Before we begin – as this has been a series there are four episodes before this one…I suggest you read those reviews first – as always though I will endeavour to avoid all spoilers.
And so we arrive here, at the end. The finale of ‘The Walking Dead: Season 2’ is the culmination of a story that has been slowly building since the first episode but does it reach the lofty heights of ‘Season 1’s’ finale or does it plummet to new lows?
Telltale has been weaving a story about growth, loss and acceptance throughout this season and young Clementine is the personification of all of these motifs. She is no longer the girl that we found hiding in a tree house waiting on her mum and dad to come home. She has traveled across the state, seen things and done things that would drive any of us over the edge – she is changed – a product of the world she inhabits.
And yet there is a sense that this season wasn’t her story – rather it was Kenny’s story – told through the eyes of Clementine; from her position we watched it unfold in front of us. Kenny was a family man and a good man; yes a little hot-headed at times, but he always had his families (and the groups) best intentions at heart. However tragedy after tragedy had broken him down and he is undoubtedly lost, a man beaten down by the world until he was a husk of himself. At times we are privy to the ‘old Kenny’ the caring family man with a good heart – these scenes are numerous in ‘No going back’ and they are incredibly well handled, scripted and acted; they really warm the heart and lead you to believe that maybe, just maybe you can pull him back from the precipice he is teetering on the edge of. The others are not so patient with Kenny all they see is a disjointed monster and they are afraid – they have every right to be afraid of him as well.
Telltale has expertly put the player into a no win situation and decisions will have to be made. Worse yet; the decisions will be the hardest they have ever been. Telltale have disposed of the decisions that have an obvious ‘more right’ choice and they all have real gravity to them. The last decision actually made me pause the game and weigh up the pros and cons of what I was about to do – real deliberation took place and even after I’d chosen I was left with guilt and uncertainty. Bloody well-played Telltale!
DO NOT WATCH if you plan to play this game – it is spoilerific!
I was left with my head in my hands, I didn’t want the story to pan out this way but it seemed unavoidable it was the ‘right’ thing to do and it left me with a slither of hope for the future. The fact that I’m talking on emotional terms is a real compliment to Telltale games and their approach to this game – everything comes together to create scenes that will hit you hard and leave you breathless. There is one scene in particular – before the final decision is made that makes you sit there and appreciate just what the graphical style, the music, voice acting and writing all contribute to this title. One scene that sticks out had all the tenderness, heart and emotional impact of a Hollywood movie but successfully avoiding the schmaltz that usually accompanies such scenes. It also serves as a reminder who we are and how we have gotten to this point – highlighting what needs to happen and giving you the confidence (hopefully) to see it through.
In saying all this my biggest gripe is there was a real sense of the writers not planning the entire season’s narrative arc before beginning the game, what I felt (and still feel) was the most natural rivalry never happens – the choice I thought I was going to have to make never materialised – and it was a disappointment! A part of me is glad as that decision would have been impossible!
There are also a few moments of meander in which we witness grown adults argue like children and there is a little cull of characters (AGAIN!) although these are nowhere near as bad as episode 4 and make more narrative sense so can be forgiven.
While I loved this episode and this season I feel that it has lost a little of what made ‘The Walking Dead’ so special in gaming – yes all the constituent parts are here and yes they are of a similar quality – but it no longer feels unique! Telltale have found a formula and they seem to be sticking to it rigidly – I hope the more open decision system and real repercussions present in this episode are the foundation for more of this in Season 3. If Telltale can find a way to keep the narrative power and incorporate more interactive elements then they will have to be considered amongst gaming’s elite developers. As it is they’ll have to make do with being the single greatest story-tellers in gaming.