Back in 2012, Telltale Games exploded onto the scene with The Walking Dead. They had a decent run beforehand, with titles such as Sam and Max, and then with licensed games based on Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. But none of these made the same kind of impact as The Walking Dead. It did coincide with the early seasons of the TV show, so there was definitely a buzz around that franchise. But the success of the game was mainly down to the story it told. Eschewing the main characters of the successful TV show (albeit with the odd cameo appearance) and focussing on the story of Lee and Clementine, the game captured imaginations and emotionally affected even the most stone-hearted of cynics.
Success followed, with another two seasons of The Walking Dead, along with new games based on other blockbuster franchises such as Game Of Thrones, Batman and Guardians of the Galaxy. However, the huge workload at the studio bought its own problems, as the infamous “crunch” apparently became standard working practice, leaving no time to develop and improve the Telltale Tool game engine, and by series three of The Walking Dead it became obvious that the engine was not coping with the graphical demands set upon it. Changes behind the scenes did little to improve the studios fortunes, and in the midst of developing The Walking Dead: The Final Season, Telltale Games initiated a near complete studio closure, leaving many hundreds of staff out of work, with some openly upset that Clementine’s story would not have the closure it deserved.
At this point Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead comic, stated that his production company Skybound Entertainment had completed negotiations with Telltale to finish off the last two episodes of The Final Season through their Skybound Games division and with the original development team from Telltale. Which now brings us right up to date in March 2019, with the release of the fourth and final episode of the fourth and final season of The Walking Dead game series. Join me as we bid a fond farewell to Clementine.
This final season has already had the first three episodes released and sees Clementine reunited with AJ as they become involved with a new community, this time made up of children still living and surviving in their old boarding school. Of course, events do not run smoothly and Clementine soon comes across an old familiar face as the group encounters the inevitable hostile group of adults.
Back in 2012 I was a bit of a Walking Dead fanboy. I devoured the comics and the TV Show like a hungry walker would devour a timid and weak human. I was therefore all over the game when it released and was immediately hooked by the characters and the story being told. Yes, the gameplay was basic and relied heavily on quick-time events. But the story was the real key to the games success. Whenever I am asked the question “Which game has ever made you cry?”, the answer is always The Walking Dead. There were moments when I cried like a baby as the on-screen events were so horrific, especially as it really played on the parent-child relationship. The following games followed the same simple design, but as time has moved on the competition has evolved and improved, with the Life Is Strange series being a particular highlight. But Clementine was the reason to keep coming back, and I am not sure I would have invested in another Walking Dead game with a different main character.
Fans will have already played the first three episodes of this final season, so it’s no surprise to know that things are not going well for Clementine. For those of you who haven’t yet played these, the story once again is the main driver. Its all focussed upon Clem and AJ as they try to integrate within a new community, but the story also focusses on the parent-child relationship between them, which is a challenge for Clem as she is still only a young teenager at most. Clem has raised AJ in how to deal with the walkers (monsters) but where does AJ distinguish between the zombies and the other monsters in this world, the humans. No spoilers here, but this story is probably more morally challenging then anything that has come from Telltale previously. One thing that also feels better is the game engine. Telltale gave the engine a tweak for Batman and this is the version used here. It feels far smoother and slick than in season three. It does still rely very heavily on quicktime events, but the introduction of a bow and arrow for Clem does result in some basic shooting mechanics. The art style of this game is fantastic, as it portrays the world as a very stylised hand-drawn comic book.
As per the previous games, your decisions shape the world and the game that you play, and there is the usual end of episode review of the consequences of your decisions and actions. It also gave a re-cap on the status of each character, as dependant on your actions some characters could well be alive, dead or captured, and will also have an emotional feeling towards Clementine. The moral challenge comes from balancing saying the right thing versus not wanting friends or loved ones to be upset by those words. At times there will be choices to make as well, and again, these will have serious impact on the fate of your friends. What was interesting to see was a full breakdown of just how different the game would have been had you made different decisions, and definitely made me want to go back and revisit some of them!
There is some stuff that doesn’t work, especially the interactions with a character called James, as the morally strange stance that he takes, and tries to teach to Clem soon gets forgotten when the events of the final act take place. The bow and arrow shooting parts also demonstrates just how the Telltale engine is restrictive to anything other that basic gameplay, as it feels clunky and shoddy. But that’s not the reason that we play the Telltale games, as it really is all about the story and the characters, and the whole of season four doesn’t disappoint. Emotionally, this series worked it’s magic on me, from a hilariously funny scene involving the children discussing the reasoning behind their attendance at the school, to the brutal and disturbing consequences that befall some of the characters. There is also an incredibly moving dream sequence that takes us right back to the start of our metaphorical and physical journey. This is also Clem’s swansong, so be prepared for the inevitable emotional payoff. Its a shame that we now say farewell to Clementine, and to the team at Telltale who have given us some memorable and moving moments of gameplay. Here’s hoping that all affected by the studio closure can move on to bigger and better things.