In our previous review of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, we said our abrupt goodbyes to Clementine as the season, series, and studio all looked prematurely dead. Fittingly, the season has clawed out of its own grave, moving soil and stone to stand undead, ready to deliver the ending our hero deserves. Happily, the trouble seems worth it, at least for this penultimate episode, as it's clearly the best of the season.
Episode three opens with a lengthy "previously on" segment that will catch anyone up to speed who may have lost the plot along the last several hectic months for Telltale. Unlike most cliffhangers, however, we don't pick up right where the last episode left off. Rather, we move forward with the surviving kids of the boarding school as they gear up to get their friends back. The first half of the episode deftly balances their last, fleeting moments of adolescent joy with the grave reality of what comes next. Clementine, AJ, and the rest have to sneak into the bandit camp and save their captive friends, and it represents the season's theme of innocence long lost, for AJ especially who has grown up without ever knowing the meaning of the word.
The episode is paced very well and essentially split into two halves, the calm before the storm and the storm itself. This is something they tried in the episode before, but whereas then it felt like a slog for the first part, now it feels like a tense prologue to their dangerous plan. The AJ detractors (I've seen your comments) will have a tough time still rejecting him since his actions in this episode are his most pivotal so far, and often funny too. One would be hard-pressed to enjoy this season without appreciating AJ, but for those who haven't liked him yet, this should be the episode to do it for you.
With this being the real beginning of the end for Clementine's story, the first half of the episode also finds a way to beautifully reflect on her history as a survivor. It's in these moments most of all where this episode really shines. As the series comes to a close in just a few weeks, the long goodbye is bittersweet and the developers capture the perfect tone in these quieter moments. When AJ extinguishes a lantern after a small party the kids have on the eve of their big day, you're left in silent darkness for a moment longer than you'd expect, and it's then where the writers have really signaled "this is it." From here on, it feels like it'll be fast to the end with drastic life-altering — or even life-ending — decisions to make.
From here on out, it's not going to be easy.
The action that all comes thereafter is well choreographed, and the episode even does a few cool gameplay segments that they've not done before, like a first-person section when Clem is walking through a herd of zombies. For the most part, though, the same tired and dated gameplay returns. It's not as though anyone would expect much else at this point, but fatigue in these parts serve as a partial explanation for how Telltale fell apart.
The last decision in the episode is an extremely difficult one to make. I've played this series since day one and always made it a point to never see any story branches other than those chosen on the first playthrough, but at the end of "Broken Toys," I was left shaken with my choice, and honestly even tried to reverse it when credits began to roll, but by then it was too late. My game had saved and I'm now heading into the finale wondering if I screwed up.
The achievement list, like the rest of this season, is not as simple as other Telltale games have been. You'll get a few unmissable achievements, but you'll also need to chase six more collectibles, place them in your room, and pay close attention to a few missable moments. One of them, petting the school's dog for the third time in as many episodes, will only unlock if you've done it in each of the past two episodes. If you've completed the game to this point, you've done that and have nothing to worry about. There is, thankfully, no story moment that requires you to play two opposing branches as there have been in previous episodes.
SummaryTelltale's final season was presumed dead a few months ago, but just like the titular zombies, The Walking Dead: The Final Season has risen from the grave to live again. It's a good thing too, because "Broken Toys" is the best episode of the season by far. In its heyday, The Walking Dead deftly juggled strong character moments, difficult choices, and a somber tone to win Game of the Year awards. In 2019, the landscape is different, and justifiably fewer are as impressed by the Telltale formula these days, but it's heartening to see Clementine may leave this world with a bang, not a whimper.
- Thematically strong, with AJ becoming exactly who you led him to be
- A pauseworthy, difficult final choice
- A reflective, somber tone that feels like the beginning of a long goodbye
- The usual tired gameplay scenarios
The reviewer spent three hours trying to do right by AJ while also trying not to miss any achievements. He nailed the second part. An Xbox One review code was provided by the publisher.
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