Zombie survivor Clementine embarks on her final story, as creators Telltale Games give their graphics a much-needed revamp.
Its over six years now since Telltale Games revolutionised video game storytelling with their first season of The Walking Dead adventures. At that point the company, composed of many veterans of LucasArts, had already been going for a good few years but they had only really done comedies such as revivals of Sam & Max and Monkey Island. As such, The Walking Dead – based on the original comic book and not the TV show – was a major departure into serious drama. A heart-breaking one, most would say, but now the story of Clementine is finally coming to an end.
The Walking Deads success was due to a number of factors, beyond just the novelty of having a point n click adventure that was deadly serious. The writing was much better than most games at the time and the voice-acting was especially good. But it was also one of the key titles to popularise the idea of a branching narrative, where your moral decisions are remembered by the game and influence the rest of the story (although to exactly what degree is always a matter contention).
But as time went on Telltale began to overextend themselves and the quality of The Walking Dead sequels, and their other titles, became increasingly erratic. They stubbornly refused to update their aging graphics technology and other developers, such as Life Is Strange creators Dontnod, started to beat them at their own game. Internal politics caused a dangerously delayed response to these problems but now finally Telltale are trying to fight back… by providing closure.
If youve already played the short demo of The Final Season youll know what while it doesnt feature an entirely new graphics engine it does look and work noticeably differently to Telltales previous games. Theres an attempt to take things off-the-rails and add more freedom of movement, including combat that you can both avoid and initiate as you want. Almost by their own admission it is only a half-measure but at least its a positive one.
Walking around the game world feels more like an actual video game now, rather than just an interactive comic book where you can only do exactly what the developer wants, when they want you too. Its still by no means an action game though and as tempting as it might be to compare it with something like The Last Of Us the similarities are purely superficial.
Yes, there are zombies and the game now has an over-the-shoulder camera view but its still just as linear as ever. The newly vaunted freedom is just an illusion and although you can pick a fight with zombies whenever you want it still boils down to poorly-orchestrated QTE sequences. And while the graphics are certainly an improvement, at least in terms of the backdrops and lighting, the animation remains as stiff and wooden as ever – and that was always the main problem.
Telltale has been able to get away with things for so long because the most important element of an adventure game is always its story. But for those that dont know the character of Clementine or her situation that means an awful lot of exposition is needed to bring you up to speed. Thats an unavoidable problem, but while it means you can jump into this final season without having played any of the others it does limit the entertainment youre likely to get out of it.
And whether youve played the previous games or not this first episode also has to introduce the new set-up, which involves Clementine and AJ trying to get by in a community run by teenagers and younger kids. Theres a faint attempt to homage Lord of the Flies, but so far everything seems much safer and saner than any of the adult run ones from previous games.
Instead, and this is the most interesting story aspect so far, its AJ who is the real danger, as hes too young to know a world without zombies. As a result hes more violent and impulsive than Clementine was at his age and she struggles to teach him how to socialise and interact with strangers.
We had worried that Clementines relationship with AJ was too obvious a mirror of her own situation at the beginning of the first season, when she was the naïve child being protected by the troubled but principled Lee. But AJ is a very different person to Clementine and were reasonably confident Telltale isnt going to end up being quite as predictable as it initially appeared.
But that remains to be seen and this review is only for the first episode, which truth be told is rather dull. All the exposition may be necessary but its not done in any compelling or original way, with lots of repetitive dialogue and conversations. As such, the façade that this is anything truly new quickly begins to peel away. None of that means that the final journey wont be worth taking, but the first steps are not particularly enjoyable.
The Waking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 1
In Short: An uninspiring beginning to Clementines final story but theres enough potential in the plot, and the more cinematic visuals, to leave hope that itll end better than it started.
Pros: Clementine is still a very compelling protagonist and AJs unusual situation holds a lot of promise. The attempts to update the presentation are welcome, at least at first.
Cons: The changes to the graphics and gameplay are very superficial and the experience is still as linear as ever. Overfamiliar scenario and repetitive dialogue.
Formats: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Price: £18.99 (season pass)
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: 14th August 2018 (Switch TBA)
Age Rating: 18
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