations, the scope to stealthily sneak from room to room as life goes on around - all offer plenty of scope for puzzles and ratcheting up the exploring tension. Instead, it backs down instantly from the only threat it presents.
None of this stops the episode being a well-written, tense, and highly enjoyable bit of zombie fiction, but it does hint at potential trouble further down the line. Telltale has always had a bit of a problem with resting on its laurels, design-wise, not least by beating Monkey Island's once revolutionary Three Trials structure into the ground over far, far too many licenses. It would be heartbreaking to see it take its own innovations and do the same thing; to look at The Walking Dead's success as the end of a path rather than a style in its infancy that nobody else is in a position to evolve and refine.
Let's pull back from that though, for now. Even with its familiarity, this episode manages more than its share of excellent moments, and there are still four episodes left for Telltale to pull out all the stops and make for something as surprising as it will no doubt be horrible. The studio has earned the benefit of the doubt, and I say that as someone who had to play Jurassic Park and all bloody four of the Wallace and Gromit games. This one at least kept me entertained and on edge throughout, and eager to see what comes next for Clementine and her new family as they race towards damnation, depression, and maybe a Walking Dead spin-off series called Queen Clem: Death Mistress Of Zombieland. I'm just saying, I don't think we should rule it out.
As far as the score goes, on Steam The Walking Dead is only available as a single purchase. As there's no way to predict how it's going to shape up, however, we'll be scoring episodes on their own merits and relative to each other, with a look at the entire sweep once it's all in our hands. All That Remains does a great job of reintroducing the series, and switches things up in a way that could have tripped up harder than Lee over a tree branch yet feels like the only way the story could have been continued. As bleak and terrible as the Walking Dead universe is, it's great to be back in it... and of course, to be able to leave.