The Walking Dead: The Final Season episode 1 review – Blood on the Tracks

Telltale Games
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The series returns its focus to where it works best, as The Walking Dead: The Final Season’s episode 1 is driven by the Clementine and AJ drama.

Title: The Walking Dead: The Final Season episode 1 – Done Running
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date: August 14, 2018

This review will make passing references to The Walking Dead’s Telltale narrative, including loose events surrounding the seasons leading up to the final four episodes.

The Walking Dead, as a media property, has been in a downslide. Whether it’s a lower quality of television episodes or a disappointing third Telltale season, excitement for the final chapter of Telltale Games’ most important graphic adventure franchise has been little more than a whimper. In true fashion, The Final Season episode 1, “Done Running,” puts a strong foot forward, even if it creeps on the familiar.

A year after Javier’s adventures through the walker wasteland, Clementine and Alvin Jr.’s story begins in the doldrums of apocalyptic survival. We don’t see her quest to find AJ like we were teased a year prior; instead, we get both characters in an advanced state of maturity, coming to grips with their tough spot and learning to adapt to the world around them.

After an incident early on, our protagonists stumble across a derelict private school run by a band of teenagers roughly Clementine’s age or younger. Through hardship and experience, Clem knows not to take anything for face value, as the group of characters may have a bad apple or two among their midst.

Telltale Games has taken a step back and slowed down production when it comes to The Walking Dead: The Final Season, and the shift to a more focused workload and swapping in the Unity engine has proven to be a strong choice in this first episode. Though the same narrative beats and graphic adventure format remains, “Done Running” showed us a more intuitive side to its gameplay.

Off the bat, the visual art style has been radically improved, drawing upon the franchise’s origins. Character models are more defined in their features as they contrast with more detail environments surrounding them. There are some neat visual tricks that play on lighting and visual creativity that represent a more stylistic story, making you feel more like you’re playing with a comic book.

Additionally, Clementine’s combat encounters take on a more nuanced approach, as players often have more control over a 3D space. Yes, there are still scenarios where you have to mash “Q” then press “E” once you’re done, but those are pushed to the side in favor of situations where you need to strategically take out multiple walkers at once, requiring traps and baiting maneuvers to overcome a fail state.

The Walking Dead Final Season episode 1 walker train station
Telltale Games /

I cannot, for the life of me, remember the last time a walker scenario required anything more than brainless button inputs. Instead, The Walking Dead: The Final Season’s first episode immediately takes you out of your comfort zone, firing at all cylinders to keep you flatfooted throughout.

This mentality permeates through its story and the interactions you share with others. About a year ago, Batman: The Enemy Within adopted a relationship system that pairs itself with your narrative choices, and how you have built up your Clementine from the beginning of the series through “Done Running” is the perfect example of the strength that comes from a long-running graphic adventure.

The Walking Dead never draws too hard on the series’ baked-in nostalgia, but instead uses its context to embolden the stand-in parent Clementine is to Alvin.

First-time players have the opportunity to brisk through Clem’s life in shaping her character, but seasoned players have a stronger grasp on what she represents to them. That truly shines through with how she talks with the other survivors and her life experience matters in the context she provides a helping word or reflects upon something that draws on her life.

The best part; with an exception here and there, The Walking Dead never draws too hard on the series’ baked-in nostalgia, but instead uses its context to embolden the stand-in parent Clementine is to Alvin. Navigating the social circle of a band of kids fighting to live five years after the world ended is hard enough, and the player sees the highs and lows of teenagehood in the highest of stakes.

The Walking Dead Final Season episode 1 school
Telltale Games /

Marlon, Violet, Louis, Brody and Tenn make up the main supporting cast for “Done Running,” each presenting a facet of honest childishness. Each is hardened by life but maintain a flavor of innocence, pragmatism, confidence and charm that plays up like they’re part of The Breakfast Club.

It also presents the player with an unseen vantage point; entirely through youth. Usually, Clementine has to play up her role to adults to fit in, but here she is among peers, protecting peers. It adds a compelling wrinkle to the narrative, as you represent the outsider needing to gain the trust of people that are inherently more trusting of others.

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  • The Walking Dead: The Final Season will live and die on the choices you have made on a micro and macro level. It’s hard to explain just how momentous and important it is without getting into spoiler territory, but it cannot be overstated how awe-smacked I was once the other shoe dropped. Everything you’ve ever done, ever said or ever reacted to one another can make or break certain events, impacting the lives of all.

    Unfortunately, the focus on Clementine and AJ’s story isn’t without the classic Telltale narrative hijinx. For example, though I was shocked at the moment, there are certain story beats that upon post-episode reflection, can stencil over past Telltale opening episodes, setting up similar types of seasons we’ve seen before (not just from The Walking Dead). 

    It set in that nagging feeling in the back of my head, wondering, “Is this going to end up being a retread of the franchise’s origins?” Nothing within sets this notion in stone, but seeing the Telltale formula unfold in front of me, unfortunately, took out some of my genuine excitement for this opening episode.

    This game did, however, check off all the boxes I needed checking after The New Frontier by presenting a drastically improved gameplay engine, a deeper relationship and choice system, enhanced combat and a new visual flair. If anything, I’m crossing my fingers that The Walking Dead: The Final Season carries on as strong as it began right through to the end, as Clementine’s journey nervously creeps forward to its inevitable end.

    With changes to its gameplay engine, combat, visual style and choice-driven narrative, <em>The Walking Dead: The Final Season</em> starts out on the right foot. Though there are moments that take you out of the immersive story, its gripping conclusion sets up what looks to be one of the franchise’s best season in years.. Telltale Games. . The Walking Dead: The Final Season episode 1. 8

    A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.