This is surprisingly more difficult to write than it was supposed to be. When I received the review code for the second episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season at the beginning of last week, there were still two more episodes left, and everyone working at Telltale Games still worked there. Fast forward to one week later, and we find massive layoffs at Telltale Games, The Final Season pulled from digital storefronts, and no end in sight for Clementine.
Much like a TV show that garnered poor ratings, Episode 2 of The Final Season, titled Suffer the Children, leaves our heroine with no definite conclusion, no parting glance as she walks into an uncertain future, or no final death as her body is swallowed by a herd of walkers. It picks up where Episode 1 left us, gazing through the hole AJ put in Marlon’s head, the result of an armed toddler whose knowledge of right and wrong exists in only the realm of absolutes. As a civilized person, it’s easy to cast judgment as to the right and wrong of the situation.
But what about for a child that’s known nothing but survival for the length of his young life? Clementine is forced to weigh this fact in the Episode’s first choice, whether to tell AJ that he murdered someone, and explaining what that means, or telling him he was justified in what he did, building on the right/wrong absolutism of the new world. It’s also a choice that reminded me of some of the options presented to Lee during The Walking Dead’s first season, when Clementine was in AJ’s position.
In fact, much of this episode calls back to that first season, even the eventual reveal of one of the leaders of the group that’s been hanging around the school and made a deal with Marlon to kidnap Tennessee’s sisters. Some of it works, like the reveal itself, but everything past that, including the characterization of the mystery person, feels forced. You can tell that the writer’s were looking for a connection, for the reference that would start to draw everything in Clem’s journey together, but instead of being revelatory, it ends up as just a “meh” moment. In fact, had it not been for this person’s appearance in the pre-episode 1 choice-a-palooza, I would have needed some serious memory jogging to connect those dots, and even with that, it still felt like a stretch.
For the sake of consistency, I am going to skip over the majority of the story and move on to some scattered highlights. Part of me feels like it’s important to skip the spoilers, as there are some nice beats that happen through the chapter, but there’s another part, a rather strong voice in the back, that is almost ambivalent to it, and so I figure I would err on the side of duty as a reviewer.
Once the story moves out of its opening half hour, I think there’s a lot of character growth between Clementine and the other teens at the school. Their reactions feel organic, whether it be the anger at losing their friend, or the eventual acceptance and forgiveness as they help each other prepare for the danger that’s looming. There’s also a real nice conversation possible between either Clem and Louis/Violet, one in which Clem is allowed to stretch a little and possibly even share some romantic feelings. It’s nothing overly sappy, though honestly at this point, I don’t think it would hurt anything to give the player some wish fulfillment, even though that flies in the face of everything The Walking Dead is.
On the low side of things, there’s an extended sequence where Clem turns into Lara Croft, defending the homestead from walkers with a bow and arrow. The aim down the sights system is super-simple, and the only thing that made the whole thing even remotely challenging was the inefficiency of controls. The sequence itself was fine, and it kind of shows just how bad ass Clem has become in her time on the run, but holy hell, does it show off just how much stress the engine is under.
But then, decisions like sticking to an ageing engine are ultimately what led to the position we’re in now. At some point, multiple people in positions of power chose speed and expansion over taking care of their game and their employees, leading to a game cancelled midstream and employees left without a job, and even more sickeningly, without any kind of severance. There are rumors that The Final Season may actually be finished with the help of outside backers. While I do hope to eventually see the end of Clem’s story, to see her off into the sunset hoping that she is able to live out her days without always living in fear, finishing the story at the expense of those who gave of themselves to make it feels wrong. Take care of your own and then take care of the narrative.
As it stands now, this will be the last Telltale game I review, and I won’t even pretend to not be sad about that. They weren’t all winners, but every single one of those games had heart, and some of them, like Batman and Minecraft: Story Mode, reached heights higher then they had any right to even shoot for. That the whole story ends here, with the franchise that started this wild ride, in a manner that leaves the fates of its characters in limbo, is somehow fitting to The Walking Dead as a whole. In the end, we were the real monsters.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!