Publisher: Skybound Games
Genre: Point-and-click Adventure
Rating: M (Mature)
Price: $19.99 (whole season of 4 episodes)
The story of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series is filled with ups and downs. While Telltale had been making games for some time, their first season of The Walking Dead put them on the map, winning numerous Game of the Year awards and revitalizing the point-and-click-adventure game, a genre that had been largely ignored by the game industry for many years. The second and third seasons, while generally well-received, couldn’t reach the lofty heights of the original; nonetheless, anticipation was high for the fourth and final season of the series, where Telltale would wrap up the story of the series’ central character, Clementine.
And then, just as the second of the season’s four episodes was about to release to the public, the worst happened: Telltale Games closed. While the company had been in decline and rocked by scandal in recent years, no one expected the sudden closure that left over two hundred people without work—and without severance. While heartache, drama, and debate ensued regarding the state of the industry and the treatment of game developers, a deal was reached in which Skybound, the entertainment company owned by Walking Dead comic creator Robert Kirkman, would finish the development and publication of of the game’s final season; they hired as many ex-Telltale employees as they could and kept them in the Telltale offices as work on the final episodes was completed. These developers, who dubbed themselves the “Still Not Bitten Team,” finished the project that they had poured themselves into, and fans can now see the long-running series concluded.
Violence: This is The Walking Dead. As such, you will see lots of blood, gore, blade wounds, gunshot wounds, corpses, zombies munching on people, and physical altercations of various kinds, many of which end in death. Although the graphic novel-style aesthetic keeps the violence from appearing hyper-realistic, this is no place for the squeamish.
Language: Characters utter all manner of curse words—“f**k,” “s**t,” “a**hole,” etc.—throughout the game. You, playing as Clementine, can encourage young AJ to refrain from bad language, however.
Sexual Content: Several characters play “Marry, Flip, Kill” at one point, substituting “Flip” for the word “F**k.” They all understand what they’re really saying, though. Multiple LGBT couples are referenced throughout the game, and players can choose to pursue either a straight or lesbian romantic relationship, although no sexual intercourse is depicted or suggested to take place during the timeframe shown in the game.
Spiritual Themes: A few characters make references to the afterlife, imagining the restored lives of those who had already passed on. One character wraps a Bible page (containing a verse from Leviticus) to use as a cigar.
Drugs: As mentioned above, one character smokes a cigar using a wrapped Bible page as paper.
Positive Themes: Raising AJ is one of the central components of The Final Season’s story, and a heavy emphasis is placed on the moral lessons that AJ picks up from your words and actions. The simple presence of this mechanic drives home the truth that the things we say and do make a difference on those around us, especially children who have much to learn about the world and look up to us for guidance.
In The Final Season, you are once again in control of Clementine, who is now in her late teens. At some point after the events of season three (aka New Frontier), Clementine reunites with AJ, and the two of them are now on the move together looking for a place to call home. An accident happens while they are searching for food, drawing walkers to their location and spelling certain doom for our protagonists; fortunately, the pair is rescued by a group of kids from a nearby school, Ericson’s Boarding School for Troubled Youth. Even though the adults have long since died or abandoned them, these kids have put a system in place to keep themselves alive through the apocalypse, and Clem and AJ have a chance to earn their stay. But, as with all groups, cohesion is never guaranteed, and unseen threats loom on the horizon. On top of that, AJ watches Clementine’s every action, learning about the life, the world, and morality from her. What sacrifices will be made to survive, and how will AJ respond?
Like with the other seasons of the game, The Final Season introduces a bevy of new characters, each with distinct personalities: Marlon, the troubled leader; Louis, a cheerful guy with a tendency to goof off; Violet, a brooding loner; and plenty more. Each episode throws new twists at you to advance character development and keep things interesting. In the midst of all the chaos, violence, and difficult decisions, one thing remains constant: Clementine’s relationship with AJ. As AJ meets new people and watches the events that unfold around him, he asks you questions, learns how to deal with his own shortcomings, and forms opinions about life and survival. The parallel with season one, with Clementine now taking Lee’s role as adoptive parent and AJ as the impressionable child, could not be clearer.
Mechanically, The Final Season follows the pattern present since the series’ inception, mixing up the gameplay between small explorable environments, dialogue with timed decision-making, and linear action sequences that require you to perform quick-time-events and other simple button commands. This time, though, the camera is placed over the shoulder, as in many third-person action games; this is a welcome change to the established formula, giving the game a more modern and consistent feel. Also new to the series are collectibles; several of them are located in each episode, and you can place them in your room in the school as decoration. It’s a nice touch that adds a little extra flavor to the overall experience, but it’s nothing more than that. You aren’t missing out on much if you don’t find them.
The weakest parts of the game are the action sequences, which primarily serve as catalysts for future interpersonal conflicts and tough moral decisions. While most of them are straightforward, a few lack clear direction and/or contain a small bug or two, briefly pulling you out of immersion as you try to figure out what you are doing wrong. The game’s slightly stiff walking controls, which are tolerable during the calm exploration sections, yield a few awkward moments during the tense scenes. Thankfully, these instances are infrequent and don’t last long.
The real meat of the game is in the dialogue, decision-making, and character interactions. The characters respond believably to the things you say and do, and their varied and well-written personalities make them people that you love—or love to hate. The game presents you with a range of realistic dialogue choices that fit the situations in which you find yourself, allowing you to craft Clementine’s character the way you see fit.
One of the criticisms that has been lobbied at The Walking Dead over the years is that many of the more dramatic decisions—those that seem, in the moment, to have the most impact on the course of the story—ultimately don’t affect much in the long run. In previous games, I think that was a fair point, but this game manages to avoid this problem. Describing how it does so would lead to spoilers, but suffice it to say that it has to do with the nature of this season being the last one in the series. I normally would not make such a vague statement in a review, but given this consistent critique of all the previous entries in the franchise, I felt it was worth saying.
Regardless of how much of a difference your choices make on how things turn out in any given episode—or any season, really—The Walking Dead excels at placing moral weight on your decisions. Characters respond not only to how practical or utilitarian a particular decision is, but also to whether or not they feel that such a decision is morally right. This even applies to the small, relatively insignificant moments in the story, which not only makes those characters feel more lifelike, but also maintains a consistent moral pressure on the player. AJ’s responses in particular put your actions under a microscope. Finding such a dynamic in a game is rare, and as a Christian, I relish the opportunity to examine my moral fiber in a fictional, interactive setting.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I failed to say anything about the game’s ending. Obviously I can’t say much; considering the game’s story-driven focus, even small hints risk giving away too much. That being said, the series reaches a fitting conclusion, successfully providing enough details to give closure, while also leaving enough open to the imagination.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season provides more of the tough moral decision-making, complex character interactions, and life-or-death drama that fans have come to love, and it wraps up Clementine’s story in a satisfying manner. While this game cannot undo the personal and professional loss suffered by all those laid off at Telltale Games, there is no question that their swan song is a worthy conclusion to a series beloved by many people across the globe. These developers leave behind a legacy of innovation and high-quality storytelling that lives on and inspires others to keep moving forward.
The Bottom Line
You won't feel bitten for picking up The Walking Dead: The Final Season, a fitting conclusion to the long-running and beloved series.