It’s time to say farewell to an old friend, for the final time.
Despite having all four seasons finally playable in one place, The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series is a somewhat sombre collection of games to play through. I don’t mean because of its world lost to ravaging hordes of the undead or the deteriorating relationships between its characters. No, it’s more what this series of point and click narrative games represent. They’re the lasting legacy of a truly special game studio that met its tragic demise late last year.
For many, Telltale’s work on The Walking Dead left a lasting impact. The studio delivered strong characters, emotionally rich worlds and a quality of writing that made all of its work unique. Sure, the industry has seen titles attempt to replicate the studio’s approach to narrative since Season One’s release back in 2012, but few recapture the magic that made The Walking Dead so triumphantly engaging.
Luckily for a collection that holds such a legacy, The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series easily stands as the best way to play these games. Despite a few glaring audio issues in Season Two (music often plays so loud you can’t hear dialogue), this is easily the smoothest experience I’ve ever had with a Telltale game. The visuals look outstanding – the first and second seasons get a beautiful touch up to fit with the technologically superior later offerings – while glitches and frame drops are kept at a minimum.
Meanwhile, a wide selection of fun special features greets you on the home screen, ranging from interactive character models to dev commentary and more. If you are itching to get stuck back into the world of The Walking Dead, this is undeniably the best way to do it.
How do these games make their transition into the world of 2019? It’s an interesting question, that stands as one of the more compelling reasons to return to the world of The Walking Dead. If this is the legacy that Telltale are leaving behind, is it one worth leaving? In my personal opinion, absolutely. Granted, the path woven through the entire franchise’s forty-five-hour runtime isn’t always perfect; there’s inconsistent writing, inconsequential moral choices and infuriating technical limitations. However, there’s enough heart, drama and raw emotional power within its four-season run to make it work.
For those who are new to The Walking Dead, the plot starts off fairly reminiscent of most zombie stories. You are Lee Everett: a convicted criminal, on his way to prison, when his police escort is run off the road by the undead. He escapes, discovering a young girl called Clementine who rescues him from the zombie horde. From here, the two band together and search for other survivors, amassing a small group and braving the apocalypse together. The basic gameplay is simple. Each episode follows Lee and Clem’s story, asking you to make hefty moral decisions, solve puzzles and, on occasion, partake in some intense QTE battles. Every decision you make has consequences for you, the group and, most crucially, Clementine.
Playing each game back to back really highlights where they are at their best, and Season One is easily where Telltale pulls off the formula with the most nuance. They nail it so well, in fact, that I’d argue it’s the best game to ever use the Telltale blueprint. Not only are the episodes longer than the other seasons, and more packed, but the way Telltale creates a believable group of survivors that you get to know for both their strengths and weaknesses is nothing short of masterful. Not only are Lee and his host of supporting characters likeable due to the amazing writing and voice acting, but they remain that way despite having to make morally despicable choices.
Nothing feels clear cut or simple in the world of The Walking Dead: Season One, and it’s a testament to the engaging storytelling of Telltale that it surprises you at every opportunity. It’s easily the bravest of all four games, with dark, story-driven moments that feel genuinely shocking and dishearteningly sad.
Season two manages to continue this streak with another series of strong episodes. Changing direction and putting you in control of Clementine, it turns a once timid, afraid child into a growing young woman who you must shape and change to fit her apocalyptic surroundings. Unlike Season One, it takes the focus away from the characters around you and centres in on Clementine herself, asking deeply probing questions about the nature of this new world and what it takes to survive. It lacks the momentum and purpose of the first game, but it crafts Clementine into a complex protagonist who quickly becomes the franchise’s strongest asset. Add to that a brilliant antagonist (voiced superbly by Michael Madsen) and some surprising plot arcs for a few returning faces, and this follow-up works tremendously well.
A New Frontier (AKA, season three) and the Michonne mini-Series lack the same combination of strong character work, intriguing themes and emotional power that make the first two games so brilliant to play. As a result, they’re forgettable and slightly disappointing. This is largely because they opt to recycle the same choices that feature in the first two seasons. Save person A or B? Steal the supplies or leave them? Kill or spare? In the end, they wind up feeling like sluggish re-treads of the prior entries, Michonne especially feeling like a needless detour that I’d recommend avoiding entirely.
Luckily, Season Four rounds out the series well. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of the initial two entries, but there are some strong moments littered throughout its shorter four-episode runtime, especially as Clementine begins to care for a child herself. It mirrors the relationship between Lee and Clem from the first season beautifully, becoming an emotional send off to the series that doesn’t play it safe with the hard moments. When the credits roll one last time, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a dry eye in the house, ending on a beautiful moment that ties off the saga well.
If you’re a fan of the franchise, this is the perfect collection to give it a second go-around. If you’re a newcomer, this is the ideal way to first experience it. While the original two games may come off as a little dated and the choices can feel telegraphed at times, the stories are what make these games so memorable. It’s the perfect way to remember what made Telltale such a special company and a collection of truly brilliant games that remind you of the legacy they’ll leave behind.
Make sure you keep that hair short.
The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Developer: Skybound Entertainment (Telltale Games)
Publisher: Skybound Entertainment
Release Date: August 22, 2019
This is easily the best way to experience The Walking Dead on a technical front. The graphical revamp of the first two seasons is impressive, the special features are a nice touch, and having all the games in one package is a convenient deal. However, it’s the content you’re here for and (for the most part) the games hold up exceptionally well. They may be slightly dated, but there’s no doubting this package serves as a glowing reminder of Telltale’s best work.