Warning: Only minor plot points will be discussed from “Done Running,” though spoilers from prior episodes of Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” will follow.
The first season of Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” was a rarity in games when it was released in 2012. Despite not offering much in real gameplay but a number of bugs and crashes, it quickly garnered praise across the industry solely on the quality of the story that was told. It gave players the allure of choice in crafting a story personal to them, encouraging you to talk with friends to see how your stories may have played out differently. It all began with a man on his way to prison, only to be given a second chance thanks to the end of all of civilization as we know it, and finding himself the guardian of an orphaned child. Every player soon became invested in the primary goal as Lee; protect the young girl named Clementine at all costs. Flash forward to the newest season, Clementine is now a hardened survivor thanks to the lessons learned from Lee and others and is now caring for a young boy named AJ.
Picking up a bit after last season, we once again find a more mature Clementine traveling along the road with AJ. Without giving too much away, the two soon find themselves a part of a settlement completely run by kids. While the school seems like the perfect home at first, and as you’ve come to expect from the series, Clementine just can’t seem to catch a break when attempting to settle down. The new characters introduced all feel right at home in this world, and all have their own personalities and intricacies that feel worth exploring through the multiple dialogue options. The episode itself is much longer than prior seasons. That has to do with this final one being limited to four episodes, which is a huge benefit to the story we’re getting. If this season opener was anything to go by, we can expect far less time being filled by mundane tasks and more spent exploring the main story and the numerous relationships that you will make throughout. There are also more comedic moments, which are very welcomed in this grim environment (maybe not as funny as Kenny inferring that Lee could pick a lock because he’s “urban,” but I’m not sure any game will ever deliver a laugh quite as good as that one). Going into the season, I still wasn’t quite sold on wanting to protect AJ and whether it was worth Clem’s effort, which sounds harsh. However, within the first act of this episode, I was completely sold on his character, which I think benefited from the time jump.
The gameplay itself is what you would expect from Telltale but with some very welcomed tweaks. Rather than give fixed camera angles, this season opts more for an over-the-shoulder camera option focused on Clementine, which makes it much easier to explore the beautiful world that Telltale has created and assures you hit every option available before progressing. Combat is also improved upon, and while it is simple, it feels much more satisfying in taking down walkers. The option to either stun first or go for the kill feels like a callback to the lesson learned from Jane in season two, though it could simply be a coincidence.
One interesting thing to note about this season visually is that this is supposedly going to be the last season of any of their series to use the custom engine they’ve been using for pretty much all of their series. If true, I think this is a wise move going forward with future series, as the engine is beginning to show its age. That said, the studio is pulling out all the stops to make this engine the best-looking it can be for the grand finale of their flagship series. Right from the start of the episode, I immediately could notice how well the game looked, especially in terms of each character’s facial animations and body movements. They all looked less like animatronics on a Disney ride and more like actual human beings. Alright, while that may be an exaggeration, I only use that to make it clear just how good this season looks. Despite the drab setting and more somber colors, the framing and look of the shots are phenomenal and look like they jumped right out of the page of a comic book. This is usually the part of the review where I give Telltale grief on their sometimes lackluster visuals, but giving credit where credit is due, this episode looked fantastic in action. Along with these shots is a solid soundtrack, and it never gets old hearing that comforting pause menu theme, which reminds me of the somewhat fonder times with Lee in season one.
Like I discussed in the beginning, Telltale’s first season of “The Walking Dead” was some of the finest storytelling presented in any video game. The following two seasons, in my opinion, were never quite up to snuff in comparison, but I still really enjoyed them as a continuation of the storyline for Clementine and the new characters presented. If this episode is any indication of what we’ll get from the rest of the season, then I think we may just end up where the first season had set such a high bar for. The writing overall feels much more compelling and I find myself already way more attached to the newer characters than I did for most in season three. I’m again trying to avoid spoiling anything related to the plot, but the episode delivers an exhilarating climax, and it sets things up in an interesting way for the start of the next episode. One last note to touch on that is something that I feel is often understated, is just how good of a job Melissa Hutchison has done as Clementine throughout the series, taking her from a young frightened girl to a teenage survivor who has definitely seen some horrific things, all in a way that feels natural and true to the character throughout. At the bottom line, if you enjoyed the entire series or just the first season, the fourth is definitely something you should be checking out. My review of the next episode will dive more deeply into spoilers, so take this as my final spoiler-free recommendation that you should be playing this game if you’re at all interested. In unusual Telltale fashion, they actually have the rest of the season’s episode release dates already revealed, with the next coming on September 25. Will Kenny finally return on his longingly-sought-after boat in Florida to rescue us? Probably not, but a guy can dream. If one thing is for certain, if Clementine comes face to face with death itself this season, I fully expect everyone ready to riot on Telltale’s headquarters.