WARNING: Very light story spoilers will be discussed for the sake of giving context. No plot details will be given, but if you want to go in completely blind, just be aware general things will be discussed.
Since the first season released to critical acclaim back in 2012, fans of The Walking Dead have been following the journey of Clementine, and her struggles to survive in a dead infested world. With this fourth season, Telltale Games has promised that this will be the final season and that Clementine’s story arc will be concluded.
As someone who, alongside my little brother, has played every single episode in the mainline series over the years, and has seen her grow from a timid 9-year-old to a confident 16-year-old, I had my fingers crossed that her story would be wrapped up in a satisfying way. However, after playing through the first episode of the season, I can say that this beginning of the end is definitely worth seeing to the end.
The first thing to note is just how great the game looks. The proprietary Telltale engine has plagued previous games from the developer, causing some glitches and bugs for players. But, even if this is the last game to use the engine, Telltale has had so much time to iterate on it, that it manages to impress visually. The animations are much smoother this time around, the lighting and art are much more vibrant and consistent, and small details, like the logo on Clem’s hat flowing in the wind during gameplay, are abundant.
During my nearly 3 hour play time on my PlayStation 4 Pro, I did get a brief hitch or two before dialog options appeared during action-heavy scenes but compared to previous seasons, the game runs wonderfully. If you’ve ever been burned by technical issues in past Telltale games, you are unlikely to encounter the same issues this time around.
Gameplay for this season has also been modified quite a bit as well. While still heavily based around cutscenes, when gameplay does happen, the camera is placed behind Clementine’s back rather than placed in a stationary spot like prior seasons. Also, collectibles are scattered throughout many of the environments you visit, and they tie into both trophies and into the narrative, as you can use them for decorations later on in the game.
Also, killing walkers this time around is much more active and even a little strategic. Walkers can now sneak up behind you for an instant kill, so you have to keep track of multiple enemies, stun them to break up their groups, and kill them when isolated. In some scenes, you can even use traps to kill the undead, and these changes overall make this season feel more like an actual video game more than an interactive film.
But nice graphics and more engaging gameplay are just cherries on top of what this game is really about: the story. At the start of the episode, Clementine and AJ, a, roughly, 5-year old boy that Clem has been caring for since season 2, find themselves in a nearly impossible situation from which they are quickly saved. They eventually discover that their saviors are none other than fellow children.
Without spoiling who these kids are, or what they’re about, each of them is a distinct and interesting character. Clem forms relationships with two of them in particular, and both the stark contrast between the two and the nature of the brief bond you form with them is very refreshing. In fact, the cast of characters in this season allows for Clementine to actually be the main contributor to a group, rather than her being tossed to the side so the adults can handle things. It leads to a dynamic with a lot more stakes for Clem personally, and for AJ by proxy.
While there might be a fear that dialogue written for adolescents and children might be cringe-worthy (remember Life is Strange?), the characters here are written very well. They don’t try to show the age of the characters through the slang that they use, but by how they handle themselves and react to situations. And despite the focus on children and teens in this episode, the stakes are just as high as ever, especially with the multiple surprises in the third and final act.
Done Running is a great episode, however, there is one minor problem. With this being the inaugural episode of the season, there is a lot of set up. This means there’s going to be a lot more talking than action, and things don’t ramp up that much until well into the second act. But because of this, the episode not only has callbacks that longtime fans of the series will appreciate but is also a great starting point for anyone interested in the series. The future three episodes in the season will likely change that, and the ending of this episode certainly leads me to believe that will be the case.
So, if you are looking forward to saying goodbye to Clementine, this is a very solid start to that journey. While it does, at times, fall victim to the burden of having to introduce so many new aspects, the characters, narrative, and improved fidelity of Done Running remains top-notch and has left me looking forward to the next episode in September.