"The depth and realism turn a one- to two-hour experience into several hours of enjoyment as the game persists long after my Steam client closes."
Fade to black. Pow, pow, pow! This is the end to Episode 4 of The Walking Dead's second season. While fans can safely assume that Clementine survives the assault, concrete answers await Episode 5's audience. From here, Episode 5 ties several threads together to form a macabre or bittersweet bow atop Season 2. Telltale assured fans that it heard the critiques and desires of Season 1 devotees — primarily with regard to meaningful decision making that impacts the story — though several in the community have complained about false promises. Does Telltale pay up in the end, or was something lost in translation?
The final episode opens with a black screen and white text blankly stating that decisions impact outcomes. Episode 5 is interspersed with important decisions, some bearing the classic, untimed two-decision branch, while others occur in typical four-choice, timed fashion; these latter instances at least appear dire in their potential consequences. ''Appear'' is the operative word here. Whether or not the unique outcomes of Season 2 satisfy nay-sayers is inconsequential to this reviewer. Rather than focus on the results, I enjoyed the journey. True to Telltale's recent style, the difficult decision-making, no matter how devastating, remains believable and meaningful. Here, I constantly reflect on my decisions and what they meant for the people they affected. Sometimes you can do everything right and still lose. Sometimes there just isn't any good decision, pure and simple.
However, rest assured that the decisions here never mattered more. Days after completing the season, I still reflect on everything that happened and how traumatic everything must be for Clementine who is — child, adolescent, or adult? What do those labels even mean, especially in the post-apocalypse? If I had chosen differently, would I be asking myself other questions? From a perspective outside of the game, how is Telltale going to accommodate for each player's outcome? With Season 3 confirmed, my anticipation couldn't be higher. What I look forward to even more is discussing Season 2 with my friends as we theorize, wax philosophical, and scoff at each other's favorite characters and horrific decisions.
Episode 5 flies by. Telltale did an excellent job of pacing the episode and keeping me engaged. Although the episode isn't action, action, action, I couldn't find any fluff. Telltale continues to avoid item-hunting and similar puzzles, opting to emphasize character interaction. Other gameplay and ''combat'' continue to serve as intense, interactive alternatives to simply watching NPCs do the dirty work. These instances remain easy in that players will rarely fail, which is completely appropriate for an adventure game that doesn't pretend to be a first- or third-person shooter; however, Telltale expertly infuses fear and urgency in each of these moments. I couldn't say this in Season 1, and Telltale deserves praise and recognition for this vast improvement in game design.
Although the voice acting typically steals center stage from the music, I have to say that the background tunes definitely enhanced the experience in Episode 5. I can't recall if these aural complements existed in prior episodes, but they certainly enhanced some scenes in Season 2's finale. Consistent with The Walking Dead's previous installments, the voice actors continue to add body to real dialogue while the comic book flare stably drives the series' personality. Controls are never a frustration and won't detract from the sense of immersion.
I wish I could dissect the story, characters, and sociology and psychology delivered to us through Telltale's interpretation of Kirkman's work. In this way, reviewing The Walking Dead early has been a little lonely for this reviewer, as I cannot wait to debate and discuss its inner workings with my friends. The depth and realism turn a one- to two-hour experience into several hours of enjoyment as the game persists long after my Steam client closes. I simply cannot wait for Season 3 — or to passionately argue with my friends as I would over a good book or movie.