Six years ago, adventure game studio Telltale launched a series that would signify a rejuvenation of the developer as they would create their own adaptation of one of the most popular comic book series and TV shows at the time. Starring a young child named Clementine and her self-proclaimed protector Lee, the first season of Telltale’s Walking Dead was renowned by fans and critics alike, showing the emotional and mechanical potential that relatively simple adventure titles still have in modern times. Since then, the series has added two more seasons and a couple of spin-offs to its name, and while these episodes have rarely managed to hit the same highs, they have continued to consistently be some of the developer’s most prominent works, as Clementine has continued to evolve and mature due to the harsh circumstances around her. Last year, Telltale revealed that the series would start to wind down with the fourth and final season starting and concluding in 2018. Now, the first episode of this last season is upon us, as Clementine assumes the role of protector of a child whose family has also disappeared, AJ. Done Running offers little in the way of interesting narrative hooks, but the improved gameplay mechanics and presentation make this premiere episode a promising one.
Done Running kicks off a few years after the end of the third season, as Clementine has reunited with AJ and taken him under her wing, helping teach him the lessons she has learned since meeting Lee. As a result, AJ offers a unique perspective as someone who has never seen a world that is not infested with walkers, including his proficiency with guns and his cautious attitude towards other people and “ordinary” objects. This leads to some interesting dynamics when the season’s new group of survivors, a school of young adults who have been without adult supervision for an extended period of time, make their presence felt. Unfortunately, little else of significance happens during the remainder of the episode, which is instead limited to extended introductions of the new cast and largely similar situations that are only slightly altered by this mostly generic crew. There is room for intriguing story hooks to grow and form, particularly after the episode’s closing moments, but for now, Done Running represents one of the weaker starts to a Walking Dead season from a narrative perspective.
Fortunately, Telltale has gone ahead and made some drastic improvements to the core gameplay of the final Walking Dead season. The biggest change is easily the adjusted camera perspective, which abandons the traditional far-reaching adventure game perspective to one that places it right behind Clementine. As a result, the exploration sequences offer a greater sense of detail and interactivity, including a greater scale of objects to utilize, while the combat sequences offer a little more depth and intensity as Clementine’s deadly use of melee weapons feels all the more personal. The dialogue choices and how they play out remain largely unaltered, but the latest season takes a page from Telltale’s Batman adaptation and puts a stronger focus on relationships and how each member of the cast is affected by the player’s words and actions. These adjustments can seem minor, but go a long way towards improving the player’s connection with Clementine and AJ, as well as presenting a few heart-pounding moments during the episode’s more intense moments.
The presentation of The Walking Dead has been turned up a notch as well, as the graphics have been vastly improved to seem more realistic, while still retaining that unique Telltale flair. The soundtrack accurately reflects both the calmer and more energetic moments of the events of Done Running and the voice acting continues to be a priority for Telltale, with Melissa Hutchison’s continually evolving performance as Clementine representing the expected but welcome bright spot among the cast. In addition to the usual replayability offered by the season’s wide variety of dialogue and gameplay choices, this last season offers another new one: collectibles which Clementine can find and display in her latest residence. The beginning of this episode offers the option to create a backstory for Clementine for players without an easily located save file, so anyone can hop in on the series’ concluding chapters.
Done Running is proof that Telltale still has plenty of ideas to innovate and reinvigorate the adventure genre, where even small changes including new camera perspectives and an improved presentation can go a long way, even if the story hasn’t quite found its footing yet. There’s plenty of time for the season’s plot to turn itself around and wrap up Clementine’s journey on a fitting note, and she deserves it after all the character’s been through, but the promising changes from every other perspective seems to indicate good things to come for the remaining three episodes.