In 2018, I only enjoy two things about The Walking Dead’s overall reach in entertainment, Garrett Dillahunt’s John Dory and the games produced by Telltale. This week the studio behind, arguably The Walking Dead’s best-extended universe material is embarking on what is being sold as the finale of Clementine’s story in “Done Running”, the first episode of Telltale’s newest story-driven video game set in the world of the comics, The Walking Dead: The Final Season.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season – Episode One of Four “Done Running”
Developed by: Telltale Games
Published by: Telltale Games
Available for: PS4, Xbox One, PC, (soon on mobile and Nintendo Switch)
Telltale’s The Walking Dead: The Final Season episode one, “Done Running” is the definition of bittersweet; beginning with the moment this older Clementine and grade school aged AJ are rescued by a new cast of survivors. We get to meet a group of kids who call an abandoned boarding school home. Clementine finds herself in a Lord of the Flies situation as these kids are struggling to simply survive and haven’t had to deal with adults for a long time. These colorful rambunctious youths led by a mullet in a letterman jacket named Marlon are charming and each quirky enough to make players, whose introduction to the Walking Dead universe is this game, let their guard down. But as longtime fans know in this Kirkman apocalypse, everyone is a garbage person in some way.
Telltale hasn’t strayed too far from what makes the world of the Walking Dead brutal and unforgiving. In many ways, players will be able to predict the broad strokes this story will take. From suspicious conversations to putting together clues while rummaging for food, you start to get a very clear picture of the series trajectory. Clementine is headed for another big battle either with people who want to take what she has. What episode one does well is give you some truly emotional WTF moments along the way to one of the series most climactic chapter endings.
What’s interesting about The Final Season’s opening is the promise of being able to shape the relationship between Clementine and her young charge AJ (the baby introduced back in Season 2). Clementine was a little girl when the world as she knew it ended. Through her surrogate daughter/father relationship with Lee Everett and the loss of her group in season two, Clem has had to learn a completely different way of life involving all too often letting go. By contrast, AJ has only ever known hardship and survival. In a way, it makes him pliable and a character who could deliver truly heartbreaking moments in some way as the series goes on because morality for this kid isn’t lessons learned through cartoons or books, it’s a lot of stabbing and mistrust. The game even tells you “you’re decisions shape who AJ will become”, meaning we’ve gone away from guiding the path of who Clementine is over several games to now our decisions affecting a character we may never get to play as.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season was also being talked about by Telltale as a new beginning for the studio. Leading in, the developer emphasized a new camera, graphics rendering, and scenes in what are intended to feel more like video game levels than simply backdrops. Episode one of The Final Season certainly has more smoothness to the ink washed comics look of the game, but it’s still a very hyper-linear experience that’s variety is reliant on broad strokes decisions you’ll make in certain situations involving this new group of kids.
Each of those choices puts characters on certain paths in terms of how they’ll act towards you in later parts of the game. You may have to rely on one to save you in the chapter’s end, so choose your battles and actions carefully along the way. How you choose to interact with this group changes the hue of the story but never the full image of what you’re seeing. By the end of episode one, there’s no getting around it…someone is gonna die tonight.
Overall, episode one of TWD: The Final Season is a gripping start to this series. It’s pacing is the right sandwich of action with a meaty amount of building this complete cast of characters in the middle. Even with a bit more dialogue scenes than I’d hoped for, Telltale avoids making these conversations irrelevant “who were you before” tales and keeps the focus on the recent actions of everyone in this school. Though, the promises of the Telltale tech don’t feel fully fulfilled, what you get is a noticeably smoother, better running, and entertaining experience. It’s good to play through a Telltale game where I didn’t have a crash or control issue. On the story side, Clementine is one of the best characters in the entirety of Bobby Kirkman’s zombie sandbox apocalypse. If we have to say goodbye to her, episode one lets players know that these storytellers are on the path to doing it the right way and I can’t wait to see how it all ends.
8/10 “Done Running” does what good comics many issues in do. It allows the story to unfold through action and dialogue knowing it has interesting enough characters that it doesn’t need to spend its entirety telling you an inconsequential backstory. Now if someone could just make a Walking Dead game of Garrett Dillahunt’s character playing games of Scrabble with you I’d be satisfied.