"I stand and humbly applaud not only their efforts, but their outstanding execution."
Almost seven years ago we met Clementine and Lee. Since that time, we've seen our beloved child grow, but not harden, despite the world's best efforts. We love Clementine the way we would a daughter or close friend. She's what has kept this rocky series afloat, seeing it through changes in staff, a buggy engine, and lackluster encounters. It's around this same time that I began reviewing the series, having written reviews for each episode along the way. In this way — and likely similar to several fans of the series — I have felt an attachment to Clementine and the series as a whole. I've tried my best to shape Clementine into the person I'd hope she would be. Did I do okay, Clem?
Most of you are likely already aware, but Telltale hacked off the final season as if it were a recently bitten limb. With two more episodes promised, fans waited anxiously for an answer to Clementine's fate. Skybound Games swooped up and hired the "Still Not Bitten" team who worked on The Walking Dead at Telltale. Although I met Episode 3 with lukewarm reception, I honestly believe this finale is the best possible closure we could hope for. Given the team's recent work, I had my doubts. I stand and humbly applaud not only their efforts, but their outstanding execution.
The key here is that this is the best we could hope for. Many, myself included, wondered what direction the series was taking since Season 3. While I love what the developers have done here, I feel like they pushed themselves into some corners that don't make for an ideal ending the way we've seen in the first and second seasons, as well as other adventure titles like Life is Strange. Keeping my head out of the clouds, the final episode isn't without blemish.
Several times throughout the episode, odd behavior took me out of the game. Specifically, the zombies were incredibly docile. At times, it seemed as if humans were running alongside zombies who somehow didn't notice them, despite being in close proximity. Other times, rule-breaking behavior (per zombie lore established) disrupted immersion as well. Unfortunately, to contain spoilers, I can't go into specifics, but never before in the history of this series has such odd behavior taken place, likely for the sake of dramatic effect and plot. Still, I can't help but feel as if better execution could have been accomplished.
Consistent with the aforementioned bubble bursts, gameplay was at times difficult for the sake of being difficult. Frequent deaths took me out of an intense moment, which is a common pitfall for Telltale games. For the final episode especially, the developers should probably put the narrative first. That being said, these moments don't litter the entire episode, which primarily contains tasteful action sequences.
Admirable additions include tying up loose ends, creating unique outcomes depending on prior decisions, and creative design decisions that depend on the flow of the narrative (this is vague, I know, but it's on purpose). The team did the series justice not only in terms of the story, but in theme, method of narration, and results of prior decisions. Although hindsight and superfluous in the context of the present episode, I would have liked more of this creativity during earlier installments.
The voice actors carry the script as capably as ever, but this episode truly put them to the test due to the emotional nature of closing the series. Although the story itself likely inspired some acting gumption, the fact that this would be the last reprisal of Clementine certainly helped, I'm sure. Music was missing throughout, but the buttressing songs effectively complement the mood. Graphically, the art continues to impress, but odd jitters in animation and stunted reactions to urgent scenes cause concern.
A little sentimental not only because of the excellent final episode, but because this is my last The Walking Dead review, I found myself slightly weepy at the end. I'm proud that this team of designers carried the banner and I'm sure few fans will find cause for complaint here. Seven years with Clem, shaping and thinking about her. The people she's known and trials she's endured — all of it comes to this. I'm sure this series will be a case study for designers to come, as nothing else like this has really occurred in gaming. Thank you for the good times and bad, Still Not Bitten. I wish you well and hope you find satisfying work in the near future.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by Skybound Games. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.