Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360, iOS, PS Vita
Release Dates: August 26th (PC, PS3, PS Vita), August 27th (Xbox 360), August 28th (iOS)
“No Going Back” Indeed.
(This review will try to remain spoiler-free of this game’s important content, however it can make passing references to Season 1, the 400 Days DLC and frames of reference surrounding Season 2′s Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3 and Episode 4. Make sure to play these first for a more enjoyable experience! A full Season 2 review, including spoilers, will go up on August 28th.)
It was going so well. The emotional reckoning, the distraught feelings, the sense of hopelessness. It felt like it was all boiling down to a final conclusion worthy of capturing the depth of heart that The Walking Dead‘s first season finale pulled off those odd years ago. Unfortunately, The Walking Dead Season 2 sees its fifth and final episode, “No Going Back,” whimpering to the finish line.
No Going Back picks up immediately after the conclusion of Episode 4, in the middle of a tense standoff with the opposing force. Throughout the remainder of the ~2 hours left, we see Clementine go through immense struggle, heartache and the return of value in choice. What you, as Clementine, will decide to do in this final chapter may have a lasting impact on what Telltale Games plans to do with the series in the future.
That said, a lot of what led up to the ending was a bitter disappointment. Friends, foes and zombies saw some of its members fall to the wayside, as per The Walking Dead Season 2 tradition, but at the beginning the effect of its narrative just seemed to wear on the writers as much as it did for the characters. Yes, there was the odd funny conversation or real contemptuous debate at the heart of the episode, but it took a long time for things to become interesting. The writing didn’t give me much to care about this cast, beyond a few key members. A great video game shouldn’t feel like it’s feeding you brussel sprouts when you’re on the path to dessert.
Warning: Contains story spoilers.
Furthermore, the “interactive” part of the interactive story that Telltale Games tells in The Walking Dead Season 2 is continuing to fade hard; perhaps just a bit more interactivity was involved than in The Wolf Among Us’ final chapter. The search for a safe haven involved following the lead of someone who could not quite articulate the distance left to go. For the most part it felt like Clementine was tagging along for the ride of someone else’s story, and the lives surrounding treating one character. When you, the player, are being used as a pawn instead of leading the adventure yourself, it places you in an awkward position. I no longer felt like I was in control of the scenario, nor was there much to do surrounding my actions.
That’s ultimately why I felt the Walking Dead Season 2 finale stumbled upon its closing hurdles; because I was just along for the ride, and that ride was no longer enjoyable. I had praised what Telltale did in Episode 4 because I trusted them to let me as Clementine decide an ending worthy of recognition, but the lead up to the conclusion felt like a chore; like a side note to two NPC’s waging a mental war of words. There seemed to be little to service the protagonist, which seemed to be an odd choice in what was the final chapter for cthis season.
The final 30 minutes, however, managed to scrape some of the good will of the Telltale name back from the ashes. Outside of a fan service moment at the peak of a crisis (one that felt emotionally manipulative, rather than respectful of the current Walking Dead content), everything beyond the last “shelter” spot saved the series, for me. Not only did the game take creative risks, but raised tensions to a point that may not be matched in the entire series. As cliche as it may seem, my jaw literally dropped leading up to the finale, and I could not believe what just happened. My choices, in the end, do matter. It’s just leading up to the final where nothing ultimately matters, unfortunately.
There’s a third season of The Walking Dead in the works, meaning that Telltale Games is not done. However, whatever the graphic adventure gaming company decides to do beyond here, I hope it involves an entirely different group of characters. How the game ends should be how your version of the story ends. It’s been a plaguing issue with this game, moreso with The Walking Dead Season 2, where choices don’t seem to matter. Finally, in the gripping end that sees the pinnacle of despair, the final decision you make should have a lasting impact. To squander this opportunity would be a waste of the final 30 minutes that this episode managed to salvage as a whole.
No Going Back took its sweet time to get to the heart of its narrative strengths. It meant slowly trudging ahead with the plot, with pause and inconsistency, like a walker in the snowy winter. If the entire episode captured what the final moments of this season had in store for players, I wouldn’t end up feeling cautious about the series’ future. With Telltale working on Tales From The Borderlands and Game of Thrones series, could the independent game development studio finally be showing signs of being stretched too thin? Seeing how this all ended, I would argue that they have.
(A copy of this game was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)