It’s been six years since Telltale’s The Walking Dead first introduced us to Clementine. Four seasons and two spin-offs later, she’s lost countless loved ones and suffered immense mental trauma, mitigated only by her drive for survival.
With The Final Season, it seems that Telltale is ready to come to terms with the emotional baggage that has weighed on the journey so far. Stripped of anything remotely like a conventional childhood, Clementine is in her late teens at the start of Done Running, taking care of a toddler and incapable of trusting a soul.
This latest season is a drastic shift in tone across the board. While this may be one of the final games to use Telltale’s now-archaic ‘Telltale Tool’ engine before the company makes the necessary jump to Unity, it is still visually striking, and the new ‘Graphic Black’ art style is one of the many innovations that distances The Final Season from its predecessors.
While previous games have made use of shadow, each environment in Done Running is steeped in a gorgeous moving filter of darkness, ensuring environmental assets outside of Clementine’s immediate vicinity look exactly like pages from the comic book source material.
This gritty aesthetic is claustrophobia-inducing, a natural evolution when considering the latest setting: a vacant school where the children are in power. Think Lord of the Flies meets Life is Strange.
From the colloquial writing to the acoustic soundtrack in the downtime, you can tell Telltale has been listening to Dontnod’s thoughtful strides in the adventure game genre.
This episode shines in the small moments and comes together in the scattered paraphernalia of a deeply broken world. A son’s loving drawing for his guardian in the post-apocalypse. A palette knife belonging to a creative lost sibling. A flashlight forced to glow red from the accumulating viscera.
Telltale never shies away from the brutality of Clementine’s day-to-day existence, and we get to feel it in a bold new way with the addition of real-time vignettes, including survival horror sequences in a dimly lit cellar and triggering traps on walkers in a designated killing field.
Its high-octane, especially during the opening sequence of the episode, which involves a masterful one-shot vehicular escape from walkers with your most precious living cargo in tow.
There are a few unfortunate compromises that come as a consequence of the new additions. Each new objective appears with an RPG style banner, obscuring a chunk of the screen and making the story feel less like a cohesive cinematic experience and more like a sequence of objectives.
Another concern that also plagued the previous season is the lack of consequence for your actions, especially when A New Frontier seemed to brush aside some of the more crucial relationships and choices made in Season 2.
Local to the episode there were some promising flashpoints, but I want to see more far-reaching ramifications for Clementine. You can only throw so many overwhelming settings and characters in front of someone until they break. Yet, with the unbelievable crescendo of Done Running, it seems that Telltale are forcing situations onto its protagonist that will result in some satisfying ultimatums that probe the humanity out of its best character.
Yes if you’re already invested in the series; Probably Not if you’ve grown tired of the formula.
Main takeaway: The first episode of its Final Season proves that Telltale’s The Walking Dead is still the most tense adventure game series on the market.