Games don’t release in a vacuum and, thus, makes it hard to write around this particular elephant in the room. Telltale Games basically announced its imminent shutdown as I sat down to materialize my thoughts on THE WALKING DEAD: THE FINAL SEASON EPISODE 2. Reports have indicated that this closure will also prematurely end this season, putting the next two episodes on the vaporware shelf next to Silent Hills and all those damn Star Wars games EA keeps canning. It’s a shame too since The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 2 is mostly all setup that we will likely never see the payoff to, which drains this episode of most of its purpose.
While it doesn’t pick up immediately after the first episode’s shocking conclusion, it does deal with what happened. AJ’s fatal mistake has put him and Clementine on everyone’s shit list, forcing both of you into exile away from the “safe” sanctuary at the school.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 2 Review: Going Backwards
This rapid change of tempo upends most of the good character work the first episode so carefully laid out. Everyone hates Clementine and AJ and this robs you of their personality since nasty insults replace their charming, engaging dialogue. Their behavior is understandable to a point, but this conflict doesn’t allow you to delve into the crew members since they are too busy shouting to spill any humanizing personal info.
The game even introduces a new character in this oddly paced first half. He’s something the series hasn’t seen much of before: kind to a fault, with a possibly misguided passion towards the walkers. But he’s barely in the episode, as he disappears shortly after your paths cross. And this is where the season’s cancellation makes him almost moot. He’s obviously been placed in the game so he can pop up in a later episode, but without promise of a payoff, he’s just a goof that briefly interacts with you.
And that’s the problem with this whole episode: it’s almost all setup. I had originally planned to talk about how unsubstantial the story was in this lone episode and how it’s all building to something we’ll see later. But, unless a miracle happens, we won’t see what it is building up to.
The relatively uneventful plot robbed from the scope of the larger season will unfortunately be the legacy this episode leaves behind. After all, the cast spends most of the episode just waiting for something to happen. Being unable to give players closure on the events you’ve spent an entire episode setting up is quite damning. However, the copious amounts of waiting lets the game focus on the character moments that Telltale excels at, which is something that can live on regardless of whether or not it gets its next two episodes.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 2 Review: What Telltale Does Best
After the adrenaline and hormones from the first half began to fade, the game slides back into what made the first episode so good. Even though the initial hour or so is jarring, it gives the crew the opportunity to rebuild their relationships. As the group begins to open up to you (again), they start to show their humanity. A few well-placed lighthearted moments bring the tension back down and show the range of the writing. You’re all at each other throats in one moment and then you’re all playing “marry, ‘flip,’ kill” in the next and it all works splendidly thanks to the script, performances, improved camera work, and brighter visual palette. Those aspects were carried over from the first episode so it’s good to see some consistency.
While achieved through different means, Clementine and AJ’s relationship continues to grow. He’s still just a kid but hardened by your “survive at all costs” mentality, which is especially interesting given his actions at the end of the previous episode. Episode 2 delves more into regret and teaching a child to have remorse but in the context of the apocalypse. It’s compelling in its own right but, again, it feels like this intermediary lesson that serves as a stepping stone to the final chapter of his arc—an arc we will most likely never get to see completed.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 2 Review: Clementine the Archer
This episode also expanded a bit more on the actual gameplay mechanics established in the previous episode. Clementine still controls better than prior installments, as it retains the same third-person camera and combat mechanics from the first entry. Stunning and slaying the undead has more strategy than you’d initially think and it helps change up the pace from all the talking. More mechanical depth is a welcome addition but it still can suffer from the inability to move quickly.
But this episode also gives Clementine another offensive weapon: the bow. Whereas the knife forces you to get in close, the bow offers a long-range option to your zombie problems. It doesn’t turn Clementine into Lara Croft nor does it make the game some tight third-person shooter. But it shows Telltale’s willingness to push past quick time events and better embrace the interactivity that makes video games so special.
It’s that overall willingness to push its style of games forward that makes this whole review a bummer to write. Adding a more cinematic camera, new gameplay mechanics, and moving away from its point-and-click roots showed that Telltale had finally been willing to address complaints that have been compounding for over six years. Being on the cusp of a new engine makes this whole ordeal even more heartbreaking.
Despite Episode 2‘s strengths, the cancellation makes it hard to recommend because it is part of something that will probably never become whole. It doesn’t have the luxury that other reviews for singular episodes have: the promise of an overarching season to contextualize it. The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 2 lacks an intriguing plot of its own and it isn’t able to write off its great character moments and writing as part of a bigger puzzle. As is, this is mostly a setup episode. And that can work but it doesn’t work as well when there is nothing to build up to.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 2 was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.