It’s been a very long road for The Walking Dead, and an even longer one for Telltale Games. Amidst numerous allegations of mismanagement over the years, the studio shut its doors late last year, leaving members of the staff unpaid and without a job. Their final project, the last season of its landmark series, The Walking Dead, was left unfinished, with only two of the four episodes released. While the loss of Telltale is definitely a shame and hopefully all the people affected by its closure have found, or are in the process of finding new job opportunities, it was good to hear that Skybound, the label behind the The Walking Dead comics was picking up the series in order to close it off, via their own internal development studio, also bringing in to the project some of the team behind the season.
And it’s a very good thing that the final season of The Walking Dead is seeing a conclusion, because it’s been pretty great so far, three episodes in, the third one helmed by the aforementioned Skybound collaboration. In it, we see a practically grown up Clementine, probably in her mid to late teens, with a kid in tow, AJ, who was only a baby last time we saw him, in A New Frontier. Unlike that season, we now get full control of Clem again, and so far, we’ve yet to see what was the fate of Javier and his family. What we do get is a gripping season, with Clem and AJ trying to make a living out in the world on their own, that is until they run into a group of kids hiding out in an abandoned school building during the first episode.
Things go smoothly for a while, but soon tension rises as the reason behind the group’s relative safety is discovered, and their leader eventually meets his maker at the hands of AJ. AJ in this season is Clem’s moral barometer — he’s been under her wing ever since he was born, so everything she does and says deeply influences the man that he’s becoming. Decisions in the first two episodes eventually shape up the emotional state that he’s in the third episode. In fact, the emotional state of the entire cast is put to full display through a host of new stats shown at the end of each episode, and during them, along with the usual “X will remember this”, changes in relationship (for better or for worse) are also displayed.
Like the second season of The Walking Dead, the final one is also one full of action scenes. Back during that series of episodes a few years ago, Telltalte was still toying with the idea of including QTEs in their games, so far as to make an entire season that hinged on that mechanic, the so-so Jurassic Park game adaptation, so the combat and quick-time actions ended up being the weakest part of TWD’s second season. This final season also makes heavy use of those, as well as direct control shooting, with mixed results. There’s definitely a right order for doing these, be it firing arrows or stabbing walkers, so they don’t feel exactly like action scenes, but more like “action puzzles” at the end of the day. Technically, they work fine, even if some of the scenes that include them tend to drag on a little too long.
Riding back to the story, it’s neat to see that the writers have managed to wrangle in the TWD game canon for the final season. We get to see a returning character long since thought dead in a defining role that puts everyone on edge, including Clem, who has a past with whoever survived a particular moral decision from the first season. The third episode sees a conclusion to that arch by its end which in my version of the story felt quite good — I’ve always hated that character and was glad to see what happened to them as a culmination of my decisions over the many years since I played season one.
Since The Walking Dead: The Final Season was pulled from Steam shortly after Telltale’s demise — previous purchasers can still access it and will receive the final episode as it’s released –, and just recently included in the Epic Store, pulling data from the previous seasons proved to be a little weird when I started playing the review copy. My decisions from the first two seasons did not carry over, while the ones from the third — A New Frontier — did. Still, it was good having to actually take a little quiz in regards to those early decisions, and kept things fresh in my mind for when their repercussions eventually popped up.
Technically, this season feels much more stable and polished that any of the recent Telltale projects. I’ve only encountered one small glitch when playing, but it didn’t impede my progress like some of the more aggressive bugs in their other games have. It’s also worth noting that it looks pretty darn good, sporting a sharp comic book style and texture work that brings life to the characters, whether they’re still human or not. Some of the more impressive visuals so far took place during the second episode, where Clem has a vivid nightmare and has to walk along a spooky corridor that’s lit beautifully. The art direction in this season rivals that of The Wolf Among Us, which was one of the best looking seasons I’ve played out of Telltale’s catalog.
Episode four, which will close out the final season of The Walking Dead, is set to release on March the 26th, and I’m very excited to see where everything will lead. Episode three ends on a painful dry cut that is going to make this wait especially rough. Good thing there’s a bunch of great stuff coming out in the meantime to keep me busy. I’m surprised by the overall quality of this season, and if things keep going the way they are, I’m sure its finale will prove to be as emotionally charged as the season has been so far. We will have a review of the final episode shortly after it’s released.