It seems like it might be impossible for some to separate Telltale the brand from Telltale the people. The mass layoffs at the studio have hit the concluding arc of its flagship series hard, meaning that the second episode of The Final Season may bring about the end sooner than was anticipated. It’s hard to divorce discussion of the game from the controversy, but I am going to try my best in this review — it’s what its developers would want.
Developer: Telltale Games Publisher: Telltale Games Platform(s): PC, PS4, XB1, Switch Review code purchased
The second episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season picks up exactly where the last left with the group at the school in turmoil following AJ’s shocking act. It was a bolt out of the blue, a twist that was as coldly delivered as it was unexpected. Despite his penchant for broccoli mascots and tickles, the first episode proved that AJ is not a little boy and that we were naive to think he would be a carbon copy of Clementine in her youth.
The fallout is swift with AJ and Clem being banished before coming afoul of bandits, leading to the conflict of the rest of the episode and a bittersweet reunion. Sweet, because we haven’t seen here since the first season, and bitter because, well, she’s still a complete arsehole, if not even worse.
To elaborate any further on the plot would be to spoil the experience, because that’s effectively what all Telltale games are: other people’s lives that you inhabit and make changes to, for better or worse, or sometimes even completely inconsequential. The Final Season has yet to majorly deliver on its tough decisions that supposedly change the course of events, Clem’s picking and eating of a mushroom at one point having no repercussions except for a bad taste in her mouth.
Still, it’s early days and there are signs everywhere that Telltale are trying to grand a long-form tapestry of different stories and relationships. Following his mistake, my Clem insisted that AJ tried to atone for what he did, leaving AJ to become a repentant and more relaxed character for the rest of the episode. If Clementine had been more stubborn about the situation, AJ likely would have become more stubborn himself. As the game often warns you, you are basically crafting AJ in your own image, whether you like it or not. Episode two certainly seems to evidence just that.
It’s also a marvellously paced episode, coming in at roughly two hours of playtime if you do everything there is to do and see everything there is to see. There’s barely any downtime between the action: the first episode may have been criticised by some for being on the slow side, but it established The Final Season’s varied cast of characters well. That’s why we care when Louis asks us to help him with a piano piece or Violent wants us to climb a tower with her. The only criticism I could have of this deeper approach to relationships is that there is no chart or way to keep track of how you and AJ are viewed in their eyes.
The gameplay itself still feels fresh and the jab in the arm that the Telltale formula needed. Combat is great fun and simple while still feeling tactical; the added spice of a new weapon later in the episode adds a level of badassery to Clem’s character that people who remember her with her trembling hands around a pistol may struggle to reconcile. Melissa Hutchison has done a fantastic job this season of parlaying the hidden anguish in Clem with a haunted but still optimistic performance, but Tayla Parx has also excelled portraying AJ and his inquisitive, headstrong personality.
The rest of the supporting cast this time out are also likeable, which is a rarity for a The Walking Dead game from Telltale: there’s almost always one “Ben” per season. Mitch, who starts off infuriated after the end of the first episode, forgives the pair before eventually warming up to you as he makes bombs with your help (it makes sense in context, okay). Little things, like games of truth or dare, are some much needed levity. It’s difficult to see if even the smallest of your decisions with have lasting effects at this point, but judging by the eye to detail and more meaningful relationships in this season, I wouldn’t be surprised.
The second episode of The Final Season has left me hungry for more, even if I may be left wanting for a long time. The conclusion to Clementine’s story is delivering so far, but if this episode must be viewed in a vacuum, it’s Telltale at their best and most daring.
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The second episode of Telltale's The Walking Dead: The Final Season continues to show promise for the conclusion of Clementine's journey, whenever and wherever that may be.
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