Review by MTLH
"Good Story, shallow gameplay, fitting end to the season."
The Walking Dead began as a critically and commercially successful comic book before spreading out to television, figurines and other merchandise. With such prominence it was inevitable that an accompanying videogame would eventually turn up. Apparently somewhere next year a first person shooter will see the light of day but Telltale Games got there first with one of their signature serialised series of point and click adventure games.
The game is somewhat of a deviation from the norm for Telltale. Their previous output has been quite traditional while The Walking Dead focuses more on interactions and their resulting consequences for the narrative. This unfortunately comes at the expense of the actual gameplay which either tends to be simple or even at times nonexistent. We have finally reached the end of the season with the fifth episode, No Time Left, which must accomplish two things. It must serve as the culmination of all the decisions the player has made throughout the season while also satisfyingly tying up the game's various plot points. Lets see if it succeeds.
Whereas I usually begin this section with The Walking Dead's visual shortcomings, let us start with the positive aspects for a change. The animation and detailing are very good. Facial animation takes the limelight with a couple of very moving scenes where a few simple expressions say more than words could ever do. We are treated once again to another side of Savannah, two in fact, and they look great. The rooftops provide a sense of openness while the crowd scenes are actually quite impressive. The direction also deserves some credits as it's impeccable for this episode.
What has turned out to be slightly disappointing this season has been how the visual's style has been implemented. Telltale went for a comic book look but the results are half-hearted. The characters and a good part of the environments look like they have been drawn but it would have been nice if this effect had been used on everything, from the sky to the buildings to the smallest of detail. It is also a shame that the whole style gives of the impression of being superimposed instead of being an integral part of the graphics. Perhaps this is too much to ask for, taking into account the resources at Telltale's disposal, but fixing these issues would have avoided the current stylistic dichotomy.
The soundtrack is atmospheric yet unimposing, greatly enhancing the mood of the game. The song by Alela Diane which plays during the end credits is especially apt. Sound effects are mostly functional, doing their job without much fuss. The voice acting is exceptional really providing, together with the animation, the game's plot it's heart and soul. Especially the later scenes between Lee and Clementine shine in that regard.
Around Every Corner ended with the group being in serious trouble. Well, in even more trouble than usual. Clementine has been abducted, those suspected of this have packed up and left, a new foe made himself known while Lee had been bitten by one of the undead. No Time Left continues directly from here and sees the group searching for the little girl while Lee tries to stave off the effects of the infection.
No Time Left clearly is a last instalment in how it ties certain threads together while heading straight for the season's overall conclusion. It follows a strongly focussed tale where even the scarce breathers contain a lot of interpersonal tension. No Time Left is also the most emotional instalment of the season, offering several very touching moments. The scenes with Lee and Clementine are truly heartbreaking while the other characters also get a moment to shine. From a narrative perspective, this episode may be the best one Telltale has thus far produced.
Choice and consequence is The Walking Dead's main attraction. The story is allegedly shaped by the player's actions, with some having potentially far reaching consequences. In practice this system isn't as elaborate as advertised. Over the course of the season it turned out that it mostly influenced how the other characters perceived Lee. There where points where such choices determined who lived or died but in the end these considerations where turned moot because such characters where eventually disposed off anyway. Still, in Around Every Corner we finally got a real consequence when Lee asked his fellow survivors who was with him, their answers being dictated by Lee's previous choices. No Time Left doesn't have such a scene and instead opts to confront Lee, and thus the player, with the decisions he has made. This lends the episode a both a confrontational and melancholy mood and that is quite fitting for a closing instalment. The ending itself isn't all that surprising or unexpected but that doesn't really detract from the whole experience. It's the journey that matters, not the destination.
As mentioned in the introduction, the actual gameplay left something to be desired in The Walking Dead thus far. For a point and click adventure there are precious few puzzles. Those that where there over the course of the season tended to be simple affairs but the best of them where at least very well integrated into the plot. The third episode forms a good example of this, it also being the only one which actually featured some substantial conundrums. No Time Left has one or two puzzles that are so small that they are almost inconsequential. Instead the episode has quite a lot of action segments. Quick time events return as does shooting and slashing the undead. This is taken to the extreme at one point where Lee hacks his way through a herd of the unfortunate creatures. It is meant to be impressive, showing his resolve, but it can come across as a bit silly as it takes away some of the menace the Walkers should convey.
The control options consist of the mouse and keyboard combination and a gamepad. Both work well enough but I prefer the first option. The control scheme entails Lee being controlled directly with interactions being performed with a pointer. Using a gamepad in this way feels unintuitive and cumbersome. In previous episodes the pointer could occasionally be a bit unresponsive. This especially came to light during the action segments but No Time Left seems to have finally eradicated these problems.
No Time Left is the shortest instalment in an already relatively short lasting series. It takes around an hour and a half to finish the thing which is almost shocking. Strangely enough, the episode doesn't feel short. It tells the story it wants to tell without needing any artificial padding. Ironically, the previous episode was actually rather big, lasting a good hour more than the rest, so No Time Left evens that out a bit.
No Time Left is a worthy conclusion to the season. The narrative is top-notch, filled with genuinely touching moments. Every character gets his or her moment and we are treated to a very bittersweet ending. The facial animation and voice acting really help in that regard. The big payoff of Lee's actions may already have occurred in the previous episode but this final instalment handles it in another way, confronting him with his deeds, which is perhaps more satisfying.
Regarding the actual gameplay, No Time Left doesn't stray from the season's norm. There are few puzzles and a good deal of action segments. The narrative takes over proceedings almost completely but that is in this instance not such a bad thing. For a series that is so preoccupied with it's plot it is fitting that this episode places it on the foreground. The runtime of barely ninety minutes is incredibly short, even for a single episode, but it works. In the end I didn't feel short-changed as No Time Left fulfils al it's objectives with gusto.
So that is that for The Walking Dead Season One. A second season has already been confirmed and I am glad it has. Despite all my misgivings about the lack of actual gameplay I did enjoy it very much despite some issues. If only choices had farther reaching consequences that actually steered the plot. If only there had been more puzzles. Ah well, the idea behind The Walking Dead is at least solid. Let's hope for the second season Telltale also adds some more substance.
OVERALL: No Time Left gets a 7,8.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/28/12
Game Release: The Walking Dead: Episode 5 - No Time Left (US, 11/21/12)
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