Update One: 17 August 2018
SO Tsuper and I are girlfriends and we play video games together sometimes! It’s been a tradition of ours to play Telltale’s The Walking Dead together since it came out, and we’re not about to stop now. Usually we wait until the whole season is out to play it, but rules are made to be broken, I guess.
So we are going to be doing something different/special. I’m gonna review the series episode by episode, and when we’re all done, Tsuper will write the overview at the end! Yaaaay!
I’m happy to say with Episode One, Done Running, The Walking Dead has had a return to form. After the iffy second half of season 2 (FUCK KENNY) and the rather dismal season 3, it felt like Telltale would never again reach that storytelling that made them famous. Thankfully, that feeling was wrong, and we are BACK BABY. The start of Episode One finds Clementine (YAAAAAAY!) a world-weary young woman on the verge of adulthood, taking care of AJ- who is now about the age Clementine was in season 1. Yes, for the final season we have a real bookend- ending where we began, caring for a child as the world dies around you. And like the writing that captured us in season 1, we are met with a plethora of real problems, real moments, real decisions. Teaching AJ how to be a child, a person, in the middle of an apocalyptic world is really interesting, and hard, and just– it works in a way the problems of the other seasons didn’t.
After a patented The Walking Dead Big Fuck Up Opening (because these games ALWAYS open with some catastrophe you barely survive), Clem and AJ find themselves in a boarding school for troubled youth that has (mostly) survived the end of the world thanks to its isolation. The headmaster, teachers, and other adults bailed at the start of the apocalypse, so the kids have been surviving alone, and doing a pretty alright job of it. The way they act and meld together, the way they talk, the way it all works feels very real, grounded, and right. There were multiple times Tsuper and I sighed, “Oh, I know what happens next. Because it’s a formula, you KNOW what happens here.”
EXCEPT WE DIDN’T AND THEY KEPT SUBVERTING OUR EXPECTATIONS. I don’t know what changed at Telltale to facilitate this change. News from last year reports they had to let go of a ton of staff, so one would think it a miracle if the game was anywhere near decent- but the fact that this is just insanely good blows my mind.
And it’s not just the writing that’s made leaps and bounds! With a new game comes new graphics, new models, new textures, new animations. Faces are less stylized than previously, but don’t fall into the uncanny valley. The facial animations are subtle and spectacular, very real and purposeful, and hoo boy. Telltale developed a new shader, and it is WILD. Far-away shadows are stylized and sharp and oftentimes look like they were pulled straight from a comic book. They very slowly and subtly blend into more realistic shadows the closer you get, and that transition is smooth as butter. As silk. It is sick.
Note, you also get into honest-to-god fight scenes? And it’s cool?
Yeah. Man. Hella good. Tsuper agrees- half of this review is hers anyway. She says it’s more dynamic, more interesting, and it feels both like a return to what made the first season really great, but it also feels like something of the moment. She feels it’s grown, and that they’re pushing it further than the games have gone before. It’s an evolution, the next step for the genre.
See you next time!