It has been over 18 months since Telltale Games debuted their take on The Walking Dead, an adventure series that not only saw the stature of the company rise to previously unknown heights but also one that raised the bar on what players can expect from story-driven entertainment.
The Walking Dead: the Game was an exemplary first season, expanding on the universe created by Robert Kirkman through a focus on the despairing and deep connection between your character Lee and his tiny human charge Clementine. Telltale refined their mechanics over the initial five part run, honing their skills to power through the narrative with maximum emotional punch right up to that powerful ending.
To say that the expectation for Season 2 is high would be a massive understatement, especially in light of the slightly disappointing interstitial chapter 400 Days. And while this first new episode may not feel as revolutionary as A New Day, it's a fitting start to our new journey through the wilderness.
The biggest change this time is that we're now in control of Clementine, initially just a short time after the end of the first season, then 16 months later. This version of the character is older, more gangly and a little more physically able. Melissa Hutchison's voice work is a little more mature but make no mistake, Clem is still vulnerable and she'll find herself in some terrifying situations this time around.
The gameplay is instantly familiar - timed dialogue trees, QTE's and more slow paced exploration are all present. The locations are more streamlined than ever before, teasing you gently in the direction of the next clue with little need for diversions. This is a linear story and one that aims to make the players journey as frustration free as possible.
Telltale continues to refine the mechanics of the adventure, keeping the need to navigate limited for less awkward wandering. And there's new visual flair to the QTE's which makes them more appealing. Likewise the control ring during the adventure sections has been redesigned but, on PC at least, the actual interactive options (like look at or use) have very tiny hit boxes, leading to some fiddly around. Some suggested motions are also a little less than intuitive with a mouse, suggesting controllers are a priority for the team.
But that's really just window dressing, this is all about the story. And it's pretty harrowing stuff. Telltale puts Clem through the wringer right from the off, punishing her for every action and inaction and isolating her in situations of extreme tension and fear whenever possible.
Playing as her feels fundamentally different from Lee, there's much less confidence and physicality, something which is reflected subtly in the impressive camera work - crowding Clem into small and claustrophobic locations and keeping the camera close for maximum player identification.
It's hard to go into specifics without spoiling the narrative but one late on section sees our heroine forced into a harrowing scene of extreme physical pain and we're forced to stay with her inch by detailed inch. Coupled with enhanced graphics this season, especially the facial expressions and Hutchinson's vocal performance, it's one of the most difficult to watch moments I've ever experienced in a game. And that's all down to the impeccable work the developers have put into making us care for Clem over the last two five games, a paternal plea for her safety which has now become a vital, moment to moment, struggle for her own survival.
In terms of actual plot progression, little enough happens in All That Remains. This is very much an introductory chapter, bringing us back into this dangerous world and drawing us deep into the psychology of this young character. On that basis, it's another fantastic effort from Telltale and makes for an immensely satisfying two to three hours of gameplay. The real challenge now is having to wait until the next chapter, especially given the tease that's revealed at the end of this session.