If you haven’t heard by now, Telltale Games is pretty much gone. About two weeks ago, reports started trickling out that 225 members of its staff had been laid off without notice or severance. The future of The Walking Dead: The Final Season came into question, first with news that it would not be continuing, followed by stories that it might be finished with outside help. Meanwhile, Episode 2 of The Final Season released as planned on September 25th, but was then quickly pulled from digital shelves, along with the rest of the season. Later, on October 4th, news came of even more layoffs. Barring some kind of deal, this could be it for the series.
With this whirlwind of events in mind, I became uncertain of what to do. Thanks to chance, I happened to be up around 2:00 AM on Sept. 25th to download the episode, no problem. But, I had to talk myself into reviewing it. I decided this review is worth writing for two reasons. The first is to honor the folks at Telltale by giving them an honest review of their work – they put in the long hours developing it, so I should do the same in my role as a critic. The second reason is for documentation. If this episode by some circumstance goes into P.T. territory and never becomes available again, reviews like this are proof that it existed and was available to download, even if for a brief time.
Now, as far as the game goes, I find myself liking this episode much more than the last one. This is for a number of reasons, beginning with the important decisions this episode gives the player. I talked in my last review about how I thought the series might be trying to give Clementine a love interest, and yes, that’s exactly what happens here. It can feel a little forced, but the overall affect on the story is huge. This episode has some of the most emotionally real moments in the series, including one adorable segment that might wind up as one of my favorites of all time. If it were possible, I imagine that some of these scenes would be discussed widely, with social media abuzz about the implications and inspiration it took to develop them.
Another aspect I found interesting, but perhaps more controversial, is this episode’s approach to callbacks. The previous episode made references to the first season by mirroring some key scenes and thematic elements. I found these moments a little frustrating because they took me out of the story and felt like surface-level references. Not meaningful contributions to the plot. This episode has more direct references to the first season, and portrays them in a way that matters greatly to the story, giving the player a fresh burst of motivation to keep going. They still call attention to themselves in a “hey, see what we’re doing?” kind of way, but they work on the whole.
The purpose of this episode is to deepen the relationship between AJ and Clem, and their relationship with the world around them. In accomplishing this, the game continues to find unique situations for players to explore. Many dialogue options are devoted to Clem as she parents AJ, with other characters reacting to her efforts as they see fit. These moments highlight the different ways Clem parents AJ, compared to how Lee guided her. This is evident when AJ mentions how he doesn’t know what the world was like before the zombie apocalypse – Lee and Clem did. Lee eased her into this new world, setting her on the path to the battle-hardened person she became, while AJ didn’t have that luxury, and pretty much came out of the womb fighting for survival. This is the kind of powerful storytelling that hasn’t been explored much in gaming, but still has potential as long-running series run even longer.
Of course, this episode is far from perfect. In addition to the usual bugs and clipping problems, one major issue I have is with the new item collection mechanic. In this season, Clem can collect random decorations for her bedroom – and in total adventure game style, this includes stuffing boar skulls and potted plants into her pockets. For a game so focused on drama and terror, this cartoon-y holdover feels out of place and clashes with the tone of the episode. Another issue is the passage of time. At one point, the story skips ahead two weeks. This makes sense for narrative purposes, but makes it feel as if players missed out on some of the important steps Clem would take with her love interest to make those later scenes when everything comes together feel more natural.
In the end, if this is the last episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, it’s not a bad place to stop. For those of us who have played since the first season, we’ve seen Clementine go from a timid child to a capable young woman with all the stages in between. We’ve seen her raise a child herself, and we’ve now seen her fall in love. She’s a fully-fleshed out character, and it feels like all there’s left to do in the final two episodes is to watch how she’ll meet her downfall. This ending avoids all of that and just focuses on Clem happy and in love. It’s the preferable option, honestly. If only the episode didn’t end on a cliffhanger. Oh well.
This episode may have its issues, but it delivers the kind of experience that keeps you up at night, making you wonder if there was a better choice to be made. There’s no eleventh hour ending that sums up the rest of the story – this episode plays out as it’s supposed to. It features some raw emotions and surprising twists, along with some intriguing choices and relatable characters. I wish this episode could be available to everyone, as it’s a great example of what made Telltale so special. Even if it never happens though, this series had a good run. It ended surprisingly well. We can be happy for Clem, and the artists who made her, and wish everyone the best in their future endeavors.
I like talking about video games a lot. If you’d like to talk with me, feel free to email me at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com or contact me on Twitter! This review was conducted using a digital PS4 copy that I downloaded as part of my Season Pass. If it ever becomes available again, you can also find it on PC, Switch, and Xbox One.