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By taking a franchise as iconic as The Waking Dead, Telltale Games had some big shoes to fill, especially since the comic already received a well-received TV series. Time and again, each episode grew bigger and better in some variety of the sense and that has led to one of the prime examples of modern narrative in games. While the fifth and last episode, dubbed No Time Left, is the lowest in the bunch from a game point of view, at least it cashes in many checks in plot conclusions. It was going to be a sad end anyway.
Simple outlines of the game are that it’s a point and click adventure of sorts and relies heavily on conversations and decisions inside group mechanics, which in turn react to it with definitive consequences. A cel-shaded style uses brush strokes and splatters with tons of dark tones to create an environment that is as grim as possible. Fluently animated characters hoist themselves through decrepit wooden structures, hollowed out buildings or even dangerous, barricaded alleyways. No matter where they reside, all focus is on what drives the personas in this game, each being of individual nature. There is some quality voice acting to be heard in the series, even if the ultimate episode leaves a lot of dramatic space. Also, by cursing a lot more than any other episode, it’s clear that this final chapter is the last stretch of nerve, for good or worse. Picking up on this vibe, the chilling and minimal strings and keys that serve as the soundtrack hit the emotional tone higher than before. Certainly as these pitching sounds resonate with the gruesome decisions in this epilogue, No Time Left soars in a chilling atmosphere almost constantly, front to back.
However, “epilogue” is mostly how this episode should be called. Unlike other, beefier instances of this already slim content pack, the final few steps are handheld most of the time. Yes, The Walking Dead streamlined itself perfectly since its introduction, where it reached out into many places to find its spot. However, this straight course bears more resemblance to games on rails, as almost every action, every plotline is simplified to spur players in the right direction. A lot of instances recap situations; they make the player remember what has happened in their particular game. Since The Walking Dead relies heavily on decisions, reiterating what has happened tells us who we were and what we did before coming at this juncture. While that is fine, in essence, the sheer amount of regurgitated content starts to feel like a flashback at some point. Only light gameplay elements are added to pass it off as a game, yet not as much as there should be. It doesn’t help that the playtime is also cut short, with less than 2 hours on the clock. It almost seems like Telltale calculated their space wrongfully and had to pad out the last episode, instead of keeping the drive going for just 4 longer ones.
Fortunately, streamlining an episode doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s all bad. Though puzzles take a backseat, there are still simple action pieces set in place. The main character Lee will still need to ensure the dead stay away from him and his group, comprising of whatever individuals are left. This takes extreme proportions in the final, since resources and options become scarcer. With all the background information and the deterioration of group mechanics as a whole, taking some time to cut open a few zombies might actually be the least frightening thing. By using a crosshair to aim, players will be able to cleave and shoot many skulls in this round. It may be put in place to lead us forward, but at least it still brings some variety and a change of pace periodically.
Still, this episode will be more about decisions, more so than ever before even. We know the conclusion is coming, so each call might be the very last. Better yet, with the character placement being different for each playthrough in this game, what happens in one’s final episode might not even occur in the other. This makes any crucial choice so much more important, as anything is surrounded by a “what if” vibe. What if that character chose to stay? What if they came along? What if other people joined from other episodes? There is a ton of reflection to be made internally, more so than just the game recaptures. This contemplation, not the lazy flashback, is what makes this episode worthwhile. As the final nails get driven into the coffin of the situation at hand, the severity of each conversation becomes that much more compelling. At the very least, The Walking Dead hasn’t lost in any way what makes it so special: People. If anything, a game surrounded by the undead that does not focus on these creatures should be commended on the simple fact that it moves away from the zombie tropes as often as possible.
It’s highly improbable that the final chapter will answer enough for every person or solve the riddles in a way that agrees with what has grown inside the player’s mind since the start. That said, there are still some answers or at least conclusions to be had in No Time Left. Oh, what gripping conclusions they will be indeed. The final moments of the series may not end satisfactory for everyone, depending on what choices were made, but they’ll certainly hold a player’s attention for every second until its open ending. Those that resent an open verdict shouldn’t hold it against the game. With all possible factors taken in consideration, the best course of action really is letting the imagination run wild. Who knows, we might see these people again someday? Otherwise, creating a story for these people we’ve grown to know and love isn’t that much different than it was when anticipating playing another episode.
Sometimes looking at a score deters gamers from hopping on board with a game and in case of The Walking Dead, it would be a disservice to do so, solely based on Episode 5: No Time Left. What it strips away in gameplay, duration and freedom, it makes up for with a conclusive act that caps the series as a whole. It’s a shame that the ultimate chapter is such a lackluster iteration, especially when put next to its other volumes, but at least it delivers us with the highly emotional tones we expected. Pairing this with the multitude of choice that stems from playing any episode differently should still yield a good replay value. The game allows for random parameters to be set with each episode. This should help players come back and see some other endings, without having to redo the whole thing. However, it’s best to oversee the series as a whole, a rounded out experience, otherwise this last episode would be less stellar than it is.
|The Walking Dead: Episode 5 - No Time Left is an ending and nothing more. It's a satisfying cherry on top of some great chapters, even if it's not of the same magnitude, at least not as a game. The game wraps its bows around the necessary conclusions and then sprinkles tiny gameplay elements around to pass it off as a game. However, it's just that and so the game should be viewed as a whole season to show the worth of this final, lesser effort.|