- The best this series has ever looked
- Does an admirable job of wrapping up this seven year project
- Clementine's final arc is interesting in its own right
- AJ comes into his own as a character
- New mechanics are surprising
- The ending is good but still implies more could come
- A couple plot holes exist
- Seriously, how old are these kids supposed to be?
The ending to the series that once put Telltale Games on the map is good, but has a couple issues that prevent it from being truly fantastic.
ENDING AN ERA AGAINST ALL ODDS
I don’t know whether it was a conscious choice on the part of the developers, or just the financial reality of the situation, but it’s now clear to me how small and personal the scale of The Walking Dead: The Final Season has been. Big set piece moments still exist, but they’re fewer and far between. Storytelling devices like flashbacks and dream sequences are here too, but often stripped down and simple in their execution. The final part of Clementine’s story prefers to focus on interpersonal conflicts more than Walker outbreaks by expanding dialogue choices and cutscenes while limiting extended moments of gameplay. It no longer feels like an adventure game as much as it feels like a piece of interactive fiction.
Far from being bad, this shift gives this season an identity separate from the previous three. It also explains some of the new developments this season introduces. It’s why we see the inclusion of romantic relationships for Clem, why one of the main antagonists has a personal connection to her, and also why the relationship between her and her foster son, AJ, takes center stage. This season is about Clem’s emotional journey more than just another series of encounters with the undead. Though it doesn’t always succeed, it helps people who’ve played up until now remember why they became attached to her in the first place.
At this point, it’s hard to go deep into story details without spoiling Take Us Back‘s big moments. However, one thing I’d like to praise the developers for is how they find ways to change up the usual QTE and dialogue choices, even though there’s a chance these mechanics might never get used again. Nothing is as big as the first person segment in the last episode, Broken Toys, but it reminds me of something I said in that chapter’s review. Though it may be the final season, it still feels like the developers on the Still Not Bitten Team at Skybound Games sought ways to push their traditional style and graphics engine. Even if it’s just new ways of conveying the same old information, it makes this last episode still feel new.
On a technical level, I can’t think of a better way to wrap up a long series like this. Long-form stories in games don’t always pan out, so it’s nice to see the developers try and make it special the few times it happens. There are still the requisite explosions and Walkers here, but the Still Not Bitten team is more importantly able to pull off the emotional impact this chapter is supposed to have. It’s not perfect – I have some questions about some plot holes I think exist. But, having said that, there are a number of moments that help this episode’s finality sink in. I was emotionally invested to the point that I didn’t care what the plot holes were, or how strange some of the scenes felt. I just wanted to see it through.
The one thing that did throw me for a loop is the lack of a conclusive ending. Without giving anything away, the story leaves wiggle room for more adventures to continue. I can see the incentive to do this, considering how big this series used to be, but with the closure of Telltale Games, and the general fatigue that people have not only with this series, but with zombies in general, it’s hard to imagine Skybound going back to the well any time soon. The ending that exists works well enough, but I think it contradicts the whole point of calling this the “Final Season” of the series. It’s always good to have a backup plan, but not when it so boldly contradicts the marketing.
Ultimately, it may be better if this is the last we see of The Walking Dead for a long time. Engagement for this series is at a low point, and it feels like the TV show has gone on for fifty years. For fans, The Final Season is very much worth checking out, with writing that feels personal, and with representations of people we don’t normally see. This season also tackles a number of themes, some of which have an impact on gameplay, that don’t exist in a lot of games because of how much they rely on being part of a story-heavy narrative. But does any of it really matter when people see all of it as passé because of the genre? The name?
Due to its assistance in reviving the adventure genre, and the now infamous cancellation and rebirth of this very season when Telltale closed and Skybound took over, The Walking Dead has already made its name in gaming history. Once the dust settles and the complete version of The Final Season has been on the market, I wonder how people will look back on these four episodes down the road. For myself, I think the episodes are a bit uneven, but not the worst this series has ever been. Not by a longshot. There are far too many interesting ideas at play, and new mechanics that hint at where the future of episodic adventure games, if there is one, could go.
This game was reviewed on PS4 using a digital copy I downloaded from PSN, as part of the season’s Season Pass. If you would like to contact me, Twitter is always good. Emailing me at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com is always great, too!