The following completes our final review of The Walking Dead: The Final Season.
It's been a long tumultuous road to this moment. The Walking Dead: The Final Season has released its final episode and has concluded Clementine's saga for good. While there has been turmoil from a publishing and development perspective, the game's overall story has continued to play out smoothly. And indeed, 'Take Us Back' looks to have ended Telltale and Skybound's story just the way it was intended.
'Take Us Back' picks up immediately after 'Broken Toys' where that episode's cliffhanger left off. The Final Season's episodes all set their tones in different ways. While episode one began with exposition, episode two began with a flashback, and episode three began with an interrogation, the last episode was frantic action. In fact, it can catch players off-guard, with quick-time events popping up within seconds. The fail state popping up so quickly is a stark reminder that there's much less of a margin for error in some of The Final Season's action sequences, sometimes to the game's detriment.
Following the episode intro, the episode can go in a variety of different places. That's because The Final Season, much to its credit, has made decisions matter more than ever by having them impact who remains a surviving member of Clementine's party. It's possible to have wildly different party layouts, with different conversations and dialogue options popping up.
In fact, entire sequences can be altered depending on who's alive and who's dead. For example, there's a heated confrontation between Clementine and James in the episode's early minutes over AJ's actions in the previous episode. However, there are other playthroughs that played out the third episode in such a way that James isn't even alive, thus requiring this scenario to be completely altered for such a confrontation to even happen. Consequence and the lack of them has been a Telltale weakness, as there was a sense of the developer coasting in its final days. But consequences carry a heavy weight in The Final Season, especially when it comes to AJ.
The Final Season's theme throughout the entirety of all four episodes has been whether Clementine can carry out the burdensome task of acting as a parental figure. This has proven tough considering:
- Clementine is barely a teenager herself.
- Clementine has to raise a child alone in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.
- Clementine doesn't have the same worldly experience that Lee did.
For its part, the team behind The Final Season did an incredible job of seeing this theme through to the very end. Even when the best decisions are made with the best of intentions, raising AJ in the right way may not always be possible. The Final Episode offers players a last chance to ensure that they raise this kid the right way, making sure he grows up to be a hardened survivor, but one who hasn't lost his humanity.
It's hard to keep track of every single exact lesson that's been taught to AJ over the course of the game. While it's easy to criticize the game for not having those lessons readily available, that's not how real life works and that's not how it should work here either. Things are going to happen, circumstances are going to dictate a different way of thinking, and most importantly, even the parental figures aren't going to be perfect. Raising AJ right in the middle of the apocalypse is one of the most refreshing challenges in The Final Season, better than any series of quick-time events.
What's most interesting about that challenge is, the right answer isn't going to be the same for all players. Personal philosophies play heavily into this mechanic and that's okay. In fact, it could lead to interesting conversations between fans, regarding why they chose what they chose.
There has been a great sense of foreshadowing regarding how The Final Season was going to end. Going all the way back to when this game was first announced, there was speculation regarding whether Clementine was going to die. When the premise of Clementine acting as a parental figure to AJ was revealed, there was speculation over whether this would lead to the exact same scenarios from Season 1 playing out, with Clementine now in the role of Lee.
Role reversal has been used to great effect throughout The Final Season. There have been several callbacks to previous seasons, along with many loose ends that get tied up in the final episode. A great example of role reversal came in the previous episode, where Clementine was now in Kenny's shoes from Season 2.
The idea of role reversal plays heavily into 'Take Us Back,' with many familiar ideas borrowed from Season 1 to great effect. While I can't go into detail about the plot points without going into spoiler territory, I can say that the final hour with Clementine and AJ plays out largely as expected, but with enough of a twist that it's going to satisfy long-time fans of the series. It's an ending that's masterfully crafted, though it's worth mentioning again that it's an ending where details will get shifted around depending on who survived.
It doesn't feel that long ago when Telltale Games first released The Walking Dead. There's a reason it was our 2012 Game of the Year. It's not just that there was nothing like it at the time. There was such a sense of personal growth through a journey that could be customized with different dialogue choices, character interactions, and a dose of the player's own personal morality.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season takes the ideas that made the first season so memorable and builds upon them in ways that the second and third seasons did not. Think back to the first season and recall watching Clementine develop from a naive girl to someone forced to fend for herself and survive a dangerous world. She was someone who was introduced with an idealistic sense of the world, but someone who quickly learned how the world worked and soon learned to develop her own sense of morality and ethics.
This is an idea that's expanded admirably in The Final Season with AJ, with players getting to watch this young boy develop. They get to watch him grow from a blank slate, into someone who's shaped by the player's own morality, and later still into someone who can use what he's learned to show that he's capable of fending for himself.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season is a testament to what great writing talent can accomplish. Even with the game's increasingly archaic engine and an art style that isn't quite as unique as it used to be, The Final Season offers a story that ranks up there with the original first season. It is a marvelous piece of work and acts as a bookend to one of the best gaming sagas of the decade.
This review is based on an Xbox One code provided by the publisher. The Walking Dead: The Final Season is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $19.99 for all four episodes. The game is rated M. For our thoughts on the previous episodes, be sure to check out our impressions for Done Running, Suffer the Children, and Broken Toys.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season
- Brilliant writing that carries the parenting motif through to the end
- Memorable characters beyond Clementine and AJ
- Ties up loose ends nicely
- Consequential dialogue choices encourages multiple playthroughs
- Fun collectibles that grow on you
- The engine feels more dated than ever
- Some of the QTE sequences are poorly designed
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, The Walking Dead: The Final Season review: All grown up
Telltale Games always made games with the most compelling stories.
The Wolf Among Us was magnificent.
All the Walking Dead games were great and this last one looks amazing too.
It might be hard but I'm glad to see this series have a spectacular finale.
They've even got some of the members of the original dev team also involved.
I have to give Skybound Games credit as well.
Now if they'd only consider releasing a physical copy of a full collection of all the seasons for the Switch, it would be fantastic.