The Walking Dead is back! Since the last instalment, Telltale Games closed down and development on the game was completed by Skybound. The company committed to continuing with Telltale’s work on their Walking Dead series and now The Final Season has concluded. I have to admit, in spite of the new management, I was looking forward to this given the cliff-hangers of the previous series.
I should first begin by talking about the previous series. In my last reviews I worked through the A New Frontier episodes as they came and gave a review of each. This worked well for a series that was destined to continue but as we have been informed by the developer this is The Final Season. As a result I am going to speak about the series as a whole and endeavour to give little away in terms of final plot. I am many things, but I am not one to ruin an ending!
Watch the official trailer for The Walking Dead: The Final Season below:
Seasoned players of Telltale series will not be surprised by the graphical quality of the games, but for those less well versed I will say that the style sits somewhere between anime and standard 3D fare. There is little to be discussed in terms of control since the games take the form of a point and click adventure but where they really excel is in storytelling. The plot twists, character development and decision making ability really do put the player in control of proceedings; so many times whilst watching the TV show I have wondered what would happen if I were in control, in these games I can finally play out those possibilities.
The final episode was released on March 26th, 2019 and I have waited until the season was concluded to give my verdict on the games. There were many reasons behind this, foremost among them was the simple fact that without knowing the ending I honestly couldn’t be sure how I felt about the games as a whole. When there is so little to discuss in terms of graphics and gameplay, the plot has to take centre stage.
When last we left our heroes we eagerly waited on Clementine’s hunt for AJ. Would she find him? Would they be able to survive? Unfortunately, in the first episode, little is fleshed out in terms of this search, we are simply introduced to them both travelling together. How they found one another, we don’t know. Though in truth I was just pleased that they did. The first decision that the player is faced with is an interesting one; do you respect the wishes of two (now) walkers to be left in peace or dispatch them to gain access to the food? Straight off the bat, this is a really intriguing problem. In all my years of watching the AMC show I had never really considered how the wishes of the once living would or could be respected in a world where their reanimated remains were trying to devour those still breathing. This decision actually took me a lot of time to act upon during my first play through. As it happens, regardless of your choice the game actually plays out almost identically. This was disappointing but not completely surprising given the limitations of this kind of sliding doors game style.
Following this there is a melee involving any number of walkers resulting in the action transitioning to what appears to be a hospital and introducing us to a new group of survivors; Marlon, Tennessee and a collection of children. The hospital is revealed to be a school surrounded by a larger than normal herd of the undead. Once again, throughout this episode the player is given a variety of choices, all of which determine the outcome of the coming events. Ultimately, this early on, the decisions revolve mainly around behaviours toward other characters, that is to say, whether you are pleasant or hostile toward them. During an encounter with the approaching horde Clem is told to be wary of stragglers and is subsequently slapped by one of the walkers. Given both the comic books and TV show’s growing focus on Whisperers I was immediately suspicious.
The plot moves quickly from this point and, after AJ is responsible for the death of a prominent character (sorry I’m really trying not to give too much away!), we move into another interesting aspect of the Walking Dead universe that needs to be explored. In the latter seasons of the TV show, the true danger has in fact not come from walkers but from other people, whether that be in the form of vicious groups resorting to savagery or to paranoia and suspicion growing within groups thrust together by nothing more than circumstance. In the second episode this theme is explored in considerable depth. Morality, and the way that the post-apocalyptic world affects it, is a key component of the first major decision in episode two, you really have to look within yourself to see which side of the argument you fall down on. For the first time since I have been playing the Telltale/Skybound series, I genuinely felt involved in a meaningful way. This decision, taken by Clem, is one that required real thought and introspection, it was no longer a ‘what will you do?’ but a ‘what was the right thing to do?’ It is in these sorts of decisions that the Telltale formula works so expertly. I was however, somewhat disappointed that regardless of the decision taken, the eventual outcome is the same; Clem and AJ are cast out and left to fend for themselves.
I will continue with the review in a moment, but this incident really highlights one of my major issues with this series. The choices that you have and the decisions you make give you an illusion of control, but ultimately the plot seems to be overtly predetermined. At times it feels like you’re on a bus rather than in a car; you can decide where the bus stops but the destination is predetermined, you are free to make a choice, but you are not free to choose your choices. I am not naïve enough not to understand that this is the way such games have to work, but I really began to ask myself whether this was in fact a game, or whether I was just watching a movie. After agonising, for longer than I would care to admit, over really difficult decisions thrown up by the game, it was a disappointment to see on second and third play throughs that the end result was ultimately the same.
As the series continues there are twists and turns as expected. Old characters are reintroduced and your reaction to them does determine how certain events play out. An interesting development that the game shows is with the afore mentioned Whisperers. In other Walking Dead media, under the leadership of Alpha, the Whisperers are shown to be brutal, animalistic and devoid of humanity, but in this series this is elaborated upon in a really interesting way. We see that, just as in all survivor groups, there are differences of opinion, different personality types and the residue of individuality. An intriguing character is that of James who has officially left the Whisperers due to his pacifist views but still utilises their methods. This diversity of opinion and character is something I must say I have felt was missing from all of the recent Walking Dead media since around Season 4 of the TV show. Once again, we as players are encouraged to think more deeply and to see the world the game inhabits in more empathetic terms than we otherwise would. This world is not just about death, this is our world, as it is now, with a lot more death thrown in.
From this point on I felt that the series dragged. The final two episodes were, in my opinion, far too wordy and I found the pace of the action severely wanting. Even the decisions I was taking felt less important than in previous episodes. Sure, the plot takes its usual twists, and there is a particularly haunting and memorable dream sequence, but all in all, it just felt a bit forced. Maybe this is the curse of the franchise; it is too long. I will confess here that I have recently ceased watching the TV show. I always intend to come back to it but since the mid-season break of the current series I haven’t been inclined to pick it up again. Everything feels too drawn out, the peril no longer feels real and the character development feels staid. I have to say that in my opinion, in the final two episodes of this series, the game has gone the same way.
The final episode does what you would expect; it plays with your emotions and it gives you heart-rending choices. Over the past few years we, the players, have become firmly involved with these characters, in particular Clementine. We have seen her grow from a side note to a key character and one whose fate we desperately want to be positive. As I’ve said, I am not going to give the ending of this series away. All I will say is that the final act is one which instantly went to the top of my list of ‘most engaging gaming moments’ and in all honesty, I am still torn as to whether I liked it or not. In one respect it was the perfect ending, in another, it was unsatisfactory. I think that perhaps that was the point of all of this. Four seasons of Telltale/Skybound storytelling, many hours of play time spread over the last few years, all set in a world where nothing is ever certain. Perhaps the ending was the only way it could have finished. In the Walking Dead universe, the final destination is never clear and your experience as a fan is always left insatiate.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season does not quite reach the same heights as A New Frontier, though all the key elements are there it just feels somewhat forced, as though the story could have been concluded with a single, longer episode rather than spreading it over four. This could be put down to the change in management and the collapse of Telltale as a company, though I don’t feel this is the decisive factor since much of the formula remains unchanged. Whilst I have certainly been affected by it and can honestly say that I have enjoyed playing, I began to feel that the decision making aspect had been usurped somewhat by a desire to emphasise emotional resonance and that no matter what I chose to do the impact on the action would be minimal. Though in certain cases it did have a telling effect, overall I just felt more constrained by this season than the last. From a graphical, sound and storytelling perspective the games are impeccable, I just left feeling somewhat disappointed. Maybe the format has run its course or perhaps there is simply nothing original left to say in the Walking Dead universe, just a reanimation of something that used to be so great. Perhaps fitting.
If you’ve played the previous seasons, then definitely be sure to complete the story. Just don’t expect it to be up to the same high standards as the last.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season was reviewed using a digital code supplied by the publisher.
Publisher: Skybound Games Developer: Telltale / Skybound Games Release Date: 26th March, 2019 Reviewed On: PC/Epic Games Store Also Available On: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch