By Marty Mulrooney
The Walking Dead: The Final Season is the latest episodic adventure game from Telltale Games (Tales From The Borderlands, Batman: The Enemy Within). Split into four parts, this new series will conclude the epic journey of iconic video game character Clementine that began with The Walking Dead – “a tear-jerking masterclass in interactive storytelling” – in 2012.
The third season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead – 2017’s A New Frontier – was certainly enjoyable, even if it didn’t quite measure up to the previous two seasons. Clementine was a supporting character in that story, but in The Final Season she’s been positioned front and centre once again.
She’s still a complete badass, although she’s a little bit older and wiser than when players last spent time in her company. The child in her care – AJ – has also grown considerably and much of this first episode focuses on trying to teach him right from wrong in a world where both words have started to lose their meaning.
There is a noticeable step-up in quality from the previous season when launching Done Running for the first time. The interactive Story Builder – used to create a save game that takes into account your actions from the previous three seasons – is very stylishly put together, cleverly retelling the story so far in a comic book style (with input from the player at key moments).
The graphics of the main game itself look great too, with far less hitching between scene transitions than recent Telltale efforts and some stellar texture work (4K and HDR are both supported). The sound design is similarly excellent, with the voice acting in particular sounding superb. Award-winning voice actor Melissa Hutchison has been voicing Clementine for many years now to an incredibly high standard; it therefore says a hell of a lot that Done Running showcases some of her best work to date.
A strong script certainly helps. The gameplay mechanics are pretty much the same as always: chatting with supporting characters, quick time events and some difficult decision making. Elsewhere, there are some minor attempts at shaking up the pre-established formula with mixed results. Controlling Clementine directly as walkers approach feels clunky, especially when there doesn’t seem to be any point in choosing ‘stun’ over ‘kill’. However, a sequence set in a dark basement benefits massively from direct control of Clementine, managing to instil some genuine fear in the player.
Yet it’s the story that makes this first episode of The Final Season feel special. The first season in 2012 was lightning in a bottle and nothing since has ever quite measured up. Done Running pays touching tribute to Clem’s relationship with Lee Everett and how her time with him shaped her into the young woman – and survivor – she is today, while telling a compelling story that has no direct ties to anything that has come before. Placing Clem and AJ with a group of teenagers and young children trying to survive works beautifully, with each character well-developed in a short amount of time. Clem has done a lot of growing up over the past few years, but will she ever be able to stop being a loner? Will she ever find peace?
Done Running culminates in a rain-lashed finale with a killer ending that sets the heart racing, while perfectly setting the stage for Episode 2. If Telltale can maintain the high standards set here for the remaining three episodes, Clementine will surely receive the send-off she deserves. It’s already feeling bittersweet, but it sure is great to be back in Clementine’s bloodstained shoes.
9 OUT OF 10