Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Back in the summer of 2017, when Telltale Games revealed that they were developing a brand-new season of their iconic Walking Dead franchise, it was practically an expected event. The series was the one that had put the then indie-size developer onto the map thanks to clever characterization and a riveting, emotional story between two characters, Lee and Clementine, and their journey.
As a result, when it was announced that this new season would be actually be the last in the franchise, it left fans both impressed and saddened by this bold choice. The developer had just announced that they would be closing off what was easily one of their most iconic franchises. As a result, it left fans eager for the first episode’s release in order to get the first taste on how Clementine’s beloved story would come to a close. However, those fans may have to keep on waiting due to a rather shallow episode with poor filler in between pivotal moments. The first episode of The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series – The Final Season is a meager and rather stupefied experience, that may revolutionize the style of gameplay that Telltale has created over the years thanks to a more modern third person camera angle and have an exciting set up for future episodes, but isn’t able to sufficiently stand on its own due to its shallow story.
When analyzing games from Telltale, it becomes very clear that the most impressive aspect is usually the story. However, with this first episode, Telltale has reversed that ideology onto its head, as to where the gameplay and its innovations are actually the driving force. That doesn’t mean there isn’t attempts to create a compelling story. Given in sparse scenes and in massive abundance towards the conclusion of the length episode, there are moments that are truly brilliant. They shock, scare, and have the riveting fear that I have found a trademark of every game in the franchise so far. However, by far, the best aspect of the entire episode is the conclusion. The twist that occurs during the final scenes may be predictable and is foreshadowed heavily in early sequences, but it never drastically took away from the shock value and emotional residue of the actual plot twist. It also led to one of the most dramatic and heart-pounding cliffhangers that the studio has infamously placed into their games.
In addition, the characterization of the episode, particularly AJ, is stellar. Each character is given proper time to develop, a necessity considering that Clementine is the only returning character from previous seasons. At the heart-pounding conclusions, most of the characters do end up feeling like sufficient parts for their functions, outside of a few weak characters like Brody for instance. But easily the standout character of the entire episode is the adorable AJ. When the first trailers for this game released, many noted how similar the premise was to the very first episode and how AJ would most likely play the “Clementine” role as seen in the first season. However, that is not entirely true. In function, they may accomplish the same things but AJ has a totally different personality compared to that of younger Clementine. He is less innocent and more hardened. In addition, unlike Clementine in the first season, there is always the impression that the decisions made regarding AJ will affect later sequences and episodes, even if the number of actual choices is dwindling to say the least.
However, as much of the episode’s storytelling leans towards characterization, the actual pacing itself tends to drag, particularly in the middle act. It may not be as poor as the first episode of season two, but it has definite issues and is single-handedly the weakest aspect of the entire story. Scenes tend to feel disjointed at times with no clear coherency established. And while the conclusion was magnificent in both its design and execution, the context and substance of the sequence was rather incoherent with the rest of the turbinated episode.
When it comes to the gameplay of Telltale’s titles, they generally are nothing more than basic point-and-click actions, using the analog sticks to direct the cursor, and movement is generally controlled in a 2.5 D-like environment. These two aspects are practically eliminated from this game. The fourth season of Telltale’s esteemed franchise takes bold, innovative risks in its gameplay that ultimately pay off. The game is set in an entirely 3D setting, with full 360 degrees’ camera movement fixing one of the most critical issues in Telltale games. The ability to run or sprint is also added as well, serving as a nice addition to the package. Also the actual combat has evolved in a drastic way. Instead of being a series of quick-time events, there is some actual strategy involved in each sequence. One wrong choice can easily lead to an in-game death and not pressing a button at the set moment could easily lead to that error. At first, the change is admittedly jarring. I found myself dying far more than I expected, but as the episode progressed I found myself getting more familiar with the system. It was almost as if the pacing was dragged down so heavily in order to help the player familiarize themselves with the gameplay. As for technical issues, when playing on both Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4, I encountered no full software crashes and minimal bugs and glitches, outside of one early glitch I encountered on Nintendo Switch involving an unresponsive AI. The differences in presentation quality is minimal for both platforms and practically unrecognizable without a side-by-side comparison.
Ultimately, this first episode for the final season of Telltale’s rendition of The Walking Dead is a promising start. It introduces a compelling story, even if it is sometimes predictable, and a revolutionary gameplay that innovates on the standard formula that the studio has implemented for over the past decade. But its pacing and desire to place quantity over quality prevent this first episode to rank as one of the studio’s best, but rather nothing more than a somber and enjoyable start to a hopefully emotional and resonant final season.
Score: 6.8 out of 10