With Episode 4’s dramatic conclusion, fans both clamored for the season’s closure and bit down to the quick hoping – nay, praying – that Clementine remain safe. Walking Dead junkies all over the Internet exchanged stories of choices made, and YouTube undoubtedly received a burst of search entries regarding the series’ branching paths. With many questions left unanswered, does Telltale set a new standard for adventure games, or do they leave us dead on the inside?
The urge to gush and spoil details isn’t quite there, to be honest. Why? Well, after having just played the final episode, I’m left listless. Drained. Pensive. All desired outcomes given the source material and professionalism with which Telltale approached the brand. Having grown attached to these characters that I have intermittently seen over the past six months, a genuine sense of loss pervades me. Whether this is the result of sound writing, excellent presentation, or the faith that my decisions impacted the trajectory of the story, I cannot say. However, I do know that I want to play again. Maybe not immediately, but sometime in the future, I want to give the story a go to either make up for my mistakes or see how absolutely atrocious Telltale will actually let me be. Still, my initial go has left me satisfied in my malaise.
In terms of the season as a whole, Episode 5 serves as a bow, neatly wrapping up the entire story – a fleshy, gangrenous bow, but still. True to reports, this isn’t the longest episode. Telltale has consistently offered two to three hour episodes up to this point, but why artificially inflate the length of the game when less can be more? In this way, fans may not notice the same pattern that the previous four episodes have abided by, but this one hour adventure surely satisfies.
While I may portend that the choices in The Walking Dead seem substantive, in many ways I am not so certain. Although Telltale likely has limits to what it can do in terms of branching paths, I cannot help but wonder if decisions alter a line or two of dialogue and little else. This claim has been a theme throughout my reviews of the series, but, still, I end each entry wondering what I could have done differently. In this way, the cynic and romantic in me battle, but the fight exists because of Telltale’s excellent execution. No matter one’s choices, Telltale treats its fans right with an ending that seems simultaneously hopeful and devastating.
With an ending like Episode 4 and considering our society’s views of right and wrong, the course of Episode 5 seems obvious, but the designers still have tricks up their sleeves. With loyalties strained, a veritable revolving door of characters, and open-ended questions left unanswered, the writers can truly work their creativity. Of course, reason reigns supreme as this world thrown into a zombie apocalypse tries to maintain some semblance of realism. However, even Telltale has a hard time avoiding the trappings of traditionally dramatic monologues and larger-than-life acts of heroism and sacrifice.
The gameplay hasn’t changed much, but Telltale makes a few new design choices to complement the storytelling. These novelties enhance the experience more creatively than has been previously done with the series in a small but impressive way. The developers also avoid a potential misstep in that this gameplay heavy episode yielded zero player deaths, whereas previous episodes included occasional frustrations that burst the bubble of immersion. Kudos to Telltale for perfect use of game design – you know, assuming adventure games offer you a gaming fix.
The bloody sun sets on Lee Everett’s story, but this hopeful reviewer anticipates future entries. As the “Is gaming art?” debate carries on, Telltale’s The Walking Dead certainly makes a case for the affirmative. I approached the series the way I would a book or movie, my focus almost completely on the characters’ growth, changes in plot, and what I could take away from this tale. The game design usually facilitated the course of the story, offering an aspect neither novel nor film can: myself as protagonist. Not only did I identify with Lee, I was Lee. Sometimes. I felt Telltale’s occasionally heavy hand throughout the story, but I view this limitation as a work in progress. Despite this, they put together a powerful package that I hope surpassed Robert Kirkman’s expectations, because it sure did mine.