Shambling onto our devices in 2012, Telltale’s The Walking Dead was a surprise hit. The developers revolutionised the ‘point-and-click’ genre and the relationship between Lee and Clementine pulled at our heartstrings. Six years later (and after two seasons that failed to live up to the original), Clementine is all grown up and Telltale are seeking to give closure on her story in The Walking Dead: The Final Season. Episode 1 (with the next three to follow over the coming months) does contain some issues, but offers a lot of potential for this to be a great send-off.
Episode 1, divided into three acts, has some pacing issues in Act 2 that deflate the tension of its apocalyptic setting. It’s understandable that Clementine must get to know new characters but the resulting exposition could have been handled more efficiently and not dragged out the narrative so much.
The story could be accused of unoriginality. The protagonists meet a group… it seems like a good place where they can be safe… bad things happen. This has been a classic trope of The Walking Dead time and time again and the story doesn’t feel as fresh anymore.
However, the episode has a strong emotional centre based around Clementine and AJ, the former being a parent-figure to the latter. This may seem to be a recreation of Lee and Clementine’s relationship but that isn’t the case. Whereas Clementine was a child of the ‘old world’, forced to quickly grow up and learn how to survive, AJ was born into the apocalypse. He barely acts like a child because he’s only known survival, and his arc seems like it’s shaping up to be an inversion of Clementine’s: a child of the ‘new world’ learning to not just survive, but to be a kid. So while the plot isn’t especially new, the characterisation is highly compelling and could, if realised effectively, reach the same emotional heights as the first season.
Gameplay remains similar to previous instalments, though with some changes. The combat is more interactive and the free camera allows for greater player control. The graphics are also a significant improvement on previous games, especially the lighting. One scene late into the episode may be the scariest sequence in the whole franchise, mostly due to the use of shadows to create a tense atmosphere. It is significant that, even in the final season, Telltale are continuing to improve this core formula, demonstrating their passion for this franchise.
Episode 1 of The Walking Dead: The Final Season has some issues with pacing and originality. However, the fantastic core relationship between Clementine and AJ, combined with updated graphics and experimental new gameplay provides a fun adventure. After two lacklustre seasons, The Walking Dead finally seems to be reanimating.