In classic Telltale fashion, at least one episode in a series has to serve as a speed bump, as if to prop up the next entry. Episode 4 was that foil to Episode 5. The Walking Dead is what many consider Telltale’s flagship series, so an impactful close is critical. Thus far, the newest season has been met with criticism, with complaints about including the focus on Javier rather than Clem, the repetition of the Walking Dead universe, and the ever-present lack of “real” choice. I run against the grain in this regard and have been quite satisfied with the new cast and direction of the series, appreciating Clem’s role as cooperative, yet independently so. Whether or not the choices “matter,” I find the reactions to my choices satisfying, as I don’t feel a need to research every possible route others have uncovered. Consistent with my previous praise, I applaud the finale to Season 3, with only a couple major concerns.
Of course, after Episode 4’s dramatic conclusion, I was hungry for answers, and with only a month between releases, I still had the latest episode relatively fresh in my mind as Javier brandished his firearm. The final episode asks some extremely difficult questions, forcing players to question how important blood is versus a person’s actions. Telltale expertly gives just enough insight into Javier’s background to ignite a sense of familiarity with his brother without loitering too long in the past. This caused me to truly agonize over just how far I would go with the complicated relationships built up to this point. Truly, Javier is in a difficult position as he has to find a balance between family, love, parenthood, and loyalty of newly discovered friendship. Some players will easily judge based on recent actions, which is a legitimate stance to take, but I can’t help but wonder if delays between hour and a half long episodes has impacted the sense of familial ties. Admittedly, it took some concerted effort on my part at times to cling to the notion that, “Yes, this is my brother, and, despite everything, he will always be my brother,” versus the sense of, “What in the world is this guy doing, and how can I possibly defend these actions?”
Nevertheless, this new dynamic, while tapped into in previous seasons, seemed even more intense in this season, due in part to how Telltale set up the storytelling as well as the strong characterization of Javier and company. Telltale took a major risk putting Clem on the sidelines, who has been one of the gaming community’s most beloved heroes in the past five years. What’s more, Telltale seemed to double down on a host of new characters, believing in the writers’ ability to create several strong personalities, whereas last season leaned heavily on former beloved relationships. Telltale seems to be playing the long game with The Walking Dead, and, best of all, that strategy is having short-term success as far as this reviewer is concerned.
Unfortunately, I have great grievances with the writing and lack of choices available to me. In Episode 4, a major choice was made available in which Javier had to decide how he felt about another character. In my mind, trusting Telltale, I viewed it as a “devotion to brother vs. selfish desires” decision, whereas the writers clearly viewed it, more simply, as a “do you like-like her, or just like her” sort of situation. I had hope at the time (though it gave me pause as I questioned Telltale’s intent) that the writers were setting up a nuanced, layered decision. Episode 5 did not meet expectations in this regard. This is just one example of similar missteps, though perhaps the most egregious.
With regard to the other, less important details, such as presentation, control, and gameplay, I have little to comment on, and that might be the most important note in any adventure game. Since adventure games are usually about the story above all else, the fact that I was rarely conscious of other factors means that they didn’t get in the way. The voice actors served their roles, the dialogue timer never interfered, and everything looked like the product of a decimated city.
The close left me wondering just how differently all of my actions could have guided the direction of the episode and finale. I sat back for a good five or so minutes and reflected on all previous choices and where they could have left me. The only reason I did that is because Season 3 gave me enough to chew on to wonder, and that speaks volumes. Did I enjoy this season as much as previous seasons? No, but they aren’t worlds apart, either, nor do I believe all future entries have to one-up previous entries. The fact is that Episode 5 left me excited for Season 4, and I’m glad I spent time with it.