It’s an unfortunate fact of gaming life that some games are overshadowed by their circumstances. Duke Nukem Forever may be a mediocre-to-poor effort in the final analysis, but its actual quality arguably doesn’t matter – its status as vapourware completely destroys any chance it had at a fair whack on the critical table. Similarly, The Last Guardian is the long-awaited followup to Shadow of the Colossus, a stone-cold classic on many critics’ lists of the greatest games ever created. Whatever the final product might look like, opinions will be skewed before analysis even begins.
We could very well apply this same mentality to Telltale’s The Walking Dead: The Final Season. This last series began its run back in August 2018, when Telltale’s closure and all the controversies surrounding it were soon to be headline news in the gaming world. Telltale effectively abandoned the game, meaning it was adrift for some time before original The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman’s company Skybound Games picked it up and “resurrected” it (ha, ha). Skybound is promising the final episode in March this year, but until then we have this third instalment to tide us over.
Those of you who aren’t familiar with The Walking Dead’s final season will be thoroughly confused by what’s going on in this third episode. Naturally, the third episode follows directly on from the second, with Clementine holding lowlife Abel hostage and hoping to get information on how to get her new friends back. As ever, she needs to balance tending to her charge AJ with getting the information she seeks and navigating a world torn apart not only by the undead, but by human misery, too.
Obviously, this new episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season doesn’t reinvent the wheel any, choosing instead to stick to its gameplay and narrative guns. That’s a decision that makes sense in the wider context of the game’s history, since Skybound Games probably won’t want to rock the boat concerning what is still a sensitive issue for many. The Walking Dead still has a pretty solid reputation, especially since it was the title that skyrocketed Telltale to fame, so many will tune in here simply for the continuation and conclusion of a story they’ve been following for some time.
Of all the properties Telltale has worked on over the years, The Walking Dead is probably the most grim and unrelentingly tragic. Guardians of the Galaxy and Tales from the Borderlands took a more humorous approach to their subject matter, while Game of Thrones and The Wolf Among Us were genre exercises in fantasy and noir respectively. This third episode of the final season of The Walking Dead does contain a couple of uplifting moments – a scene near the middle of the game with the “delinquent” children comes to mind – but it’s largely the same dark journey through a world gone mad as its previous episodes have been.
Unfortunately, that does mean that The Walking Dead: The Final Season’s technical issues come to light a little more. The game still uses the rather outdated Telltale Tool engine, and although some iterations have been made on the original model to make it a little more cooperative with modern systems, it’s still clearly lagging behind vastly superior alternatives like Unity and Unreal. The weaker engine leads to some emotionally charged scenes unintentionally becoming hilarious, with characters popping in or disappearing occasionally and ruining the drama.
In gameplay terms, The Walking Dead: The Final Season is the same extremely light adventure title you’ve come to know and either love or hate. If you don’t like the way Telltale approaches point-and-click gaming, then you really won’t like this, and nothing will change that. The puzzles are still fairly unremarkable – find lock, find key not far from lock – and although effort has been made to improve the game’s standard “X will remember this” dialogue dynamic, Clementine’s journey is still somewhat overly reliant on creaky Telltale tropes and doesn’t sufficiently advance the gameplay for non-story fanatics.
That said, if you’ve got some investment in these characters – as we have – then it’ll be worth the price of admission just to see where their story goes next. Robert Kirkman reportedly thought it was very important for Clementine’s story to receive adequate closure, and although we were never huge fans of Clementine as a protagonist, we’ve come to love her in her new role as rugged protector and survivalist. As such, we’ll be sticking with The Walking Dead: The Final Season. The third episode is undeniably paced a little weakly, and those gosh-darn quick time events still hang over the franchise like the sword of Damocles (which you must press X to dodge). For those invested in the narrative, however, The Walking Dead: The Final Season’s third episode raises the stakes sufficiently and sets things up nicely for the upcoming final episode.