When it comes to the zombie apocalypse in video games, Telltale's adaptation of The Walking Dead has undoubtedly been one of the most successful. The first season of the series immediately became a gaming classic, telling a captivating yet tragic tale that lasted long in the memory. Its second season followed suit, putting the player in control of the young Clementine trying to survive in a world full of walkers.
Unfortunately, not all Telltale projects have fared as well, including some of the developer's other Walking Dead titles. For some gamers, its stories became a little too formulaic, that emphasis on choice became trying, and the Telltale engine started getting a little rusty. All in all, change was definitely needed to ensure that its trademark series reached a fitting conclusion.
It's still early, but The Walking Dead: The Final Season, thankfully, gets off to a more-than-solid start, and hints that Telltale is going to deliver a suitable send-off for Clementine's story (although perhaps not the end of Telltale's Walking Dead altogether). Not everyone was happy with A New Frontier, the previous part of this narrative, but this new season's first episode, "Done Running", shifts tone a little from its predecessor. There's still that central focus on the clash between loyalty to others and solitary survival that The Walking Dead has been known for, though - this time with Clementine passing on her knowledge to the young AJ rather than being the one learning herself.
The Final Season starts in fitting fashion with a tense and claustrophobic opening, throwing Clementine and AJ into a desperate situation from which the chance of escape seems slim. That said, it may still feel a bit too flashy for those that appreciated the more basic, pragmatic approach to action in the first two seasons of The Walking Dead. There is, for purists, perhaps a little too much emphasis on style over substance, and explosions over the simple escape.
Before long, however, Clementine is led into an all-too familiar situation: meeting a group of fellow survivors. However, much like in previous games, the player will soon get a sense that not all is right with this surface-level bastion, with tensions bubbling between the different characters that Clementine and AJ meet along the way.
Once again, characterization is key, and Telltale's story craft is thankfully once again back to the standard that people have come to expect. Although the developer has not always hit its mark from a plot and character perspective of late, "Done Running" does a good job of setting the scene with its different survivors. It's a good thing too, as it would be a nice surprise to have two games in quick succession meet storytelling expectations for the end of a beloved journey; at the moment, The Banner Saga 3 looks quite lonely in that regard.
That said, it may seem a little too similar to those who played previous seasons. Once again, inter-group politics is central to the plot, and it's done in a way that's been well-run before not only in the post-apocalypse overall but even in other chapters of Telltale's The Walking Dead in general. Luckily, Telltale has a deft touch, and its careful use of characters still makes it feel fresh - particularly given that the lower age group of this new band of survivors gives it a new dynamic.
Telltale does change things a little in other ways, too. Without going into details, there are moments of tension that come out of nowhere, and even hints at some of the darkest elements that the series has put forward to date. It gives The Final Season an impressive jumping off point, and all from a position of vague innocence akin to the more sentimental moments of the Mad Max franchise. At first, this group of confident, loyal kids points towards the potential future, but it's not long before things take a much nastier - and admittedly more interesting - turn.
In short, it's an intriguing switch, taking the player in a direction that at first glance is unexpected. The Walking Dead has long taught players to keep an emotional guard up at all times, but for a brief moment players may be tempted to soften, and relax a little in those secure surroundings. That proves to be a mistake, and in traditional Telltale fashion the episode ends on a suitably shocking cliffhanger.
"Done Running" is not perfect, though. In particular, those hoping for the events of previous seasons to tie in similarly to how well Telltale crafted season 2 might be left wanting, particularly with the lack of significant call-backs to A New Frontier. Then again, it's worth bearing in mind that this is only the first episode, so there's plenty of time to turn this around if Telltale so chooses.
Another area that some may take issue with is a slight change to combat mechanics. Taking a risk by updating this core gameplay was a bold yet necessary decision by Telltale, and the addition of more open-ended action sequences is refreshing. However, it does feel a little more clumsy - although for some the pay-off to have more freedom to choose pathways and thin out the herd will be worth it.
On top of this, there are also some other bizarre choices made. The Final Season runs with a tally of collectibles, which feels out of place in a series with much higher stakes than collecting arbitrary items for no obvious reason other than a potential achievement. It may seem minor, but it takes the player out of the moment, reducing matters of life and death to picking up random objects.
All in all, though, "Done Running" is a good starting point for the title. Telltale has a lot resting on The Final Season, and over the course of its four episodes it really needs to deliver, as otherwise the developer may find that no-one is that interest when its Stranger Things adaptation sees release. However, this is a very good jumping off point, and so a satisfactory end to Clementine's story seems tantalizingly close.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 1 releases on August 14, 2018, for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a PC code for the purposes of this review.