That the third episode of Telltale’s (or rather Telltale and Skybound’s) The Walking Dead is a thing that actually happened is still a little unbelievable. Telltale’s demise has been well-documented with the final chapter in Clementine’s story seemingly left half-written for good, only for Skybound (the publishers of the comic books) to take it under its wing and correct its course.
The transition can’t have been a smooth one, which sums up what Broken Toys feels like as a whole: it’s a little misshapen in some places and shows signs of being pushed from pillar to post, but it overall continues the good work that showed that Telltale were beginning to change, just perhaps too late. It’s not the best episode of The Walking Dead you’ll ever play and suffers from some poor pacing, but Broken Toys has all the hallmarks of what made the franchise such a darling to begin with.
Following the events of the previous episode, the group is fractured and looking worse for wear — the unintentional parallel between the episode’s theme and its developers a little hard to ignore. Clementine is still racked with doubts about herself as a leader and mother with AJ’s personality starting to really take shape, though it’s difficult to see just how different he is without playing through it multiple times. There’s the impression that AJ may not be moulded by Clem’s actions quite as much as the season’s hook promises, it instead coming down to serious flashpoints rather than the moments in the middle.
While Broken Toys takes about as long to complete as other episodes in the season, which all feel significantly meatier than the ones in A New Frontier, it feels particularly lethargic with it sagging heavily in some spots. The setpieces — particularly the last — are excellent, but everything in-between crawls along meekly. A moment of respite during a party is welcome, but there are too many instances where Clementine is talked at from scene to scene without much player interaction apart from a single button press. I think I had free movement three times throughout the whole of Broken Toys, which was a disappointment considering the openness of previous episodes, the season’s debut in particular. There may have been more scope initially planned that had to be pulled back because of the obvious, however.
What’s not filler certainly sticks in the memory — a first-person sequence in a barn arguably being the episode’s standout apart from the finale. There are great ideas all over the DNA of Broken Toys, it’s just that the execution often feels lacking. It doesn’t help that the development has switched hands, which may be why noticeable technical issues rear their head again after what has been a fairly stable season. Lip-syncing feels off, as too do plenty of animations with NPCs moving in the background in a very stilted manner and most action sequences slowing the framerate right down. This isn’t a deal-breaker in my eyes, though it does raise an eyebrow when a random frame from another choice pops up in your own.
Despite these issues, Broken Toys asks players the same impossible questions The Walking Dead has been asking for years with just as high stakes as ever, accompanied by a cast of characters who you know are just going to hurt you emotionally. That’s all I need from The Walking Dead, and I can’t wait to see how this journey ends in March.
The undead series about the undead stumbles a little in its revival episode, though it still retains tension, great setpieces, and undeniable heart.