At this point, Telltale Games‘ The Walking Dead franchise really needs no introduction. The franchise, which takes place in the post-apocalyptic, undead-infested universe of Robert Kirkman’s revered comic books, pretty much had the interactive drama genre wrapped up in one decomposing fist.
Its success facilitated Telltale’s move into other IPs, where it’s put the likes of Borderlands, Batman, Game of Thrones, and the Wolf Among Us through their paces to varying degrees of success. I would argue, however, that The Walking Dead is unequivocally Telltale Game’s biggest accomplishment, something which this release – which include all four seasons of The Walking Dead plus The Walking Dead: Michonne – effortlessly proves.
The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series PS4 Review
Clementine Is The Star Of The Show
Clementine is the star of the show here. Initially starting off as a scared, eight-year-old at the onset of the zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead chronicles her life as she gets to grips with living and surviving in a world populated by flesh-eating corpses. An early triumph in TellTale’s series is her relationship with her early saviour, Lee; a fellow survivor wrestling with his own inner demons who takes Clem under his wing.
Clem and Lee’s relationship is brilliantly nuanced and constantly evolving, making for some of the best characterisation in gaming of recent memory. Even though it only lasts for one season, playing the entire series as a whole really shows just how much of an impact Lee has on Clem’s growth as a person, imprinting his beliefs and philosophies on the youngster depending on your choices.
As a player, the feeling of wanting to protect Clem is palpable, something which is echoed when Clem herself becomes the protector of the young AJ in The Final Season. You want to bring this kid up the best you can, and some of the choices you make a genuinely tough calls.
That’s not to say other characters get sidelined. Kenny in particular is one of the most complex characters in the series, and his arc is one of the most compelling next to Clem. Indeed, The Walking Dead is at its best when it focuses on a small group of core players; Season Two for example suffers from cast bloat, with many characters failing to make much of an impact as they’re brown bread after just a few encounters.
Even when the action shifts towards a new group — The Final Frontier sees Clem regulated to a supporting character in favour of newcomer Javier and family — The Walking Dead loses none of its storytelling prowess. In fact, the shift is welcome, and adds some interesting new story beats into the mix as we’re given a look at how other communities have struggled to survive the undead pandemic.
While there’s some crucial decisions to make, The Walking Dead is peppered with smaller choices that at first seem innocuous, but playing the series as a collective whole makes you realise just how impactful they can be.
Characters will notice your response and bring them up later in heated discussions, and your relationships with dynamically shift; it’s clever stuff, and makes you think twice about what to say next. Are you going to be loyal to your old mate Kenny despite some questionable actions? Perhaps you’ll befriend Violet at the school and then end up saving Louis in a split-second decision?
It’s all in your hands, and that’s The Walking Dead’s biggest strength: it makes you feel like you actually make a difference, even if, strictly speaking, there isn’t much freedom outside of conversations.
That’s not to say you aren’t given a chance to explore. A New Frontier and The Final Season in particular expand on giving you free rein of your character, with areas ripe for the picking with collectibles strewn about the place, characters to chat to, and just to soak up the post-apocalyptic beauty baying for your eyeballs’ attention.
The Final Season actually adds a wrinkle of strategy into Walker encounters, as you’re faced with large herds that require you to stun and kill your enemies, while other times you’ll be given the chance to aim your bow and arrow and dispatch the lumbering corpses as they slowly but inexorably shuffler your way. It’s tense stuff, and surprisingly rewarding — the generous checkpoint system helps, too.
Is The Walking Dead perfect? No. As mentioned, some characters feel decidedly undeveloped; sometimes, I felt as though Telltale had gone for a cheap shock tactic instead of peeling back additional layers to a particular individual.
At times, the choices feels somewhat arbitrary and become a little too black and white on occasion, instead of dabbling in the more grey moral areas that The Walking Dead is best known for. Still, it does little to mar the overall quality of the storytelling.
With new seasons come new technology advances, too. Sure, the comic book-like aesthetic still looks great, but the engine that powers the earlier seasons has its limitations. By the time The Final Season comes around however, Telltale’s tech is flexing some serious visual prowess, with scrumptious lighting effects and impressive facial animation that complements the mature storytelling on-screen.
Pleasingly, technical hiccups are kept to a minimum. Telltale Games are notorious for frame rate dips and dodgy lip-synching, and while those still rear their heads, it’s not as bad as I remember. If anything, the most egregious problems are the load times between key sequences, which can be a pain in the arse.
Fortunately, The Walking Dead boasts an absolute belter of a voice cast, which is just as well considering people spend a lot of time flapping their gums. David Fennoy (Lee), Melissa Hutchinson (Clementine), Gavin Hammond (Kenny), Jeff Schine (Javier), and Taylor Parks (AJ) are all highlights, but there’s equally solid performances throughout.
The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series packages together four brilliantly compelling seasons of gut-wrenching drama, grisly deaths, and superb character development. Sure, it’s showing a few wrinkles in places and sometimes misses the mark, but overall, you simply can’t go wrong picking this up.
The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is out now on PS4, PC and Xbox One.
Review code kindly provided by publisher.