Episode 5 of Season 2 in Telltale’s The Walking Dead video game series is entitled “No Going Back”, and it is completely ironic. After playing “No Going Back”, I almost immediately regretted some choices I made and wanted to go back and replay the episode. Decisions matter in this episode unlike any other, and your choices have a direct effect on who lives and dies. There is even a moment that forced me to reconsider how I played the entire season. Simply put, “No Going Back” lives up to the standards set by the season finale in Telltale’s other recent games, including this year’s The Wolf Among Us finale.
“No Going Back” picks up in the middle of the conflict that ended Episode 4 “Amid the Ruins” and it immediately requires players, as the protagonist Clementine, to make some very mature decisions. Previous episodes in this season have not allowed Clementine to be the most important character in the game, but “No Going Back” changes that. The narrative builds on the understanding that at this point, Clementine has learned how to survive in the zombie apocalypse on her own. The real question is if it is worth the effort to repair relationships and ease tension among the members of her group in order to keep them together.
Conflict within the group is a major part of the plot in “No Going Back”. This allows Clementine a number of opportunities to either choose a side or remain neutral and play mediator. Unfortunately, the conflict between some of the characters attempts to force feed players to care about those involved. While giving players the deeper emotional moments in characters’ backstories or reminding us of why we should care about a character is something to expect in The Walking Dead games, there are times that “No Going Back” felt like it questioned the player’s ability to follow the narrative. Also, some of the characters’ vile actions make it hard to care for them at all; despite Telltale’s emotional pandering. This flaw in the episode’s writing is unusual for a studio that usually gets it right, but these plot issues do not keep the episode from being memorable.
Telltale’s games always walk that fine line of being a game and being a television show; and previous episodes in this season felt more like something I was watching than a game I was playing. However, “No Going Back” has more action than the rest of the season. The tension is amplified by this point in the narrative and as a result, so is the violence. While Telltale does not need violence to make their games entertaining, it is nice to see the choices players make as their own version of Clementine have key results and push the plot forward in an interactive way.
Ultimately, “No Going Back” shines in its final moments, and that is what you expect from a season finale. This episode takes Clementine from an engaging conflict, allows her to deal with the results of that conflict, and build up to a dramatic and powerful closing. The only downside is the manufactured sympathy and a very obvious conclusion. Fortunately, that conclusion is so well executed that players are reminded Telltale has truly perfected its “choose your own adventure” formula.
+ Action Packed Opening
+ Multiple Endings
– Manufactured Sympathy