Video Game Review: The Walking Dead — The Final Season, Episode 1
Clementine is now AJ’s guardian in TWD: The Final Season.
When TellTale announced its next season of The Walking Dead, it came with the news that this would be the final season. Now Clementine’s closing journey has finally arrived, appropriately named The Walking Dead: The Final Season.
Its first episode, Done Running, jumps ahead from the finale of last year’s New Frontier season. New Frontier was a mixed bag, but if the first episode is any indication, The Final Season will return to the quality set forth by Clementine’s previous adventures.
The Final Season is supposedly the last series to use TellTale’s standard engine. This makes sense, as that engine has been around for nearly a decade now, and while it has had some tweaks, no major changes have ever been made.
Done Running introduces a new camera mechanic, which is essentially the standard over-the-shoulder camera found in most action games these days. This adds standard right-stick camera controls, which feels odd at first given TellTale’s history, but controls simply and straightforward once you get acclimated.
The Final Season features a bit of a time jump from the previous New Frontier season, and the art style feels like it has changed slightly to reflect this. Environments — lighting in particular — are more stylized and everything has a more worn and distressed look to it. A subtle change is that facial animations seem to be a little less canned; we’d notice reactions with Clem that didn’t seem possible in previous TellTale titles.
As for sound, TellTale has set a high standard and this is more of the same. Clem is fantastic as always, and the new cast holds its own — our only real issue is that in the younger supporting cast, one of the male leads sounds too old for the character he plays.
We’re not sure if TellTale is using The Walking Dead’s final season as a leaping off point for a new generation of gameplay or if it’s simply a response to some of the recent narrative-driven releases (most notably Life Is Strange), but the gameplay feels evolved. That may be strange to say given the amount of similar dialogue choices and QuickTime events sprinkled throughout, but through that still comes a smart evolution of how things work.
One of the biggest differences is the camera scheme noted above. This isn’t for all situations, but you can probably expect this in TellTale games moving forward. It provides a greater sense of interactivity with the world and makes it both easier to find stuff and harder to notice it — easier because you have control over the camera, harder because you’re not in a positioned angle specifically to point something out.
In this sense, it feels like a step back towards adventure gaming rather than interactive cut scenes, as it puts a greater responsibility of exploration and environmental awareness on the player.
Another subtle change is the appearance of a red circle on an interaction choice signaling an important moment. This type of change is effective for narrative games, as it allows the player to decide when to move forward with a scene.
Before this, it was intuitive most of the time, but there were always a handful of moments stolen from you because of “I didn’t know it would lead to that” syndrome. As with the camera, this pulls the title back toward a game-like feeling rather than an interactive cut scene, but that’s a good thing, as TellTale had lost that balance for a while.
Zombie kills have always been part of TWD gameplay, but this is the first time TellTale has given the player some significant choice during these moments, making it feel almost like an action game for a minute. Here, Clem has full movement over the environment during some zombie sequences, enabling access to traps (very limited), stealth or simply sprinting past them.
In actual combat, there are two attacks, a stun that goes for the knees or a lengthier kill with the traditional head attack. It remains to be seen if this has any impact on the big-picture narrative or if it’s designed simply to provide greater player agency, but on its own it’s fun and well designed.
Of course, the heart of a TellTale game is its story, and what this season presents so far is the tale of a generation growing up in the zombie apocalypse. Clem has taken the role of mentor over young AJ, and her journey leads her to a fortified school filled with students, mostly around the same age.
This is what gives the first episode a heart that seemed to be missing from the prior New Frontier story; rather than rehashing the “everything and everyone are bad” tropes, it gives a fresh perspective on survival and adaptation because the game’s setting takes place so far ahead of the initial zombie outbreak (we’re guessing almost a decade).
Clementine’s final story has started with an emotional and smart first step. By using a new approach to the apocalypse and The Walking Dead world, Clementine’s able to explore who she is as a teen in this world, while taking on a pivotal mentor/parent role for AJ and a leader of her new group. We can’t wait to see what The Final Season has in store.