Platforms: PC | PS3 | Xbox 360 (reviewed)
Developers: Telltale Games
Publishers: Telltale Games
It's a difficult thing, ending a story. There are so many threads to be tied, so many functions that an ending needs to fulfil in order to be considered satisfying, particularly in a narrative as interactive and player-driven as we have seen and sculpted in Telltale's The Walking Dead. Those choices have to be reflected upon, and decisively brought to a final conclusion that gives every character their due and leaves us, paradoxically perhaps, happy when the curtain finally falls and yet eager for an already announced second season.
Thankfully, Telltale have delivered a fitting, if fleeting, finale.
So much has happened across the course of the last four episodes, that it's unsurprising writer and director Sean Vanaman's conclusion to the series is a little understated overall. There are no real dramatic twists, and thankfully Telltale have resisted the urge to try and ramp up the horror to maximum for episode five. Instead we get a zombie-infested chapter that is perfectly happy to slow things down and make the player reflect on the decisions they've made in order to get to this point.
Of course, the nature of the branching storyline, not to mention points of narrative convergence, means that there might be one or two seemingly abrupt changes in conscience and direction for one or two characters, depending on the routes that you explored beforehand. But they're never jarring and, crucially, when set against the emotional apocalypse that is a world infested by animated corpses, not to mention four episodes of an increasingly violent study in what it means to be human, it's easy to forgive a little volatile madness.
The action takes a backseat this time around, and that's fine, because the incredibly clunky, real-time, point-and-click instafail moments have been the only real downside to the experience. However, there's a rare moment of empowerment for our protagonist Lee as, so close to his destination, he cuts a swathe through a horde of the undead with a trusty meat cleaver. After four and a half episodes of desperate fear and close calls, it's a welcome little spark of adrenaline and fury.
That all arises, of course, from the simplest of objectives: protect Clementine. It's the directive that kicked off the series in the little girl's garden back in Episode 1, and it's the one thing that keeps Lee going. But she is so much more than a cipher or an emotional MacGuffin. Telltale have taken a relatively straightforward survival-horror setting, and have made it utterly enthralling through deft plotting and superb character realisation. Though there are perhaps fewer jaw-dropping moments of sheer horror, Vanaman and his team pull no punches in delivering one of the most heart-wrenching pieces of narrative-driven entertainment in this industry or any other we've seen in a while.
It's also worth noting that every character has a moment to shine. Ben finally, finally, splutters into life; Omid and Christa develop personalities that they'd previously only barely hinted at; and then there's Kenny. The man who could probably boast having one of the finest moustaches in videogaming history, the man who has proven consistently challenging and been challenged by this new world the most, the man with whom Lee has possibly scraped by and scrapped with every step of the way, he delivers some of the most touching moments in the entire series, particularly when confronted by a couple who took the easy way out.
If there is an issue with the finale, though, it's the man at the other end of the walkie-talkie. More of a mirror held up to determine the extent of Lee's humanity more than anything else, it's no surprise perhaps that he feels so loosely attached to things simply because every other character has been fleshed out so well by the time that you meet him. Though sufficiently creepy, his role feels ever so slightly forced. What comes afterwards, though, is truly special as Dave Fennoy and Melissa Hutchinson deliver a masterclass in voice acting as Lee and Clementine. The script is perfectly balanced, exceptionally moving, and plays expertly with the dynamics that have defined these two characters. Even before the end, you might find yourself choking back the tears.
It's frustrating, once again, that we have to note the technical difficulties, but in a episodic game series where save game integration forms a crucial part of the continuous experience, to have players across all three platforms complaining of lost save files, overwritten slots, corrupted data, and more is utterly inexcusable. It would be a crying shame for folks to miss out on one of the finest gaming experiences of the year because of that stupid bug.
Nonetheless, Telltale have delivered an exceptional conclusion to an exceptional series. The purity in focus has paid dividends with everything serving the player-driven story, and the narrative twists and emotional crunches proving to be superbly fitting rewards in their own right. Are you watching BioWare, because this is how its done. No cop outs. No padding. No heroics. Just perfect pacing, excellent execution, and many memorable moments.
Even the post-credits teaser is exemplary.
- Outstanding ending
- A number of heart-wrenching moments
- Intensely atmospheric
- Walkie-talkie confrontation is a bit of a washout
- Shortest episode by far
- Goddamn bugs!
The Short Version: The final episode might be the shortest, and it might not have too many explosively violent outbursts of horror, but it draws Telltale's saga to a deeply moving conclusion thanks to fantastic characters, taut writing, and an unerring capacity to emotionally torture the player. Settling for subtlety rather than bombast, Telltale have served up an ending that both satisfies and makes us crave a second season.