The Walking Dead’s first season ends here. What started out in April as a sucker punch from Telltale Games comes to a head here. With this final episode in the season this easily takes my favorite adventure title spot. This series had an impressive Episode 1 launch and an equally impressive follow up with Episode 2, the traumatic events in Episode 3 that actually brought me to tears that led to an even more emotionally draining and satisfying Episode 4. Fair warning, if you thought some of the moments from Episode 4 were gut-wrenching, you will be bawling, in a good way, at the end of this one. When I review episodic titles like this, parts of the first review I did pop back into the review and I’ll italicize those. Anything new is going to look like a normal font. Just giving people a head’s up. Also, I’ll try to keep it to a minimum, but there may be some spoilers here for this episode and definitely for past episodes. Let’s take a look.
When last we left our, er, group, if you managed to get them all or some to come with you, the train that you’d road into Savannah on had cause such a stir amongst the zombie population, that they’ve followed the tracks all the way into town, and where there were just a handful of walkers before, the town is now absolutely swarming with them leaving you with very few escape options. The main driving force of Lee and the group, is to find Clementine at all costs and get her back from Creepy Radio Voice Guy. It turns out that what Lee thought was wrong, as it often is, and the group hiding out below the Hospital was not the ones that took her. Lee is in a bad way due to the bite he took, and while he’s focused on getting Clementine safe, the bite’s infection is spreading, and Lee ends up collapsing.
Now I have no idea what happens when you’re on your own, but with a group you come to just as they’re about to chop off your arm to try and stem the infection. From there most of the game is about choices and staying alive with very little in the way of down time or puzzle solving. This leaves a lot of room to deliver those great emotional punches through tense conversations and escapes. There are a lot of great moments as the group makes their way back across the city to look for more clues as to where to find her, which ends up in several blow-ups between characters. This is a very intensely action driven narrative which makes the one or two lulls feel not only welcome, but give you a much needed breather.
Lee ends up figuring out where Clementine is staying based on a clue she gives him on the radio before Creepy Voice cuts her off which sends them even further into the city with Lee leading the charge even as the infection spreads making him weaker and one step closer to becoming one of them. There is loss as the group moves through the city, all of it painful as characters have moments of redemption and forgiveness. Telltale is kind enough to give you some time to grieve before moving on but everything you get hit with in this installment can be painful as Lee is sure he’s going to either turn or die and he wants to make sure Clementine is safe, which has been his driving force since he met her in the first episode. These scenes are all well done and really hit home the fear and sense of impending loss and enormity of what Lee brought on when he started looking after the little girl. There are still some character surprises in this one, with each of the group revealing a little bit more about their motivations and what they’ve all been going through. It makes some of the goodbye scenes all the more painful and really adds to the weight of it all. Also, there’s a teaser for next season after the end credits that’s almost cruel and I loved every second of it.
Visually, the game is solid. It uses an art style readers of the comic should be more than familiar with and the scribbly lines that surround different objects don’t look out of place at all and instead add to the flavor and feel of the game. People should bear in mind that the game lends itself more to the comic book than the TV show, so characters who are in both the TV show and comic, don’t necessarily look like their TV counterparts, but are dead on for their comic book look. Lilly is the same, but we also haven’t met her in the TV show yet. There were no dropped frames, and lighting definitely got taken into consideration for this as well. Zombies look suitably, well, rotten, and blood trails and debris litter what would normally be pristine landscapes. While locations don’t feel as alive, they do look suitably ransacked this time and we are presented with a plethora of places to visit in. There are some rough animations here and there, but nothing too terribly distracting. It’s still very solid.
Sound is what you’d expect from a zombie game with the moaning and the tearing and breaking, but the game does a great job of delivering dialogue, which could have been terrible and wasn’t, sound effects, and even music. My ears weren’t bleeding and the voice actors did a great job bringing these characters to life. Usually I detest little kids in games, mainly because their portrayal is beyond awful, usually a combination of writing and the voice actor not being able to translate the dialogue well, but Clementine, the little girl you meet up with at the beginning of the game, is actually written really well and the voice actress really makes you care about this little fictional pixel girl and what happens to her, which is a great thing for the storytelling, and even better when it works with the audio and dialogue and not just in the subtitles. I’d only briefly touched on the Voice Actors before, but I have to give them credit. They all do a great job making you feel for these characters. Lee and Clementine especially suck you in and get you invested and make you feel for not only their plight, but as characters. You want them to succeed, not just because of great writing but how they brought those words to life. Even the characters I’d grown to loathe, I loathed because they did a great job with them.
I swapped off back and forth between a 360 controller and keyboard and mouse pretty liberally this episode to see if it still holds up to that kind of use and it does. You still can’t actually change the default view to see the keyboard keys as a 360 controller shows up instead of the keyboard even when that’s unplugged. While the 360 controller works well on PC, the keyboard and mouse work just as well and didn’t leave me hanging. You move around using the WASD setup, with a cursor on screen to interact with objects using the mouse. You select objects and which action you want to perform using the scroll wheel on the mouse and then left-clicking. You can also select you dialogue choice using the scroll and click method. If you want to use your keyboard for dialogue you can as well, using the arrow keys to move through dialogue choices and then the Enter key to select. I preferred the mouse method myself as it was faster. There are a few quick events in the game, usually involving spam hitting the Q key followed by a quick hit of the E key and usually involving some form of zombie attack. You also may have to aim a little bit with the mouse for intended targets to keep from ending up as zombie chow. With the 360 controller, they alternate quick actions with the face buttons and interacting is done through those as well. The left analog stick moves you around while the right changes your view. Overall I liked the mouse reaction time better than the controller, but having experienced it from both sides now I’ll end up playing this with either depending on my mood.
Dialogue through most of this episode is timed, with very few places you can catch a break. So if you’re going to start a conversation, don’t get distracted, otherwise you’ll end up saying nothing and the conversation will end and you’ll miss the opportunity for the extra actions, unless that how you want to do it. It keeps you quick on your feet, and five or six seconds is really all the time you’d have to respond in a conversation IRL, so not only does it keep things moving, but it leaves you second-guessing your way through the conversations, wondering if you’re doing the right thing, and if you’re lying, whether you’re keeping those straight as well. There are few puzzles to solve in this episode, and most of the obstacles involve objects you can see with the naked eye, you just have to try interacting with them to move on to the next bit. While that does make things easier, it’s also partly because of the breakneck pace and having to stop to solve something with zombies breaking down the door would kill that sense of urgency. There is a lot of targeting this episode with various weapons, but you don’t have to be too precise, just mousing or targeting over the thing you want to hit until you get the option to which rewards you with a satisfying attack animation before the next one. I think the best part about it all is that it’s smooth and the scenes transition extremely well with a minimum of loading for any given scene.
Normally when I talk about replayability in an adventure title, I’m left going, “yeah, sure if you liked the story,” but that’s not entirely the case here. By bringing in that element of choice, through the dialogue and siding with different characters to who you save or not save, you’ve got quite a few replay options that will pan out farther down the episode line, with some occurring in episodes further down the line. All your dialogue and action choices come to a head in this episode with characters calling you out on things you did two or three episodes ago or even last episode. It brings in this feeling of continuity and like you’ve made some big choices even while the main narrative isn’t terribly affected all that much as it’s an over-arching story, but all those little elements make playing through again feel very different, especially given the hard choices leading into this episode. I have multiple save games ready to go for each episode all with different choices, so there’s at least two replays of this right there. The smooth and polished controls, gameplay and dialogue don’t hurt your replay value here either. Trophy-wise though, if you’re running this through Steam like I am, you only get trophies your first run through and it’s for completing each segment of the episode, so while one run will suffice for those, you might be short-changing yourself on some very different story elements later.
One thing TellTale doesn’t skimp on is delivering a reasonable price. Their titles are always priced well and competitively for a 10 to 12 hour romp, and with some nice replayability this goes up. My one run through on this episode lasted a full two hours and while they’ve been averaging two to three, that still puts us firmly in the ballpark I just mentioned. It’s $25 for the whole season on PC, and after playing through all 5 episodes, this is a gift. It’s an amazing piece of adventure story-telling especially for the price. As far as balance in the game, for more traditional adventure players you have a no hints version of the game, and for the rest of us, the hints are pointed out in a subtle way with floating grey dots over stuff you can interact with. The only thing I can see being an issue is the timing you need to escape zombies or attack them being an issue for those who like a more laid back adventure game experience.
While this does borrow a license about zombies, a game subject that has been visited before, Telltale has gone and made up a whole new story that ties into the comics and gives us some compelling new characters. They’ve also shaken up the adventure game expectations a bit by giving us a branching story where choices you make shape your experience as you play, something we’ve really not seen in an adventure title before this. So while it’s combining elements we’ve seen in other genres, it’s doing it well and telling us a compelling story and giving the same as a gaming experience as well.
Like before, during my first playthrough the outside world ceased to exist. I put on my headphones and played the whole way through. This had me on the edge of my seat through most of it. There was a nice bit of slowdown while we investigate the farm and then it amps back up again as the mystery and other plot issues creep into the picture. At the end of it I wanted more. Yeah, his is easily on par with some of the other addicting titles I’ve played in the past year. Being a great and faithful translation of the comic to the video game world won’t hurt this game’s chances, In fact, this has been one of Telltale’s biggest sellers according to their reports. It feels polished and plays great.
My only issue with this episode is that there won’t be any more for awhile. Season 2 has been confirmed, and while this ends a good story arc, Clementine’s and a few other characters’ stories appear to be far from over. The moments before the end credits is heart-breaking and was definitely tear-filled for me and the teaser after the end credits, because yes I sit through the end credits on every game I finish, was just about as gut-wrenching and definitely has me wanting season two. They could have ended it easily without that leaving the player up to their own imagination after the scene just before the credits, but I’m very glad we’re getting more and hope they can keep up the quality as this game far surpasses anything we’ve gotten from the TV show, which I don’t think is terrible, but got way too high school for me for awhile before getting back to being about zombies and surviving.
Control and Gameplay: Amazing
Appeal Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
The Walking Dead Episode 5 continues with the raised bar for episodic storytelling, pushing the kind of personal stories can really be told in the video game medium. It continues with its RPG story mechanic mixed with an adventure and interactive movie set-up, runs with it and does it extremely well. The tone of the comic is achieved easily through the rough outlines on characters and dialogue that gets you into the characters. I think this has managed to stay on track where the TV show has managed to stray, and has me far more invested in the characters leaving me enjoying the video game experience far more. It plays extremely well, feels mostly polished, and is on my must buy list for horror fans, fans of the comic or show, or people who just want something new in an adventure title. The Walking Dead is a fantastic translation of the themes and characters from the comic book while giving us some fresh faces to experience it through, and I think it should be on everyone’s radar. I’m definitely looking forward to see what they have in store for us with season two and it’s most definitely on my top ten list for 2012.
What Video Game Release for January 2014 are you most excited for?
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