(Mistakenly posted to non-spoiler forum earlier, sorry, am noob.)
Episodes 1-3 of The Walking Dead were magnificent. Sure, the wheels started to come off in Ep3 when the game revealed its intent to nullify every decision you made-
Kenny: Lee do you think it's a good idea to travel by train?
Lee: Well this story is already on rails so I can't see how it would make a difference.
-but Ep3 is the only game that has ever made me cry. (Duck's death of course. Much more affecting than Lee's which I saw coming as soon as I realised he was black. Ha ha. Or is it? Gotta kill the black guy off, Hollywood tradition ;))
Bum notes became more frequent in Ep 4 and 5 (Chuck's death- a waste of an interesting character. Why have him in the game if you were just going to throw him under a bus. Vernon's betrayal. Just doesn't add up. Ben's general pointlessness. Keep him around and he'll... die a bit later on, having never done anything. The fifth episode being walking straight ahead while clicking on little dots now and then.)
But like Heavy Rain, which similarly started of brilliant only to falter at the finish line (for different reasons, specifically an insane plot twist that doesn't work at all- sure Campman is a bit of a twist and it's arguable whether it works, but it's far more palatable than what Heavy Rain tries) The Walking Dead is not a bad game. In fact it's well above average and should be played by anybody interested in progressive gaming. But it's still a stepping stone towards interactive fiction that really works, it's not the goal itself, because it has serious issues.
The crutch of these serious issues, what makes me call it a failure, is that it, lets not mince words here, completely gyps the player re: your-choices-matter. Not only does the game not tailor itself to your decisions, it does the *precise opposite*. It takes all your decisions and bends them back around to what has already been scripted. Heavy Rain, whatever you thought of, gives you wildly different conclusions depending on your actions. The Walking Dead is imo even more successful than Heavy Rain in terms of atmosphere and narrative, but gets this completely wrong.
Think about it. You can not determine a single death or survival in The Walking Dead, not one, and in the context of a zombie survival game that's the most intriguing idea. You can't do a single thing to alter these character's ultimate fates.
Remember people deciding back in Episode 1 that they were going to play Lee as a villain? How did that work out for you? I especially liked how I did not steal from the car, only to more or less break the story when Campman tracked me down to ruin my life because I, um, *wasn't* responsible for ruining his.
Telltale need to either
i) Drop the your-choices-matter angle
or ii) Give Season 2 genuinely divergent endings.
I think the real problem here is the (imo wrong) decision to have Season 2 continue the world of Season 1. If Season 2 were a completely fresh continuity, Season 1 could end any damn way it pleases. Lee could throw Clementine to a pack of zombies to save his own life, whatever. You can't tell us we control these character's destinies, and then reveal it's a pick a path book where every path leads to the same ending on pg 73, and then expect us to be satisfied.
Some might say this is not the problem with the game, but rather false advertising. For example, nobody ranted about Sam And Max having a pre-determined conclusion, but then it wasn't a central hook of that game that it didn't. Frankly, I feel the rigidness of TWD is a bit of a cheat given how the game was marketed, and I wonder how much Mass Effect 3 they were playing during development.
But lest I sound like a bitter crank, I thoroughly enjoyed TWD and will be on board for Season 2. But I am no longer thrilling to the idea that I can make my own story and am now expecting to follow a pre-written narrative, as I do in every other game, which is sad because it means my expectations are lowered and an opportunity to really take game design to new places has been missed. Hard to call that a success.