Going into something labeled "The Final Season" after several years of continuous storytelling is a fun proposition all by itself, and that's where we find ourselves with Telltale's The Walking Dead, which began back in 2012 with the story of Clementine, then just a little girl afraid and alone. Over the years we've seen her grow into a survivor, a fighter, a leader, and now in The Walking Dead: The Final Season, a surrogate mother. Following in the footsteps of her post-apocalyptic mentor, Clem's final season kicks off with a bit too much retread of past moments as she is forced to stroll down Memory Lane often. Still, there's enough here to merit finishing this years-long story that has the opportunity to go down as one of gaming's most memorable.
The opening of the game may surprise some players who have kept up with the story. We last left Clem about to embark on a mission to save AJ, her surrogate son, and it seemed as though season four would focus on that mission. Instead, we pick up after she's already got him back and they're out looking for more permanent shelter. Eventually, they find their way to what was once a boarding school and is run only by kids who have survived this long. This new setting feels wholly different than any community that came before it and it's very interesting as a result.
Gameplay in this episode is slightly different than any other Telltale game in that it's always presented over the shoulder of Clem, making it feel more like an action-adventure game at times. There are more opportunities for Game Over screens this time around, like one scene in which you have to manage a hoard of walkers and lure them into traps. It's the type of scene that, in previous seasons, would play out more slowly and more like the usual point-and-click, but in this episode, it feels like something more than the usual Telltale fare.
As Clem is introduced to the new cast of characters, the writing forces her to revisit different moments in the story to the point of it getting dull at times. There's a lack of subtlety in how the game does this. It's easy to understand that Clem is now the parent looking after a child that is not her own, much like Lee was looking after her so many years ago. The story repeatedly reminds players of this role reversal as if no one noticed otherwise. Clem is often telling AJ and others to "keep that hair short" or reminiscing about Lee. There's a place for some looking back in that way here in the final four episodes, but in this case there's just a bit too much of it.
A new visual effect makes backgrounds look just like the comics
Still, Clementine's journey remains one worth following through to the end as it approaches quickly. Telltale has announced the release dates for the next three episodes in this four-episode final season, revealing the story will be over before the end of 2018. If you've come this far alongside her, there's plenty of reasons to finish out the story, with her character closure being chief among them. The story also seems to be setting up for a look at how kids who saw the world end and kids who were born into the post-apocalypse differ, and that should make a very interesting theme all season as it does here in this premiere.
The kids-only setting brings up questions about how it works — is it more akin to Peter Pan, Children of the Corn, or Lord of the Flies? The game toys with that for a while before a final few minutes that take a drastic turn. Unfortunately, the turn feels a bit unrealistic, as it all hinges on one particular character behaving in a way that was not at all like they were before. It's a riveting final scene, but when the credits roll, how you got there may feel a bit cheap.
For the first time in a long time, the achievements are not as simple as play it, get them all, move along. There are 13 to be had in this premiere and you can only get 11 of them at best in your first playthrough. Some are even tied to making certain decisions, although thankfully not at any major story moment. It's little stuff, like to console AJ with words or to tickle him. It'll require one full playthrough and a second partial playthrough on separate save files — don't overwrite your canon story! — to earn the completion this time, including the need to gather a few simple collectibles along the way and place them in your quarters at a specific moment. Never before in the series have you needed a guide for the achievements, but this time you will.
Check out our Best Xbox Adventure Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
SummaryThe Walking Dead: The Final Season kicks off with an up and down premiere. The new setting and cast feel unique and exciting for longtime fans, but those same fans may find the story retreading old plot points too often. More involved gameplay moments and some presentation changes make this Telltale game feel different than the rest as well, like a really cool effect that makes backgrounds seem like they're pulled right out of Kirkman's comics. One particular character arc pushes the limits of believability, which somewhat hurts an otherwise riveting final scene, but overall the premiere is worth jumping into for fans looking to finish what they started over a half-decade ago.
- An interesting new setting with strong characters
- Clem's growth continues to be worth following
- Awesome visual effect that makes the game look more like the comics
- Feels like it leans on the past a bit much
- Hinges on one particular character arc that seems unrealistic
EthicsThe reviewer spent over two hours back with Clementine and AJ, collecting 9 of 13 suddenly missable achievements along the way. An Xbox One review copy was provided by the publisher.
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