When Telltale’s The Walking Dead premiered its first season back in 2012, it helped revitalize a dying genre. This excellent adaptation of the zombie comic series by Robert Kirkman also helped bring the point-and-click adventure genre back into mainstream focus. The first season told us the highly personal story of Lee and his young companion Clementine. The duo fought their way through a newly infected world full of the undead, and the season was full of narrative twists and turns that pulled on the heartstrings. The episodic game went on to win high accolades from industry critics and the gaming public alike. Over the last six years we’ve seen two additional seasons of the main franchise, as well as a few spin-off games to fill out the world. The quality of these additional games varied from great to poor, leaving some fans (myself included) hesitant on what’s to come. As we enter the fourth and final season, Clementine is pretty much on her own, and is forced to face that same undead world once again. Does Episode 1 of The Walking Dead: The Final Season manage to surprise franchise fans, or is it a continuation of recent Telltale blunders?
The Walking Dead Returns
At the start of the episode, it seems like quite some time has passed since we last saw Clementine. The toddler we once knew as AJ has grown up a few years, and is now able to walk, talk, and even curse on his own accord. The duo seem to be living out their days per usual, avoiding zombies when necessary and scavenging for supplies. The story starts with the pair visiting an abandoned train yard, hoping to scrounge up some food for their hungry bellies. In true Walking Dead fashion, shit quickly hits the fan, which results in Clementine and AJ meeting a new group of characters. For the rest of the brief episode, we get to meet some of these characters and learn a bit about their background. Unfortunately, character building is often so brief that you rarely get a chance to form meaningful bonds.
The game is split up into three acts, and does a good job delivering an exciting intro and a surprising ending. However, it slumps in the middle specifically in the character building department. Personally, I would have been happy with an entire episode dedicated to just Clementine and AJ. Although you do get a few scenes of this, this episode seems far too interested in throwing a plethora of new characters at you. Due to the short nature of the episode in the large number of new characters to meet, each one is barely relegated to a handful of lines of dialogue. I found myself struggling to place names with faces, or truly care about the larger picture.
The Tools and Looks to Kill
Although the story isn’t fantastic across the board, some new additions to gameplay and a visual upgrade make the experience feel more polished. Unlike The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, a lot of this episode gives players control of Clementine. Instead of just watching extended cutscenes and choosing dialogue options, you’ll be exploring areas, finding collectibles, and engaging in fights with zombies. The combat system is also new this time around, favoring basic attack commands instead of quick time events. You can approach a zombie and press “B” to stun them or press “Y” to kill them. This makes a handful of action scenes feel more involved than ever before, and adds some refreshing gameplay sequences.
However, the most notable change to the franchise are the visuals. The Walking Dead: The Final Season is the first game to take advantage of Telltale’s new engine, and it makes a noticeable difference. Although Telltale’s distinct cell-shaded style is still present, the art direction takes great inspiration from the comic book series. In many instances, scenes feel like comic panels that have come to life. As an adaptation of the Robert Kirkman comic series, The Walking Dead: The Final Season might just be the best adaptation in terms of nailing the visuals.
Overall, The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode One manages to produce quite a few surprises and entertaining gameplay to boot. The new gameplay features and upgraded visuals make for a deeper and more aesthetically pleasing experience, but the story falters occasionally. It’s also a pretty brief episode, clocking in at around two hours depending on how much time you spend seeking out collectibles. If you’re a long-time fan of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, you should definitely pick up this episode and give it a whirl. It might not be the knockout hit that we were all hoping for, but it’s a pretty damn good start to the final season. Hopefully, the story will find its footing and the season will have a decent plot. However, as long as it gives us some closure and a proper ending to the story of Clementine and AJ, I’ll be satisfied.