Developer: Telltale Games / Publisher: Telltale Games / Played on: PS3 / Price: $4.99 / ESRB: Mature [Strong Language, Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes]
So this is it. The big finale. The last episode in what has heretofore been a substantive and depressing journey in videogame storytelling. If you’ve been playing the first season as diligently as I have, you knew going in that there was only one way this was going to end: tears.
At the end of Episode Four, the situation was dire for Lee Everett and crew (or potentially just Lee, depending on decisions you had made up to that point). If the official Twitter hashtag wasn’t clear enough, No Time Left’s theme is “For Clementine,” that cute, innocent, mop-topped little girl who served as more than just a surface-level plot device to drive your decision making. If Lee was the character that reflected the difficult choices the zombie-infested world forced humanity to make, Clem was most definitely the shreds of hope that were left, the hope that it could all be turned around and get better.
In an effort not to spoil the story too much, I am purposely painting in broad strokes. This is a conclusion that needs to be experienced in a full vacuum. There are some really hard choices to be made with the characters that have survived this harrowing year. And the sad inevitability those choices all point to cannot be avoided; the game even goes so far as to remind you as much as possible that there will be no sunshine and butterflies when the credits roll.
And it’s because of that prolonged sense of dread that the grief is real when it’s all said and done. It’s real grief invoked by the amazing character performances, especially of the main duo. It is perhaps the most heartfelt and touching denouement in a game this year, and I wish more games had the dedication to their endings that The Walking Dead does. It definitely feels like the series was created for the final scenes of this episode, and what it achieves as far as player investment in a world, characters, and narrative cannot be understated.
Now with all that grandiosity noted, I will say that on a practical level, No Time Left does suffer from its fair share of convenient plot devices that hurt the suspension of disbelief, as well as some incongruent storytelling. There were a couple of moments where I thought Telltale was going to pull the “it was all a dream/hallucination!” card out of its hat, which it thankfully didn’t. But that doesn’t resolve some of the wild logic leaps of character motivation, especially as it relates to the antagonist of this episode.
Previous player choice from past installments is also heavily mitigated in this episode, which is unfortunate. A lot of the events of Episode Five feel like they’re only there to funnel you to the conclusion the game wants, and goes to great lengths to undermine some of the more important decisions that you’ve made.
Still, this story was about the characters from the very beginning, and it got that so right, I can forgive some convenient deus ex machina. I just want to see a tighter attention to plot detail for the inevitable Season Two.
No Time Left features the best use of sound design in the series, bar none. More specifically, it uses silence in a way that most games never explore. When was the last time you played a game that featured no music, no sound effects, just character dialogue? It rarely happens, but there’s a specific scene in this episode where the complete lack of any kind of music really enhances the overall impact of the character delivery. It sets a tone. A serious one.
Musically, this also marks the first time the series has had any kind of vocal performance; the credits song is both appropriate and forlorn at the same time, a tribute to the hardship you as a player just completed.
The Walking Dead is a fantastic example of narrative-first game design. It embraces the strengths of episodic media and pairs them with solid gameplay mechanics and puzzles that set a consistent pace and follows a focused vision from beginning to end. There are moments of awkwardness here and there, small qualms with the logic of certain sequences or with the writing, but overall, for a debut game, this has been a wild ride and Telltale’s most finely crafted product. Character drama has rarely been better in the gaming medium, and it most definitely deserves a spot on your hard drive.
+ Heartfelt conclusion to an emotional story
+ Great use of sound and music
– Convenient plot twists feel lazy
8.5 / 10