After six years of exceptional storytelling Telltale’s The Walking Dead series is coming to an end. The Walking Dead: The Final Season is here, with Episode 1 setting the stage for the conclusion of Clementine’s long and emotionally charged story. After a brief detour for the third season, this latest release brings Clementine back into focus as the main character. What follows is a truly exceptional new episode in this long running series. One that sets the stage for a dramatic finale that players will both anticipate and dread once the full impact of this episode has been felt.
We pick back up with Clementine after she has already retrieved the missing AJ from his captors. The character that was once young and helpless is now strong and able to pass that strength on to others. Much as Lee did in the first season, Clementine acts as a protector and teacher for the relatively weak AJ. As they journey through the apocalyptic wasteland that is The Walking Dead, Clem and AJ stumble upon a new group of young survivors. Integrating into the group might be difficult though, as our heroes have spent a bit too long on the run.
Due to being billed as The Final Season, every moment of this new series will be important. Each minute that passes brings us closer to saying goodbye to a character we’ve all watched grow up over the last few years. Thankfully Telltale seems to understand that, with each second of The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 1 having the proper weight to it. Events don’t rush at you, the game lets you breathe a bit between epic zombie showdowns and dramatic interpersonal conflict. The result is a feature-length episode that tells its own interesting story while also teasing some epic events to come.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 1 is a near-perfect opener for this latest series
Every choice, every action, every spoken phrase feels important, even if by now we all know that just a few key choices actually have a large impact on the game. This is your Clementine, and you can play her how you wish. Want to be friends with the kids she meets up with? Want to tell them to fuck off? Both are options at times, and players can choose based on how they see their Clementine reacting.
Throughout the lengthy and enjoyable story you’ll have many choices to make. So far few feel like they’ll have a major effect on the game’s outcome, but they’re interesting nonetheless. What sticks to the Telltale formula, much to the better, is the stellar writing and voice acting. With so many new characters being tossed at the player in rapid succession, one might expect to yearn for old favorites. These newbies are pretty great though, and I’m already anxious to see where some relationships go in the episodes to come.
So, as expected the writing, story, and characters are excellent. Barring a few missteps, this has become the norm for Telltale, especially within The Walking Dead series. So, does anything make this Final Season opener stand out? Yes. A lot of stuff, actually.
Telltale has very obviously improved their engine and their gameplay style for this latest series. Players take more direct control of Clementine, with some sections playing more like a third-person adventure than the point-and-click nature of this series’ origins. The visuals have been vastly improved as well, leaning into the comic roots of the franchise, rather than shying away from it and trying for a more realistic look. The style brought forward here is excellent and players will actually have some wow moments where they might want to snap a screenshot.
Cinematography isn’t usually something you discuss when it comes to games, as camera control is so often out of the developer’s hands. For The Walking Dead though, the scenes are very deliberately framed most of the time. The Final Season – Episode 1 shows the skills of the people behind the camera (or should it be behind the computer screen?) in a bunch of different ways. Framing of characters and action is excellent and delivers emotions, tension, and glee whenever appropriate, while also crafting some truly great imagery.
The game is also far more stable than launch episodes of the past. Telltale has been at this for awhile, and their experience has shown through with each new series. This is the ultimate culmination of their previous work, while serving as a glimpse of things to come. With that, we seem to be able to expect a stable experience that looks and sounds better than anything Telltale has created before. As a harbinger of what’s to come, The Walking Dead: The Final Season is quite heartening.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode 1 is a near-perfect opener for this latest series. It lives up to the lofty expectations set by its predecessors, while also evolving the formula that had grown stale as of late. Returning to Clementine brings back all the emotional weight of three seasons of this game. New characters shine as well though, offering peaks at interesting dynamics in the episodes ahead. As the episode came to a close I felt the joy and agony that only a final season can offer. I was glad to have experienced a great episode, but dreading the fact that it would be over soon. I can’t think of any higher praise for this season premier.