Warning: Major story spoilers ahead. If you haven’t played the previous episodes of The Walking Dead yet, you may want to read this review at a later date.
The final episode in this season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead manages to be everything you can hope for in a finale to this ground-breaking series. There’s a persistent focus on moving forward, as you’ll trudge past an endless ocean of Walkers in an attempt to save the young girl Clementine. Brash decisions are made as Lee Everett’s clock ticks down to zero, but “No Time Left” also makes you feel like each major judgment made throughout this five-part run really meant something.
The characters are always looking forward with hopes to reunite the group and find a way to safety, but both subtle and not-so-subtle cues compel you to look back. You’ll be faced with the difficult choices you made that, deep down, you may regret, and be pushed to defend them. Have you been a perfect leader in your journey? Probably not, yet Episode 5 culminates to a climax so big that every tough call you’ve made before feels justified. You’ll lose friends, members you’ve had doubts about and maybe even your cool, but the emotional experience The Walking Dead gives you is worth each gut-wrenching moment. You won’t find another game like it, and happily, I couldn’t think of a more fitting conclusion to one of my favorite experiences this year.
This finale may be appropriate, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to swallow. Episode 5 picks up right where the survivors left off in “Around Every Corner.” Clementine has been captured, Lee has been bitten by a Walker and while the remaining members of the group have banded together to confront the mysterious man communicating to them through a walkie-talkie, the tension is still palpable. Lee’s condition, which quickly elevates as time passes, forces the group to discuss what must be done after he’s run out of time. Who will take care of Clementine? How will Lee be dealt with after the bite has taken full effect? The strong personalities within the diverse group have always led to some difficult arguments, but the gravity of the situation turns the heat up very early on.
However, there’s little time to talk. Drastic decisions that greatly affect the outcome of the narrative come hard and fast in this, the final episode of the season. The end is in sight for Lee, and it forces the group to take more chances than ever before. Much of this final chapter feels like an action-packed sprint to the finish, but after some supremely gruesome and emotional sequences, brief moments of respite arise. Bits of the past are dug up as you converse with what remains of the survivors, and these scenes serve as closure for issues yet to be settled within the first four chunks of content. Maybe you won’t love Kenny or Ben after a few extended talks, but it’s hard not to feel closer to those who’ve stuck with you after a few extended dialogue trees.
What seem like minor instances seen in earlier episodes creep up in a big way as you finally meet the unstable man holding Clementine hostage, and while I won’t spoil one of the most interesting sequences, it’s important to know that what you’ve done before does make a difference in the concluding hour. A one-on-one discussion with this mystery man makes you take a hard look at the past, which serves as an extraordinary payoff for sticking it out to the final episode. The referencing of specific moments throughout your journey make it all feel that much more personal, and while some choices don’t leave as visible an impact as others, it’s pretty damn impressive to maintain such a player-driven narrative across five unique experiences.
Although the pace has been jacked up a few notches, the core gameplay and presentation remain largely unchanged. You’ll ice your fair share of undead foes in beautifully grotesque fashion, but Episode 5 is mostly executed through well-written dialogue. Quick decisions set up action-packed set pieces, and while a poor frame rate will lessen a particular moment’s impact from time to time, the actions taking place on screen are most often wonderful to witness. A scene rarely changes without a few hitches, but it’s more than worth it to experience this masterful conclusion.
Fans of Telltale’s The Walking Dead who have reached this point in the season will be more than satisfied with this heart-pounding, tear-jerking conclusion to one of the finest gaming experiences of 2012. You don’t have to like zombies, or even adventure games, to appreciate the fantastic story told in this series, and while I can’t promise that you’ll walk away with a smile on your face as the credits begin to role, the long-lasting impact that the tale of Clementine and Lee leaves is unlike anything modern video games have managed to achieve. This is episodic gaming done right, and anyone who appreciates a gripping, unforgettable story owes it to themselves to see this tale out to the bitter end.
The Walking Dead Episode 5: No Time Left was developed and published by Telltale Games. An Xbox 360 copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of review.