Telltale’s The Walking Dead is quickly approaching its Final Season. The first episode is set to drop in August 2018, and Telltale is promising a markedly different experience. This release is the first from Telltale to follow a corporate restructuring that saw several layoffs at the company, and some following reporting that dove into why that happened. It was a story of flying too close to the sun, taking on too many projects too quickly, and the overall quality suffering as a result. Telltale has yet to recapture the magic of The Walking Dead’s original season. But with the latest announcement of The Final Season, paired with a new trailer, I’m feeling an unexpected optimism for the series’ final outing.
Things don’t seem to be going as great for The Walking Dead brand as a whole, compared to several years ago. The show is a constant vortex of drama, from massive departures from the source material angering fans, to rumors the lead actor is looking to jump ship. Another game from the developers of the Payday series has been mired in development issues for years. I don’t see anyone talk about the comics anymore either, outside of the dedicated audience (which is still pretty huge, I’m sure). But the Telltale games suffered the most.
Despite all the promise from the first game, which is still one of the best-written video games ever made, the second season didn’t land nearly as well. Sure, people liked and even ate it up, but the secret sauce was missing. It was a much more hateful game than the original, full of more shocking twists and turns that were in place to upset players with shock value rather than nuance. It felt like the hopeful tone of the first was entirely gone, and what was left was a montage of Game of Thrones-y shlock. Then a side story of sorts followed, that landed with a light thud rather than a bang. But it seems like things might be different this time.
One of the major outcomes of the Telltale restructuring was news that the company will be focusing its efforts on other engines. The internal engine was always a janky product, originally built when Telltale was tiny and making Sam and Max sequels. Those games were amazing, but I digress. It hasn’t aged well, and the focus on multi-platform releases made things even less stable. But taking on so many projects meant Telltale didn’t really have the time or resources to make things better. Now, there’s no confirmation that The Walking Dead: The Final Season is the first game on the new engine. It may not be. But the announcement press release came with notes of a new perspective, unscripted combat, and of course 4K and HDR support. All of that is a tall order for an engine that ran the infamously unstable Batman series.
But it’s not just the technical hints that have me excited. The trailer itself was striking. It’s just Clementine, as a young adult, and the child from the second season. It’s just the two of them sitting together, and then Clementine goes over the rules. The same rules Lee taught her the first time around. It’s upsetting as the child pulls out a revolver, but it’s blanket by a subdued, somber tone that takes me back to the first game, not the shlocky sequel. It makes me think the big guns are out, despite the talent involved with the original long gone from the company. Although we do know Gary Whitta is back in some form, so that’s pretty cool.
I’m writing this because I’m conflicted. I wrote off The Walking Dead a long time ago, after a long string of disappointments. But from the materials available so far, which are admittedly few, I’m liking what I’m seeing. That excites me, but it also worries me. Am I looking to much into it, or am I being manipulated by smart, early marketing? I sure hope not. Really, I just want to have something that even comes close to the experience I had with the first The Walking Dead season. You can't catch lightning in a bottle twice, and I know that. But we can come closer than we have before, and I think the time is right. After all, it's literally Telltale's last chance.