There’s little doubt that Telltale’s Clementine has managed to enter that bracket of characters videogamers just can’t help but feel close to. We’ve watched her grow from helpless child to bad ass teen. Our decisions have shaped the character we see, as well as the huge amount of emotional baggage she carries with her. It’s such a shame then that her use through the third season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead serves to hinder more than help that game’s story.
I couldn’t help but think while playing through A New Frontier that Clementine’s inclusion was to the detriment of the whole. Sure she had her own story playing out concurrent to the players; with the player being able to influence that at several points. But here’s the thing; it never really went anywhere.
The early season tried to put her in the “should you trust her or not” category. Even at this stage, I was really unsure if her inclusion was helping or hindering the story being told. The problem for those who’ve played the first two seasons is that of course they’ll naturally side with Clementine – if only to prolong the back story you’re carrying over. But from the viewpoint of the in-game characters – she wasn’t very well-developed.
In fact she doesn’t really do anything that a new character couldn’t have done. I’d have arguably preferred a new character who gamers had to work out to the motives too; if only because it would have made these early episodes more tense. A new character with unknown ethics and goals that you have to dissect. The game even tries to play this card in the early episodes; the people in your party don’t trust Clementine because she’s so shady – quite rightly. But the choices presented at times effectively ask you to use prior knowledge to make a decision. This might have been fine if the story was leading to an interesting point – but it fizzles out long before the end of the second episode. What potential Clementine held in the Season disappears the second you reach your destination – her intrigue disappears.
The fact that her story never really goes anywhere beyond this is another disappointment. She never got AJ back, so there wasn’t any kind of satisfying payoff to the build through all the episodes. In fact at times, her story awkwardly stole momentum from Javier’s plot – which was the main focus of the entire Season. Instead of experiencing his choices and focusing on his mental state, we were left jumping between Clementine and himself during big set pieces. This was great for long-time fans of the series, but a real head scratcher if you’re new to it all.
Really these segments served as little more than an opportunity to indulge in fan service. To have flashbacks with characters that are long since dead and to take focus from the story. It was a chance to see the likes of Kenny again, an emotional tease that does little to expand the actual story. It was a chance to name drop Lee into the game, pulling on the emotional heartstrings of the audience. This is all some people probably wanted – and that’s fine. So why throw so much new stuff into the mix?
It creates a bizarre situation where two separate stories are at play, neither really feels elevated. Instead of liking this new cast of characters, we wait for Clementine to show up and provide more context. She’s a crutch upon which the plot leans, and it harms the potential of the overall story. The original Walking Dead game didn’t need this kind of focus shift – it used the core characters to the best of their ability. It’s why they’re so memorable.
It leads me to feel that the team over at Telltale are struggling to let go of Clementine. Her popularity and emotional depth means that she’s an easy plot device to wheel out. Instead of asking gamers to connect to a whole new cast of characters, we can see how they react to a character we already know and take it from there. It robs gamers of a chance to form deeper connections with new characters. It means that instead of a fresh start, gamers are constantly reminded of times gone by.
The worst part for me – Clementine didn’t need to be in this game so much. She could easily have taken a similar role to Jesus, who turns up sparingly. By involving her so heavily though, she becomes integral to several key decisions (In particular at the end of the game, where her trust of you becomes a major factor). The fact that the Season ends with a black screen telling us “Clementine Will Be Back” speaks volumes about this awkward shift in focus. Everything that happens feels slightly cheapened, as it becomes obvious Clementine was never in any danger.
I’m glad Telltale have a strong character, but they have to find a better way of using her. If they won’t let her star in the game, then it’s detrimental to have her hanging around the periphery of the new cast of characters. Audiences need time to get to know these new characters. Perhaps it’s time for Telltale to decide which story they’re telling; the world of The Walking Dead, or that of Clementine’s.
Only then can we can get the same level of finish gamers expect from the series, or what came earlier.