"What was great back in 2012 is no longer great in 2018..."
The Walking Dead's first season was met with critical acclaim and is believed to be the inspiration behind present episodic adventure titles outside of Telltale, like Life is Strange. Since that time, we've witnessed several new series and licensed properties with mixed reception. Included in that mixed reception were seasons two and three of The Walking Dead. All the while, fans and critics alike have laid into these games for their lack of meaningful choices and consequences, though Telltale still boasts choice as a hallmark to this day. While one episode is too early to deny or support these claims, my stance has always been that meaning in choices lies in the journey — dialogue and small quips — rather than wide-branching story arcs.
What I will say, though, is that, love it or leave it, the final season is a familiar return for the long-running series. By my estimate, the pacing of the story, new characters introduced, and ensuing conflicts are predictable. Now, that doesn't necessarily make it bad, but fans and critics of the series should know what to expect. The key here is the quality of those predictable elements. Contrary to popular criticism, I have enjoyed the various casts, choices, and delivery of prior seasons. The final season is no different.
Clementine takes center stage again, this time with AJ, a young but mature kid I'd estimate to be around 5 or 6 years old. The two are on the road, trying to get by, when, of course, conflict arises and new friends (?) reveal themselves. What ensues are choices like who Clementine spends her time with, how she resolves conflicts, and if she wants to play nice or choose a rugged, pragmatic life. Unlike other adventure series with dialogue choices, the ones here are simply compartmentalized into friendly, mean, avoidant, or stoic. Shades of gray don't exist, which is a sorry state for Episode 1, making interactions far less interesting than they could be. That being said, while the dialogue choices are lackluster, the dialogue itself and voice acting are still engaging.
Over the course of the game, the developers frequently remind us at the top corner of the screen that "AJ will remember that," and so on. How AJ develops seems like it'll be heavily influenced by Clementine's choices, but that hasn't come to fruition just yet. I like AJ as a character, and I want him to grow up well, but based on how Telltale has decided to judge my shaping of his behavior by episode's end, I can't help but feel a tinge of frustration, as their interpretation of my choices are discordant with mine.
Most of the gameplay takes place in dialogue choices, but players will be tripping and braining zombies with Q and E throughout. While not intended to be challenging, these sequences do pull me into the game more than just watching Clementine do it all on her own. I feel like I have to be vigilant and aware of what's going on, lest Clementine die.
The voice acting's good, the music's okay, the controls are just fine, but the visuals are a step up from previous seasons. While I've always enjoyed The Walking Dead's art style, they have certainly upped their graphics game with better textures, more colors, better shading, and smoother animations. The game simply "pops" more.
Episode 1 is a good indication of where the season and series are headed, and while I've thoroughly enjoyed it, when titles like Life is Strange and Before the Storm are released and compete with the franchise, one has to expect Telltale to up their game. What was great back in 2012 is no longer great in 2018, and maybe that's why Telltale is putting the cap on the series with The Final Season.
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.