Developer: Telltale Games Publisher: Telltale Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch Review code purchased
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is not what it used to be, and neither does it seem like the company is, either. Constant criticisms — and even some ennui — towards their output of late as predictable and safe, while the studio itself has been financially beleaguered. Change needed to come and with the first episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season now out, it looks like Telltale are finally getting back to their best.
The improvements are immediately obvious, from the surface level visuals down to the mechanics. Everything is crisp with no technical hiccups in sight; A New Frontier was infamous for not being the most stable of games. With this being the last game from the studio to be built with the Telltale Tool, it looks like they’re squeezing every last drop out of the old girl.
You play as Clementine, flanked by her “foster son” AJ. Anyone who’s played the demo will recognise the first fifteen minutes, though a prologue has been introduced to reassert your choices over the course of the series. When the pair come across a train station, they forage for food before accidentally setting off a trap and unleashing a wave of walkers in the process. After their car crashes during the escape, they’re saved by young kids who bring them back to their ramshackle school.
Without an adult in sight, the group is governed by Marlon, who looks like the unlikely offspring of Jimmy Hopkins and Billy Ray Cyrus. Just scraping by, the survivors are split in their feelings towards Clementine and AJ. Some are reticent to open up while others are just happy to see a new face. Like everyone else in The Walking Dead, they all have their fair share of trauma.
There’s a lot more at play here with your interactions than other seasons, or at least noticeable changes that are tracked an obvious. The iconic “X will remember that” has been replaced with your relationship with that character being changed, for better or worse. The first episode only hints at the depth this can go, though it becomes clear towards its finale. That’s all I’ll say about the plot of “Running Scared” as any other details will ultimately spoil what is primarily a narrative and choice-based experience.
It heartens me, however, to say that The Walking Dead: The Final Season does its best to silence the “no gameplay” crowd. A lot of the action takes place in conversations and simple button presses, sure, but the over-the-shoulder perspective and less weighty movement promotes exploration. You can even find collectibles to place in your room in the school — it’s not quite the easy Platinum trophy most Telltale games are known for, couple with the fact that you now unlock different trophies for different choices.
Combat-wise, there are still a few QTEs and sequences of pure button mashing, but it’s far improved overall. Clementine can freely walk up to or strafe away from walkers before either straight up killing them a press of the triangle button or circle to bring them down, just how Jane taught her. While it’s obviously not on God of War levels, it’s a marked improvement over lazily placing your cursor and pressing R2.
The series is still obviously young, which means that the pace may be a bit too languid for some as it establishes the characters you will no doubt have to kill or save at some point, rather than going from one action sequence to another. It’s nice to be able to have strong relationships with people rather than just thinking they’re for the chopping block as soon as you meet them, however. It’s worth noting that it will take you well over a couple of hours to finish things up: a definite upgrade on last season’s succinct foray.
There’s hope for Clementine in The Walking Dead for the first time in a long time, and judging from what’s come from the rest of the season, there may be a lot of hope for Telltale, too.
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The first episode of Telltale's The Walking Dead: The Final Season is exactly what the series needed to remind people why it was such a success back in 2012. Microtransactions: none
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