With The Walking Dead Telltale series officially wrapped up, publisher Skybound Entertainment just released the Definitive Series which contains all 4 seasons so allow me to tell you all about it in this detailed review.
The story behind The Walking Dead Telltale series is a bit of a bizarre one. It initially started out as a proposed Left 4 Dead spin-off before being converted into a Walking Dead story thanks to a rights deal that Telltale secured in 2011. Since the first season debuted back in 2012, the series has been a roller coaster in terms of quality. It started off with Season One winning several game of the year awards and it influenced the entire industry in ways that we are still seeing today. Then, Season Two and A New Frontier sadly failed to outrun their predecessor's shadow before the conversation around The Final Season became more about game developer rights rather than the series ending thanks to the much publicized shutdown of Telltale Games. However, whether or not The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is worth picking up will depend entirely on if you think any of these seasons were worth the effort.
From a technical standpoint, The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series has a lot of the same problems as the original versions of its games. The production quality tends to be a bit lackluster with glitches and clipping issues coming up constantly. Often, the music and sound effects will completely drown out the dialog making the process of interacting with other characters incredibly annoying. At other times, the music won't pop up at all and you're left with supposedly dramatic scenes that lack any ambience to add to the mood. In addition, sometimes scenes will play out and parts of the backgrounds and environments will fail to load or just appear as blank spaces onscreen for split-seconds. It's kind of a sloppy collection in this regard and one has to wonder why Skybound Entertainment didn't put just a little more effort into polishing it up. Thankfully, what makes the series good is still here and more than worth revisiting.
The first season of Telltale's The Walking Dead is every bit as good as I remember it. It mostly functions as an interactive drama providing more of the illusion of choice than actual choice but what it lacks in gameplay, it makes up for with incredibly strong writing. The plot on paper is a typical zombie story as the zombie apocalypse starts while no one seems to know why and things go bad quickly. The story in this case follows a convicted murderer named Lee who finds himself taking care of an 8 year old named Clementine.
Throughout the season, we're introduced to a revolving door of great characters that run the gambit of lovable to insane while giving us a healthy barrage of original scenarios to play through with plenty of hard-hitting moments. At the heart of it all, of course, is the relationship between Clementine and Lee as you try and raise her in this new world and keep her safe at the same time and it ends on what is perhaps the most heartbreaking note in video game history. If you're trying to relive memories of this season then this collection might be worth picking up but you'll inevitably deal with what comes next.
The second season is by no means bad. In fact, it's actually quite good and was produced when Telltale was still a promising company but it suffers from the simple fact that it's not as good as its predecessor. Once again, it's about people trying to survive a zombie apocalypse and all the mishaps that happen as a result but this time, it's told through the eyes of Clementine. Unfortunately, the characters and the obstacles to overcome just aren't as interesting this time around, particularly in the first 2 episodes as it mostly just amounts to the cast having to deal with a tyrannical leader in one area before the characters and their alliances all begin to break apart.
What makes the season work is the complicated relationship between Clementine and Kenny who was introduced in Season One and was one of its more interesting supporting characters. In Season Two, he kind of takes over Lee's position as a surrogate father and his introduction is by far one of the most heartwarming moments in the entire series. The issue is that Kenny is a volatile loud-mouth redneck who can't help but make bad situations even worse; just like in the first season. Yet at the same time, he clearly loves kids and genuinely wants what's best for those around him despite being an obvious danger to those very same people. It's this relationship that elevates the season and makes it a compelling story with a unique angle while still not being quite on par with Season One. Unfortunately, the series never again reaches this level of writing quality.
A New Frontier
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is not an objectively bad season but it's by far the laziest and most uninspired entry in the series. Taking place 4 years after the start of the zombie apocalypse, the story primary follows a Hispanic family as they try and survive and integrate into a new society based in Richmond, Virginia. Sadly, it has nothing new to offer to the Telltale formula. By the time it was released, the zombie fad was finally dying out and the Telltale formula was becoming a bit stale. Between The Walking Dead: Season Two and A New Frontier, Telltale had released 4 entire games that looked and played almost exactly like The Walking Dead and this latest entry was quite frankly more of the same. Even on its own merits, it doesn't offer anything that we haven't seen before.
Every conceivable plot point and scenario that comes up in A New Frontier is something we've seen pop up in a dozen other zombie stories. Some even play out in the official comic series, the AMC series, and even previous seasons of this series. We have the adoptive parent angle that we saw in Season Two, it features a love triangle as a key plot point which is ripped straight from the AMC series, a giant horde of zombies is threatening to obliterate everything, corrupt and ruthless leaders are leading raiding parties, and internal fighting in the new societies threaten to cause it all to collapse. It's not ineffectively told by any means but it lacks any new take on these plot points and feels more like something that the developers cobbled together in a rush before moving on to their next project. Overall, it's a waste of time that highlights Telltale at its least inspired. Thankfully, some of that magic was recaptured in The Final Season.
The Final Season
Finally, this season will be forever linked to the shutting down of Telltale Games which ignited a more serious discussion for workers' rights in the game industry that still hasn't gone away. It was only finished thanks to The Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman and Telltale publisher Skybound Entertainment who completed the last 2 episodes of the season. The end result of all this was a season that was better than its immediate predecessor yet not nearly as interesting as all of the behind-the-scenes drama that preceded it.
The Final Season picks up a few years after the events of A New Frontier with Clementine and her adopted son A.J. on the road after things apparently went horribly wrong at Richmond. The 2 eventually find their way to an old school for troubled youths which is full of surviving kids. Soon enough, the kids find themselves under attack from an old acquaintance of Clementine and they have to decide how far they will go to save the school after she becomes their de facto leader.
The word that ultimately describes The Final Season is adequate. Like A New Frontier, there isn't all that much to recommend but it at least does a better job of telling a story. It wisely abandons the grand scale of A New Frontier in favour of a more intimate story that the Telltale format has always been better with and we actually come to care about the characters. Its story is told from a unique perspective, the antagonist is pretty good all things considered, and it's nice to see a zombie story that ends on a genuinely optimistic note. The downside is that the season is poorly paced with the final episode dragging on for what feels like forever. On the plus side, it provides a decent enough ending even if it can't escape the shadow of its behind-the-scenes drama.
Ultimately, The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is a mixed bag. If you haven't yet played through these seasons and are interested in taking the plunge, this offers a good way to do so as long as you're aware that the series eventually runs out of steam.
- + The first season remains as powerful as ever and it's the highlight of the package
- + Kenny's MVP turn is memorable
- + The third season ends satisfyingly
- - Audio issues and minor graphical glitches plague the entire collection
- - A New Frontier is disappointing