By Marty Mulrooney
Suffer the Children is the second episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, an episodic adventure from Telltale Games (Tales from the Borderlands, Guardians of the Galaxy). Following the explosive finale of the season’s debut episode, Clementine must find a way to regain the trust of the other children and help AJ find forgiveness.
A lot has happened since the first episode of The Final Season launched. Not necessarily in terms of in-game plot; Episode 2 picks up right after AJ’s fatal shot at the end of Done Running. Rather, I’m talking about the fact that Telltale Games has let go over 250 staff members (the bulk of the studio’s workforce) without giving them any prior notice or severance pay.
It has been an emotional week as a result, with the news spreading like wildfire across social media and the internet. It’s far too easy to forget sometimes that behind every Telltale episode, there were countless talented human beings working together to not only make a great game, but earn a living and pay the rent.
Playing Suffer the Children (an apt title indeed if the worrying behind-the-scenes tales being told by dismissed staff members are anything to go by), knowing that it might well be the last Telltale game ever made despite only being the second episode of a planned 4-episode season, is a bittersweet and difficult pill to swallow.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve watched Clementine grow up since the first season in 2012. Having her story cut short with the finish line in sight feels incredibly unfair and frustrating, but it’s important to keep things in perspective. Hundreds of people – the people who made this world and everything in it – are now out of work and worrying about a million different things; Clementine’s journey is no longer their concern.
Furthermore, the announcement that this final season will be completed and released in “some form” is disgraceful; Telltale should pay severance before even thinking about the fate of the remaining episodes. Besides, these games were the people who created them. Without those people all you have left is a brand, a logo and some memories.
Suffer the Children is like every other Telltale episode of recent years; it’s a narrative adventure that tells a story guided by the player’s decisions and choices. There are no traditional ‘puzzles’ and people who have always hated the format won’t be converted anytime soon.
Yet this season – much like the wonderful Tales from the Borderlands – does stray somewhat from the pre-established formula. It’s almost as if you can feel the developers pushing against the usual constraints and boundaries. For example, the action is no longer restricted to quick-time-event sequences; there are some highly effective scenes where Clementine can be moved freely as she fires a bow and arrow at approaching walkers.
Meanwhile, the story is dialed up a notch; a familiar, not entirely welcome face from the past returns – along with her awesome voice actor – and the fireworks that ensue are riveting. Melissa Hutchison has never faltered as Clementine, always delivering a world-class performance that sold the character and endeared her to players. Suffer the Children gives Hutchison strong material to work with – touching on themes of romance, loss, parenthood and conflict – and the end result is an emotional resonance that can only be earned over a prolonged period of time. If this truly is the end of Clem’s journey, she’s going out on a high.
When Alternative Magazine Online first launched in 2009, I remember reaching out to Telltale to tell them how cool I thought their games were and to let them know about my website. Someone kindly responded to me soon after and gave me access to every game Telltale had released to date; from that day forward I was also sent review copies of every game the studio released until it effectively shut down last week. I have conducted over 35 interviews with the voice actors and developers and in many ways, Telltale feels like part of AMO’s DNA.
This review has been incredibly difficult to write; it has taken an entire week for me to organise my thoughts and prepare myself to say goodbye. All I have left to say is thank you to everyone who has contributed to the incredible storytelling at Telltale Games over the past decade – the studio more than lived up to its reputation as the spiritual successor to LucasArts. Ex-Telltale developers were responsible for Firewatch and Oxenfree, so perhaps there is a silver lining after all; I can’t wait see what you all do next. Telltale’s games have been with me through some of the saddest and happiest times of my life. Marty will remember that.