"Telltale has found an exquisite balance of tension, reality, and humor."
Telltale's flagship series, The Walking Dead, returns for season three as we continue the tortured epic that is Clementine's life in the apocalypse. In season one, players followed Lee, while in season two we followed Clem. Here, in episodes one and two, we follow a new — and welcomed — protagonist, Javier. The temptation to reveal spoilers has never been greater, but I will attempt to deftly tip-toe around the burgeoning minefield that is the intrigue of this long-awaited sequel.
Javier's story, while not unique in any capacity, immediately drew me in through the expert characterization and script of the central cast. This is more than simple devotion to the series, since after I reviewed and gushed over season one, I was skeptical of the crew introduced in season two. However, Telltale has found an exquisite balance of tension, reality, and humor. The lives surrounding Javier feel real, which is what an adventure title like The Walking Dead should be all about.
Time has passed, people grow up, and the world leaves its scars on hardened survivors. While season three starts off excellent in its own right, the fact that it builds upon seasons one and two — which earned our coveted Editor's Choice and critical acclaim besides — certainly helps. What's most important about this link is that Telltale doesn't seem to abuse its relationship to prior successes, but rather massages them into the current narrative like a dry rub that brings out the flavor of a succulent sirloin. Or dismembered limb, if that's your thing.
Many fans of the series just want to know what happened to Clem and to hear — or live — her story. However, rest assured that Telltale masterfully hooked me in with Javier. Skepticism makes sense and is healthy, but Javier is a seamless marriage of flaws, charm, and heroics. Of course, the player is an integral part of that, but much of what Telltale provides in this regard complements who I want Javier to be and what I think the scripted dialogue pushes him towards.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect, including this award-winning series. In season three, on a few occasions, I found a strange omission of seemingly obvious choices, particularly in episode one. This caused frustration, but didn't completely take me out of the narrative. Given the pace of the episode and acceptable outcome, I compromised with the game and moved on satisfied — just not exhilarated. Clearly, Telltale has an idea of where the story should go, and too many deviations might make for an unwieldy plot. Moreso than in previous entries, season three seems to offer even more choices that can alter the narrative, but this may be too soon to tell. Presently, I feel as if my choices have unmistakably shaped the story, which is good enough, as perception is what's most important.
Of course, the question on many people's minds is how Telltale addresses the huge decision made at the end of season two. This is difficult to discuss without spoiling too much, but Telltale seems to have handled the transition well so far. I'll leave it at that. What's especially impressive is how Telltale handles flashbacks, an area they've cautiously approached in the past. These occasional asides can be challenging for writers to tackle, but the timing and brief exposure peppered throughout the two episodes accentuates the current narrative, adding just enough to pique interest without feeling too brief or cheap.
As far as gameplay goes, Telltale's stepped up their game. The dialogue timer didn't once feel too rushed, and the quick-time-events enhanced the experience most of the time, leaving me squeamish and apprehensive in a few cases. Telltale continues to use roaming sequences, but judiciously, and they're less puzzly and drawn out. One time, I even noticed an appealing atmospheric tune that actually caused me to pause as I just listened; a feat Telltale has not been so successful with in the past.
In terms of presentation, Telltale uses much of the same style, except the characters seem to animate more smoothly, moving with body language that complements the dialogue. The camera is a tool Telltale has used with expert precision in the past, and these two episodes are no exception. Action sequences shift quickly in tandem with swings and slams while tense dialogue uses artsy angles.
Season three is off to a thrilling beginning with a host of questions, answers, dramatic entrances, and believable new characters. Those bored of the zombie apocalypse won't find anything starkly different here as the setting certainly hasn't changed, but the people remain a constant of quality as they have in seasons past — mini-series aside. Although currently sated, I wince in anticipation of just how long episode three is going to take to come out. Let's hope the fire inside burns long enough for Telltale's next episode to come out.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.