*It goes without saying not to read this review unless you have played both the first series of The Walking Dead and the first episode of the second series, All That Remains. Although spoilers have been avoided whenever possible, there are still minor spoilers to be found below. Go play the other episodes first and then come re-join the party. There'll still be enough drinks to go around.*
The difference between All That Remains and A House Divided is immediately obvious, especially after I was forced to re-play the first episode when my save was deleted; at least it was still fresh in my mind. Where All That Remains stuttered along, attempting to build a difficult and cumbersome narrative bridge between the first and second season, A House Divided begins at a frenetic pace and never lets up. Like the proverbial mine-cart, this episode rips and turns in a breathless three hours before you emerge at the other side wondering exactly what just happened.
What happens, really, is the emergence of a villain (or is he?) who adds a sinister edge to the season beyond the constant danger of the zombie apocalypse. Carver is a bad nut, but not in the 'I will destroy the world' sense; rather, he has revenge in his heart and the means to achieve it. A former member of Clementine's new group, Carver has a past with at least three of the other characters. Whether he is right to be wrong, or is taking his revenge to unnecessary lengths, are moral questions that are similar to those that made The Walking Dead such a marvel. As Walter, owner of the Ski Lodge where much of the episode's events unfold, wryly remarks to Clementine – 'they're all the same really.'
Except, perhaps, for Clementine. Haunted by the events at the end of the first season, in a group yet alone, the surprise return of an old character does little to lighten her mood. Tired by blow after blow, Clementine now has the demeanour of an experienced cynic who knows that any flame of positivity will soon be blown out. One can hardly blame her.
The decision to make Clementine the lead character for the second season is a master-stroke; whereas before she was a student to the resourceful Lee, now she is a certified bad-ass in her own right; the fact that she is an eleven year-old works both for and against her. Clementine is now an arch-manipulator, but make no mistake; she is a child of the world she lives in. The comparison between herself and the naïve, vulnerable Sarah emphasises this point.
A House Divided appears to have narratively evolved the series. Although still prone to the 'silence before the storm' halts, these are punctuated by a series of strong set-pieces with genuine trade-offs for Clementine; you can really feel the potential consequences of the wrong decision. This is in part due to an improvement of the facial designs of the characters. Characters are more expressive, but not in an overt, mime-like sense; ambiguity is still a major aspect in the interactions, but it is easier to become involved in the intrigue when the faces are so well mapped. The voice-acting, it need not be said, is world class, while the engine appears to have been smoothed-out and touched-up. It is still not much of a game beyond quick-time events and conversation-choices, but The Walking Dead remains an outstanding point-and-click adventure.
Featuring unnerving tension, unremitting cruelty and a disarming level of brutality, The Walking Dead series has become a vanguard for narrative shocks and rollicking set-pieces. A House Divided retains these characteristics and further develops them, burying any fears the series was stagnating after the disappointing All That Remains; this episode grips from the start and never lets go. While the 'is it a game?' arguments will not be settled by this episode, obvious improvements and a narrative maturity show that the series remains an essential part of any player's collection.
This review is based on a digital copy of The Walking Dead: A House Divided for the PC, provided by the publisher.