Archive for Video Games

The Walking Dead S2E1: Still a whole lot better than the show


It’s the same, but different—and that’s pretty much what I wanted. Last time you took care of the young girl Clementine as Lee Everett: a former college professor with a bit of a troubled past. This time, you directly control Clem, seeing the game’s world from the drastically different perspective of a familiar character who, if you have a slice of heart in your body, you’ve already come to love.

No parents, no Lee, not even no Duck. And having just escaped a kidnapping and made it through a tearful goodbye. Nobody’s been dealt a good hand in this universe—possibly because the dealer is whatever’s reanimating any human corpse it finds—but Clem’s had it rough.

The story picks up a while after the first season, and shortly skips an additional 18 months. Clem spends some time alone, and ultimately is found by a group of people living in a house in the woods. Assumedly, these will the people with whom we’ll need to figure out and forge alliances with as the season progresses.

Of course, rather than playing the more authoritative Lee, you’re now viewing your new companions through the lens of a child and all the vulnerability that brings with it. The Walking Dead Season One stood out for, if your choices didn’t necessarily prevent any deaths, allowing you, as Lee, to resolve conflicts based upon your words and how you’ve treated characters previously. But that always was helped by him being both physically capable, and having the commanding presence and confidence that can come with being an adult.

Clem doesn’t lack confidence, and is sufficiently capable that it doesn’t feel like this is going to be a damsel-in-distress season—which would suck both because it probably wouldn’t be fun, and it would undermine what you, as Lee, worked toward in the last game. At the same time, it doesn’t overdo it and make her a generic action girl ready to kick guys in the nuts left and right. It’s a good balance.

But of course, she’s still a child, and the interactions with the adults—several of whom openly dislike her—are made more unnerving because you’re not given the chance to be the voice-of-reason conflict resolver. So far anyway. This is only one episode, and you’re only able to interact with the characters in a limited way compared to the first episode of last season—there are no opportunities to wander around a safe spot and talk to people at will while you solve all the problems, and there were no situations where you could have had to pick a side in an argument. But there is plenty of conversation and you’re given many opportunities to be diplomatic, assertive, or unforgiving, without venturing into the unrealistic. It feels like it’s progressing Clem’s character well while keeping her in a realistic place socially. It’s a place of less power, but that will likely result in some great drama down the line.


You might be a little disappointed that there’s no real payoff here, but then it’s the first installment of an episodic series. We get a sense of what Clem’s been going through, how she’s changed, and at the same time we have a whole new group of strangers whose motives are unclear to try to figure out. There’s a doctor who seems strangely concerned about Clem’s interactions with his daughter. There’s a pregnant lady who is dead set against her being around. You’ve got a young guy who seems quick to anger and not great with a gun clearly embroiled in a personality clash with his uncle. There’s some sort of conflict implied with another group that will doubtless be explored—perhaps involving the people from the inter-season short 400 Days?

Speaking of that, there didn’t seem to be any obvious connection between this episode and the five quick stories we got a few months ago, but there are occasional references to what you did in season one. In my game, for instance, Clem mentioned she had a friend who lost a hand while Luke was making small talk about how scars are cooler than stumps. It doesn’t seem like it’s anything major, but it really couldn’t be anyway. Season One was excellent at making you feel like your choices had major bearing on the storyline—until you looked it up online and found out it was mostly an illusion. Some characters were doomed to die at a particular point regardless of who you tried to help and when. Still, it was a good illusion, and it’s nice that Clem will refer to the version of the story that your Lee drove.

As far as the mechanics and graphics go, this is near identical. Nothing was that bad last season for what it is—ultimately, a point-and-click with heavy narrative. There are a few changes, though. When you can do multiple things with an object (look at, search) you’ll get different icons surrounding it to cilck, rather than mousing over and hitting a number. That’s nice. Though with dialogue choices, the option to hit a number to select your choice is gone, which can be a little annoying, particularly if you’re using a laptop track pad. There were some moments in the first season where I would hold my fingers over the keys for the whole conversation, sit back, and make split decisions. The options are nice and big and by all means easy to click, but hovering over one sentence and then moving the cursor to another and clicking it just feels a bit cumbersome, and makes me worry I might scroll too far and miss.

But, seriously, minor quibble and the only one I really had while playing, and would probably only bug a few people.

If the season can take this setup and deliver four more episodes of great characters, intrigue, manipulation, exploration and Tough Choices (even if they just feel like they matter), while avoiding the ruts that the show’s plot has gotten mired in periodically, then we’ll have a ride as special and gut-wrenching as the first season. There’s just enough famiiar here, with Clementine and the walker-infested world, and more than enough new, with both the radically altered perspective of a child, the situation she finds herself in, and the new people she has to deal with. It’s exactly how to start a sequel series.

And the spoilers are below.


Not even the protagonist of Season One had plot armour, so all bets are naturally off here. You really do get a sense that anything can happen, right from the opening sequence. Most of us suspected that Clem meets Christa and Omid at the very end of Season One, and it looks like we were right. Omid’s joking about baby names as the three approach some washrooms, and I was definitely lulled into a false sense of “aw neat, time to settle in for at least an episode of Fun Guy Omid,” only to be brutally reminded that this game is happy to toss out characters as he was murdered with Clem’s own gun.

Though I did feel a little cheated. Clem’s in a washroom alone, first, and you’d think that nobody in this world sends anybody into an uncleared building alone, especially not a child. Second, this is the apocalypse, and I think we’d all be past going into separate washrooms to protect our modesty anyhow. Third, the woman who ultimately kills Omid gets the jump on Clementine after you’re forced to take her looking for a dropped water bottle—leaving the gun on the sink in clear sight. I know I wasn’t the only person who clicked on that weapon to try to pick it up before leaving it. I was actually expecting a walker to stumble through that door, but regardless, I saw “bad thing gonna happen” coming plain as a hill in Saskatchewan.

Still, losing Omid so fast after months of ‘knowing’ he and Christa would be the ones to find Clem hurt so good.

The next shock was, of course, Sam the dog. You meet him shortly after waking up separated from Christa, with little hope of finding her. Sam trots up to you, and you have a little adventure searching an abandoned campsite together. You can throw a frisbee, and he catches and returns it to you. His barking alerts you to a restrained walker, and you kill it while he whimpers around.

God damn, you’re going to have a girl and her dog journey here. In a post-apocalyptic zombie-infested world where Clem’s lost everyone she cared about, she finds a dog who lost everyone it cared about, and by golly they’re going to bond.

Only that dog turns fast as soon as you offer it some food, putting an end to that assumption. This little glimmer of hope is snuffed out with such callousness you can almost hear the writers laughing at you for being so trusting. This actually works to put you especially on guard once you meet the cabin group, not all of whom are happy to see you. I mean, if you can’t even trust a friendly dog, what hope do you have of these strangers meaning you well?

The third standout moment had to be the suture scene. Left locked in a shed with an open dog bite wound by Clem’s new friends, to see whether she could make it through the night before they assume it’s not a walker bite, she steals some improvised medical supplies, and stitches up her own arm. It’s graphic, looks and sounds ridiculously painful, but shows Clementine’s determination to look after herself in the face of the adults essentially leaving her to die so effectively.

The final choice you make, between helping the bitten Pete who seemed to actually give a shit about Clem or the unharmed but relatively inept Nick who almost shot her earlier, though did make a point to apologise, was the only time you really had to make a hard choice, and it felt a little overdue. But it’s there, and is evidence that Clem will be handed even more difficult cards as we go forward.

The writers of the first season were great at introducing something you grow to like and then tearing it away, or putting you into a position where you had to make the best of two bad choices. That is how you get emotionally invested in interactive fiction like this. Being forced to choose one character over another and seeing them both react to it builds a sort of bond that gets stronger over time. But you build that bond knowing that it can be snatched away, which makes those eventual deaths more meaningful. Sure, a character you’ve grown to not like can die and you might not care much. But for every character you dislike, there’s one you’ve built that bond with.

This installment is about meeting people and starting to feel out who is trustworthy and who isn’t. Who you’re going to try to keep happy, and who you’re going to watch for treachery. You’ll get a feel for these things by the end of it, and that feel bodes well for the rest of the season.

Sony has no idea when I’ll have a working PS4 (updated—they kind of do now, but we’re looking to console #3)

Update – 18-12-13

I suppose it’s time for an update anyhow. The short version is that today, I finally got a replacement PS4… and it did the exact same thing the first one did.

The longer version. When we last left things, I had been told by a Sony rep that he could absolutely not tell me when I would receive the box to ship my defective PS4 in for service. I gave it a week for them being “backed up” and an extra two days for shipping. So we’re now at Friday, Dec 6. I decided it was time to call back.

Thankfully, I got a rep who sounded like she gave a damn this time (as the first two had sounded, I have to say), and we went through the whole process again. It seemed absurd to me at the time, but as we went through my information, we found that my address had been incorrect. Again. After two separate people had read it out, character by character, completely correctly.

We also found out that my name had been recorded incorrectly, and since my email address is just my name, that was wrong too. See, I had sort of wondered why I didn’t get the email I was told way back at the first phone call would be sent, but some people in the Sony forums had mentioned theirs were coming in late, so I thought little of it. I’d also gotten one “random” feedback email sent to my correct address, so as far as I knew, everything was fine. That’d be the reasonable conclusion, anyhow.

So we fixed it all up and I was apologised to again, and apologised to regarding the third phone call the previous week. Then I was, for the second time, asked if I wanted to buy the extended warranty as some deal was about to expire. I asked if there could be some way that this offer could be extended for me given that I had yet to enjoy a working product and make an informed decision regarding whether it was something I would like to purchase, but no dice.

I was told a fourth box would be sent (my question regarding the status of the third box having gone unanswered, but I assume it sat in a Purolator centre for a few days and was returned/garbaged).

The phone call ended, and a few minutes later I received an email.

I’m having trouble typing this as it seems like there could be no possible way, after three different people on three different days all read out my address, character by character, absolutely correctly, but the address that the email claimed my fourth box would be sent to was… incorrect.

So was my name, still, though my email address had thankfully been corrected successfully.

I called right back and got a new person. We got it fixed, I stayed on the line until I confirmed the email had the correct information this time, and we confirmed that no, the fourth box hadn’t already shipped in the five minutes between the calls. You know, just in case.

This, hopefully, would be it.

Of course, then the weekend got in the way, the box assumedly wasn’t shipped until Monday, but on Wednesday, I checked my voice mail to find a message from Purolator informing me that they were holding a package for me. Surely, this was the fourth box.

I should say, as an aside, that I tweeted about this, and the fact that the box was fifty blocks away, and minutes later a Purolator rep tweeted back offering to see if there was a better location. There isn’t, as I’m just awkwardly between two of them, but I appreciated the offer. It’s more electronic response than I’ve received from Sony, and they at this point were responsible only for sending me a box.

Anyway, I was busy that Wednesday, Dec 11, so I couldn’t get to Purolator until the next day. I took the console with me, picked up the box, got the package all ready to go in the car, and walked back in.

I got the same guy who gave me the box.

“This one of those PS4s?” he asked.

I confirmed, asking if he’d seen a lot of them. Indeed he had.

I was past the cutoff time for next-day delivery, so the console wasn’t received at Sony until Monday. Still, true to their original timeline promise, they took a day or so and then sent one back, as I received another voicemail message from Purolator today, Wednesday, Dec 18.

It’s a bit of a mystery, I suppose, why I didn’t get any previous automated messages from Purolator. You’d assume that if they find a package undeliverable or someone at the address has no idea who “Ryan Bromsgrobe” is and they have your number, they’d give you a call to come collect it. Anyway…

We cut into some Christmas shopping time to swing by and pick it up. We came home, I plugged it in, telling myself there was no way that I was the one of 10,000 people who got two defective consoles (going off the upper limit of Sony’s less than one per cent claim).

Lucky me.

I called back again, explained my situation, and dared the rep to guess what happened after I plugged it in. So we set me up a fifth box to send the second console back in, and while “5-6 days at the very most” isn’t awful, this is peak Christmas time, and I’m planning to be out of the city for a few days and, frankly, too busy for this shit anyway. The rep did tell me that once I have a working console, I could call back and they’d hook me up with a free first party game for all my troubles, so that’s cool.

To their credit here too, the only thing throughout this whole mess above the basic service that I’d asked for was an extension on the extended warranty deal, and only because they’d tried to sell it to me twice (seriously, they might as well be saying, “nice broken console we sold you there. Be a shame if the replacement were to break outside of your basic warranty period now, wouldn’t it?” I only say this because it is a good gesture in the face of my continued struggle to just be a Carribean pirate, and a better gesture because it wasn’t demanded or asked for.

So here I am, a full month to the day after I received my original console, and I still have nothing to show for it. And worse, Christmas shipping stands between me and actually getting what I ordered way back in June. Let’s end it here for now with everybody’s favourite: numbers.

Number of phone calls: 7

Number of days I expected to wait for box: 2

Number of days waited for box: 24

Number of days I expected to wait for a working console: 7

Number day days currently waited for working console: 30

Number of additional days I expect to wait: 7+

Number of boxes required: 5

Number of boxes undeliverable: 3

Number of cardboard PS4 retail boxes I now own: 2

Number of times address recorded incorrectly: 5

Number of times address recorded incorrectly despite being read back, character-by-character, correctly: 3

Number of attempts to correct single incorrect letter in name required: 2

Number of times ‘friend’ Justin has bragged about Assassins’ Creed 4 to me: 4? 5?

Number of fucks given: 0.5

I increased my fucks given count by a half because at this point, while Assassins’ Creed 4 is still basically the only next-gen game I want to play until… February? it’s gotten kind of annoying, the drives to Purolator are lengthy, and I want it to be over. But if I’m that one in 1,000,000 people who get three consecutive defective consoles, expect the count to increase to an entire fuck.

Original words below:

I knew there was a risk with purchasing a launch Playstation 4. I’m not enormously upset that mine was dead on arrival with the flashing blue light problem, but what I’m really not happy about now is what Sony’s doing about it. Because right now, the console I ordered in June and received last Monday has been sitting on my floor for nine days and neither Sony nor I know how long it will remain this way.

Along with my original order, I decided to pick up a second controller and the camera. Given the length of the last console generation, I’m settling in for the long haul here and might as well get the extras at the start. They arrived, tantalizingly, about two weeks before the console release.

Most of the launch games don’t actually appeal to me (a contributing factor to not being too crestfallen at the console not actually working), but I’m a fan enough of Assassin’s Creed that I picked up the $130 collector’s edition of Black Flag for PS4, with a pirate flag and everything, in advance of the console’s release so that I could plug it in whichever day it arrived and get playing.

Things weren’t looking too bad after I plugged it in, found it not to work and called them to explain. After a twenty to thirty minute wait and a quick explanation of my problem, I was told that a box would be overnighted to me to send the console to them in, that it’d take around a day for them to either fix or issue a replacement, and one day to ship a console back to me. I would have a working Playstation 4 by Friday, he said.

Wednesday came, and with it, no box. I gave it until the evening, and then called them back to find out if anything had gone wrong, as I’d been told in no uncertain terms that I’d have the box by then. The person I talked to this time told me, in no uncertain terms, that it should have arrived by then. I asked him to check the address, and found that they had recorded my street as an avenue.

Okay, easy mistake I suppose, not a huge deal. He ordered a replacement box sent, and so I expected to receive the box Friday, send the console in that day and maybe get a working one by Tuesday of this week.

Well, Friday came, and with it, no box. I gave it until the evening, and then called them back to find out if anything had gone wrong. I was told by this person that yes, the box should have arrived by then. I had her read out my address, and wouldn’t you know it, the street number had a couple of extra digits added to the beginning.

So I read out my address, as it was on the box Amazon delivered the thing in originally, character-by-character, and confirmed that the information had been transmitted correctly when she read it back to me. She also disappeared at some point to talk to someone, assuring me that the problem had been noted and that this should solve things.

Assuming that nothing happens on the weekend, the box should have shipped Monday and arrived Tuesday. Tuesday came, and with it, no box. I left my phone at work that night, so I waited until I had a chance on Wednesday afternoon before I called.

I had him read my address. This time, despite having read it back to me character-by-character previously, they had somehow mixed up two digits in the street number.

But before I had a chance to wonder how on Earth this happened a third time, he told me it was okay because the box hadn’t shipped. I asked him why the box hadn’t shipped, and he put me on hold to go talk to an account specialist—whatever that is.

When he came back, he explained that there was a backlog of service requests that they were working through on a first-come-first-served basis.

I should mention that I’d been really patient on all of my calls up til this point, because I don’t want to yell at someone on the phone who didn’t personally screw anything up, but this is where we leave the “looks like Sony has a decent and fast return policy but just managed to get my address wrong a few times” terrority and enter “well, I guess either Sony gave me false information three times or this guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

I asked why I’d been told previously, three times, that the box would ship right away and he couldn’t answer. I asked how after nine days and three errors in my address it could be that a box won’t be shipped right away, and he said that there were people who’d called on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday, before going off on what I assume is a scripted explanation of how this is only affecting fewer than one per cent of consoles, like explaining how small the issue is juxatposed to how backlogged they apparently are is going to do any good.

I asked how long it would take the box to ship so that I could at least know when I should call back to see if there are any problems, and he refused to give me any sort of timeline whatsoever.

Let’s add everything up. Somehow Sony managed to get my address wrong three times. Somehow, in the last nine days, Sony has gone from assuring me of a very specific timeline of having a working model within five days of my first call to literally refusing to estimate when the box I can send the broken console in will even be shipped to me.

It’s not the fact that I got one of the “fewer than one per cent” of broken consoles. Yeah, I paid for something that isn’t working as advertised—in that right now it’s just a bulky blue flashlight—but as I said, it was a risk that I was prepared for. I can even handle that my address was taken down wrong once, twice, even three times. But giving a customer a solid timeline three times, failing to meet it three times, and then leaving them completely without a timeline as to when they will actually get what they paid for is unacceptable.

Before this afternoon, I’d have recommended the PS4 to people, knowing that while there’s a risk they get a broken one, Sony seems to be fixing it efficiently.

But now, absolutely not. If you’re one of the thousands who buy a new Playstation 4 and find that it doesn’t work, there is, apparently now, no promises that can be made with regards to when you’ll get what you paid for. A fewer than one per cent rate of failure is arguably acceptable at a console’s launch, but three phone calls of assurances followed by one of “I will not make any promises as to when the box will ship” is not.

I mean, either this fourth guy and the account specialist he talked to don’t know what they’re talking about or the first three people I talked to consecutively didn’t know what they were talking about. Or somebody was outright lying somewhere along the line.

The guy asked if I wanted to talk to a supervisor, and unfortunately I didn’t have the time to this afternoon—though assuming a box doesn’t arrive by Friday, I’ll be calling again and asking to be put directly through to one. Instead, I asked if there was an email address I could address my dissatisfaction to, because I honestly don’t want to yell at anyone on the phone and would much rather compose my thoughts in a format that allows for more clarity. The quiet removal of support email addresses from large companies is an odd trend that I think I’ve been noticing as the internet matures and offers more… ‘convenient’ options such as Sony’s live chat support option that has been down every time I’ve checked over the last nine days.

No, he said, but I might get a customer service feedback email after this call through which I can enter my concerns with the knowledge that management will take them very seriously.

Well, I didn’t, but looking back through my Friday’s emails, I did find one that was sent after my third call. There’s a few drop down menus and buttons, and a text field. There’s also a message that this is merely one-way communication and that I will not get a response.

So I’ve decided to just make my feedback public and throw a URL to this blog post in that box.

If you got this far, Sony management, here’s my feedback:

Fix my problem, get my address right, and give me an email address to contact you so that a complaint like this can be a two-way conversation rather than something that, for all I know, disappears into the same ether my attempts to give you my address did. Oh, and don’t give me false information.

The assumedly true information that the last guy gave me leaves me with the impression that you don’t really care that, nine days after receiving a broken Playstation 4 and after correcting my address three times, I have no idea when the second step in solving the problem will take place. It’s not like in the age of the NSA knowing when I poop that you don’t have the capability of checking your own “first-come-first-served” list, referencing that against your boxes-shipped-per-day rate (for which you should have a more than a week of data), and giving me a range of dates as to when the box might ship.

Nevertheless, if you actually can’t and that’s the truth, I’ve been told a non-truth three times which left me, three times, with a false sense of optimism—the breaking of which has made my impression of your handling of the situation even worse than it would have been if you’d simply told me up front that you had no idea when the box would ship.

I just want to be an assassin pirate.