Developed by: Telltale
Release Date: 8/14/2018
MSRP: $4.99 (episode) / $19.99 (full season)
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC (played on PS4)
Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
Telltale’s The Walking Dead series has certainly had its ups and downs. While the first two seasons that focused on Clementine were excellent, recent efforts like the Michonne spinoff and A New Frontier have seen a steep fall in quality. The Final Season makes Clementine the protagonist once again, and while that’s a smart choice, I’ve struggled to get excited for the last episodes of the series. Taking the focus away from Clem for so long took my focus away from the series, and it’s hard not to feel burnt out when the past two seasons have been mediocre. Still, I’ve always loved the character of Clementine. I gave the first episode a chance because of that... and I’m happy to see that The Walking Dead is back on track. The first episode is well-written, the new cast is already more likable than the characters from A New Frontier, and some smart improvements are made to the Telltale Formula. The end of Clementine’s journey is off to a strong start, and for fans of the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, it’s a journey worth experiencing.
For a full, spoiler-packed review, read onward.
- WARNING: SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT -
A Return To Form
The opening moments of “Done Running” re-establish Clementine as a lovable badass and offer a glimpse at her relationship with AJ. Both characters are older than when we last saw them, and there’s a great chemistry that’s been built from their time together off-screen. A search for food leads to an explosive trap being triggered, and a horde of zombies approaches because of it. The fight as Clem and AJ try to escape is excellent, with the aftermath leading into a short but sweet 007 style intro... and Clem finding a new group of survivors.
With The Walking Dead, it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling formulaic. Zombies come, a group is found, then that group dies off and the heroes are back on their own. Both the television show and game have dipped into this territory, and The Final Season is poised to do the same. On the bright side, though, the new group in question is an excellent one.
Made up entirely of kids, this band of survivors wastes no time becoming interesting. Marlon leads the group, with a terrible haircut and a dog named Rosie to help him stand apart from the others. Clementine’s initial fear of the dog is a great callback to the second season, and there’s plenty of room to make Rosie a fun character in her own right. Louis is the comedic relied of the group, and he gets the job done in that area. Aasim is the focused member of the group who always plans for the future, whereas Tenn is a young artist who mourns the loss of his twin sisters. One of those twins was Violet’s girlfriend, and while she takes some time to warm up to Clementine, Violet easily becomes the standout character of this new crew. There are other kids in the group that fill small, simple roles well, and none of them overstay their welcome.
The episode’s dark ending works so well because this cast is so likable. The consecutive reveals that Marlon is insane and Tenn’s sisters didn’t really die were still surprising, even with the hints spread throughout the episode. The sequence with Marlon’s zombified victim is great, as is the standoff where Clem convinces the group that Marlon is lying. AJ proceeding to kill Marlon makes for a perfect ending to the episode, as it shows that AJ is a far more unique character than one might expect. He doesn’t have Clem’s experience with a normal civilization, and with the apocalypse being all that he knows, his frequent showings of rudeness and violence make sense. It’s hard to say where his character will go from here, but it’s exciting to think of the possibilities.
Great Improvements... And An Annoying Problem
While this season may be one episode shorter than Telltale’s normal game length, the studio spared no expense in other areas of the game. The largest areas of improvement are, without question, the animation and camera work. The visuals are above and beyond what any Telltale series has looked like thus far. Shirts ripple in the wind, Clem’s hat is falling apart, and character models are more detailed than ever before. Any frame rate drops or lengthy load times from Telltale games won’t be found here either, and that’s a good thing; it would be a shame to miss out on the amazing visuals. Every detail and emotion can be seen in the characters’ faces and the lightning is excellent.
The camera work is far better than usual as well, with it feeling far more dynamic and intense. Two standout scenes are the fight from the beginning of the episode (where the camera quickly pans through each key moment and matches the intensity of the sequence) and the zombie appearing behind Clem as she attempts to escape from the basement in the episode’s final moments. The level of effort that went into every moment can be seen clearly, and it’s undoubtedly something to appreciate.
Combat also sees an overhaul, as players now control Clem in certain sequences. The mechanics are simple, with triangle being used to kill zombies and circle being used to stun them. The only possible challenge is being aware of the other zombies around you and deciding when the right time to stun or strike is. While this is far from matching the gameplay of something like The Last of Us, it’s nice to see some innovation from Telltale. Perhaps this is the first step towards full-on fight mechanics?
The Relationships system also returns. It’s a bit too early to tell if it will have an impact as big as the one in Batman: The Enemy Within, but regardless it’s nice to see how each character feels about Clem and AJ. Telltale also took notes from their work on Minecraft Story Mode and Batman as, like parts of those series, this episode can have a completely different second act based on your choices. This is always a welcome move, as it gives players a reason to replay and a chance to spend time with the characters they like more. Collectibles were also added and can be used to decorate Clementine and AJ’s room. These are clearly choices made to add replay value, and they should do that... but they don’t due to one key issue.
There’s no chapter select.
If players choose the path that doesn’t have a collectable item, they’re completely locked out of acquiring it. Further, if someone wants to see the version of the second act that they didn’t get on their first run, they have no choice but to replay the entire episode. This should just be a minor annoyance, but for anyone who cares about trophies, it’s a big problem. Unlike previous Telltale games, most of the trophy list is missable. Every Act has its own optional tasks and collectables tied to trophies, with the second act featuring tasks that completely cancel each other out. If there was a chapter select, this would be no problem; it would be a great change that adds replayability. Without that chapter select, though, it’s nothing but an annoyance. If trophy hunters want to get the platinum naturally, they’ll have to do at least 3 playthroughs of this episode. The only other option is to use a guide and make save backups on the first run. Constantly stopping to check a video or reload a save ruins the momentum of this otherwise great episode, so hopefully Telltale adds an option to replay certain acts.
The Final Season’s opening episode is a slow burn, but that’s far from a bad thing. It’s well-paced, balancing its time between intense zombie-killing and Clementine teaching AJ how to survive. The new cast makes a strong impression very quickly, and it’s just as easy to get attached to them as it was with Clem’s other groups. The game looks much better, combat is slightly more than QTEs and there’s some great setup for the rest of the season. Collectibles and two different second acts are nice touches, but with no chapter select available, accessing them becomes a chore rather than a strength. It also sticks closely to the normal Walking Dead formula, but despite that, the episode leaves a great first impression and the rest of the season is poised to do the same.
The Walking Dead’s final season kicks off with a strong first episode, proving that there’s still some life left in the series.
A Terrific New Cast +4
Big Visual Improvements +3
Strong Opening And Ending +2
Combat Is Simple, But Fun +1
Lack Of Chapter Select Is Frustrating -1.5
Following The Same Formula -.5
FINAL SCORE: 8/10