Episode One - Done Running
Props to Clementine. Despite everything that’s been thrown at her over the years of appearing in Telltale's adventure game juggernaut, she’s still found the time to carry around that manky old hat while becoming a no shit-taking, undead-surviving badass.
Let’s see Rick Grimes do that, eh?
Survival hasn’t been easy though. Now alone with AJ to look after, Clem is still wading through the remnants of humanity, where good folk are in even shorter supply than the turnout for a Peter Andre gig. Still, hope hasn’t yet decomposed to the same degree as the marauding undead; it’s a theme that simmers beneath this first episode’s boiling pot of emotions, and it’s all largely thanks to her aforementioned, pint-sized companion.
The fact you now have AJ in your care changes the dynamic of The Walking Dead, and is a perpetual reminder of why you’re still slogging through this nightmare. I hadn’t ever had such an overwhelming feeling that my decisions mattered as heavily as they do in Done Running for a long, long time; the responsibility is palpable.
To this end, the dialogue exchanges between our heroine and AJ are some of the strongest in the franchise to date. Conversations swing effortlessly between irreverent banter and hard-hitting chatter, building a dynamic relationship that – the game wastes no time in reminding you – will shape AJ over the course of The Final Season.
Unsurprisingly, it’s here that Done Running is at its best. The whole motherly concept works a treat, and made me ever mindful of my choices and actions around AJ. Even the most innocuous of things have a knock-on effect; the kid is basically a fleshy sponge that soaks up everything, after all. There’s a huge weight on your shoulders, something that hasn’t been felt in The Walking Dead since Lee guided a wide-eyed Clem through the infancy of the undead all-you-can-eat buffet. And it’s all very, very satisfying.
Ironically, for an episode called Done Running, this debut episode feels remarkably fast-paced – and that’s no bad thing. The bulk of the action takes place in a rundown boarding school, where a ragtag group of teenagers have set up shop after the adults were presumably eaten or bailed, ‘cause sod having to deal with teen angst when the dead are rising from their graves, right? It’s here that Done Running falls into a familiar trope: finding a new place to lay your head, only for it to inevitably go all Pete Tong.
Yes, there’s a distinct whiff of ‘been there, done that’ about proceedings, but somehow Telltale makes it work. It could be because the school is such a character in its own right: an atmospheric, almost patriarchal beacon of stability that is far removed from the crappy motels and sterile camps that previous seasons have used. Furthermore, the kids themselves – while teetering precariously on the edge of box-ticking stereotyping based purely on how they look – are surprisingly fleshed out.
In fact, Done Running encourages you to get to know each individual, and you’ll definitely want to. Some of the best sequences in this chapter are light-hearted, such as the kids discussing where they’d like to drive to and get away from it all. It’s moments like these that punctuate the claret-spilling antics that gives Done Running such warmth and character. It’s just a shame that the game sometimes makes things too obvious, diluting the impact of any big reveals. Still, there’s no denying that the tension that’s slowly bubbling as the episode moves along is damn effective, as it becomes clear something is not right.
Speaking of claret, there’s lots of it. Combat has been spruced up, with a new over-the-shoulder view offering a more intimate experience than before. Clem’s armed with her trusty knife, and it’s up to you to carefully guide her through a minefield of walking corpses where necessary, dispatching the ravenous coffin-dodgers in fluid, gratifying motions using context-sensitive button prompts. There’s certainly less hand-holding this time around; I didn’t watch my back a few times, and Clem paid the ultimate blood-curdling price. It works all the better for it, making me feel more part of the action rather than a backseat driver who annoys the shit out of you by yelling every so often.
Certainly, if The Walking Dead: The Final Season is to build to a gripping conclusion, then it has the perfect springboard from which to do so.
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Game
Available on: PS4 (reviewed on), PC, Xbox One, Switch
Release Date: August 14, 2018 (Episode One)
This review is for the entiriety of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, and will be updated as new episodes are released.
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