Video games that feature crucial plot-impacting decisions came under fire earlier this year with the disappointment surrounding the ending of Bioware’s third-person shooter role-playing adventure Mass Effect 3. All the hard work put in by players over the course of five years seemed like a huge waste of time when in the final moments of the trilogy, the story boiled down to essentially one final decision that led to an ending riddled with plot holes and contradicted the very reason behind the Mass Effect project in the first place. To say that fans of the series were left feeling cheated and underwhelmed would be an understatement. Adopting a similar format to the science fiction series, The Walking Dead’s five part downloadable series has finally come to an end with the final chapter No Time Left, so have Telltale games managed to rekindle the love lost of this style of gameplay? Beware those new to the series, as there are a few spoilers ahead.
Lee Everett is man with a dark past. Prior to the events of the series he was about to be taken to jail for committing murder, only to be given a second chance of sorts when a zombie outbreak hits the state of Georgia and his transport crashes at the side of the road. Making his escape, Lee encounters a young girl called Clementine, who has been left abandoned in her treehouse amidst the chaos surrounding her. Flash forward three months and four games later, the father-daughter bond between Lee and Clementine is the strongest it’s ever been. However as Episode Four draws to a close, Lee Everett faces his toughest challenge yet as Clementine has been abducted by an unknown kidnapper, his fellow survivors are desperate for a way to leave the city of Savannah as quick as possible, and Lee himself has been bitten by a walker.
No Time Left creates the atmosphere of a series finale as if it were a television series. The episode is fast-paced, particularly compared to the other chapters, only losing momentum at times when high emotions come into play. Lee and Clementine find themselves facing their fears throughout, while the most of the games other characters are given a chance to redeem themselves for the sins they have accumulated over their journey. Despite being the shortest episode of the lot expect plenty of twists, turns and moments of terror along the way as the game concludes with one of the most emotionally satisfying endings seen in a videogame to date. .
Considering how fast paced the final episode is, you can expect there to be a few sacrifices to the gameplay. Jigsaw style puzzles and over-the-shoulder shoot-outs that lengthened some of the previous episodes are virtually non-existent for No Time Left and with good reason. Instead quick time events take the forefront as Lee and his fellow survivors often have to think on their feet, usually with a herd of walkers chomping at their heels. The game still features five key decisions that will impact the storyline but with time being crucial, it really brings out your gut reactions rather than allowing you to pick what decision you think suits the storyline best. Moments like these have featured in the previous episodes, but with the stakes higher than they’ve ever been in No Time Left it’s fair to say that this episode will really bring out your true personality more than ever before. After the game ends, players are shown a statistics board charting all their decisions from start to finish, how they impacted the other survivors and more importantly, how they differed from other players worldwide.
The series has borrowed its graphical style from the comic book that it’s based on. The gorgeous heavily drawn lines and faded colours give the game a real papery feel and this is evident during some of the most terrifying moments in the game, particularly the ones that involve the biggest zombie horde that the series has demonstrated to date. There are a few frame rate issues, particularly as the game momentarily pauses to calculate your decisions, but it’s a small price to pay for what has been one of the most exciting and gripping storylines of the year as far as video games have been concerned. The voice-acting has been on par with the performances in the television show, and perhaps exceeding them at times in moments of pure sorrow, heartbreak, and even shock. No Time Left is no exception and the look and sound of the games closing moments feel absolutely perfect, no matter what decisions you've made over the last few months.
So what about the ending? Has Lee Everett been able to find redemption through Clementine, and save his new friends? Or will the game end in a huge banquet for the walkers? More importantly, how have the tough decisions factored in? Truthfully, the game has one definitive ending, but that’s not a criticism. If anything, it is a joy and a curse for anyone who does make it to the end of the series, with it not only being a difficult watch, but also one of the most emotionally satisfying endings to have ever graced consoles and computers alike. Where this series differs from Mass Effect is through its story telling. It acts as a reminder as to why decision-based gameplay can be fun thrilling ride, rather than opting for the big payoff at the end. Part of the appeal in the comic books and TV show is that it turns reality on its head by having ordinary people do extraordinary, often terrible things in order to survive. By putting gamers in the shoes of Lee Everett, Telltale games have successfully recreated that challenge absolutely perfectly.
No Time Left is the perfect closing chapter to a series of games that have surely had fans on the edge of their seat for the past seven months. All episodes have suffered minor technical hitches but they rarely interfere with the fast-paced, often emotionally challenging storyline along the way. The video game series recreates the atmosphere and tension created by Robert Kirkman and has surely earned a place alongside that of the comic books and television show. With a second series already commissioned, it’s a sure fire bet that some familiar characters will once again appear on our consoles and computers, but whether or not their lives intertwine with the mythology’s already existing characters is irrelevant. If these five episodes give us anything to go on, then we can certainly trust Telltale games to craft an authentic Walking Dead story without the help of Rick Grimes.