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The Walking Dead: Episode 5 – No Time Left

Last time, on Gamer Codex:

On its own, Around Every Corner feels like the weakest link in a five-link chain, but it still retains enough quality to make it worthwhile.  With that said, given how it ends, I can only expect great things from No Time Left…

And now, the conclusion.

…Well, I’ll pull out the whiskey and a tissue box now.

Yes, having to cope by quietly drinking and tearing up like a newborn child can seem excessive, but when you’re dealing with something this meaningful and impactful, nothing else makes sense.

There’s been talk for some time now about Telltale’s The Walking Dead being a key player in positively impacting the way gaming is viewed by the masses.  With it receiving or being nominated for several honours at the Spike Video Game Awards Show this year (including, in a surprise move, the always-coveted Game of the Year award), one would expect reviewers to be absolutely jump at the chance to praise the concluding chapter of this tale.

I’m not partial to that approach.  Instead, I’m going to calmly and resolutely tell you why there is No Time Left, why Lee and Clementine’s final hour is also their finest, and why I have hope for the future of this franchise.  In short, I will tell you why this masterful finale works.

No Time Left kicks off with the events from the very end of the last episode: Lee’s been bitten and infected, Clementine’s been kidnapped by the mystery radio man, and the group is on the run.  Things are looking bleak, but unlike Around Every Corner the group is barrelling from location to location, desperately clinging to what hope is left.

That concludes the portion of the plot I can specify.  I’m serious, nothing more detailed should be said about the plot; it has to be experienced for its impact to truly be felt.

First and foremost, Lee is at his finest here, both as a character and as the player-controlled protagonist.  His desperation in what seems to be his final hours, his growing fears that come along with that realization, and his dedication to the one goal left intact – protect Clementine –  lend themselves nicely to cinematic gameplay and emotional storytelling.

Also, not a word on how so, but Melissa Hutchinson as Clementine works out so well by the conclusion.  Any scene with that adorable (apparently) 9-year old child, complete with tear-stained eyes and innocent little expression, will pull at your heartstrings – more so as events do or do not play out.

It’s also worth noting that the other characters left in the group play well off of Lee’s situation, adding their own quirks and emotional drama to the mix.  Choices from previous episodes that seemed long-forgotten get called back in a number of sequences too interesting to spoil, and although one-on-one time is naturally limited by the breakneck pace, the player does have the opportunity to experience a few more quick-fire conversations and decisions.

That’s the thing: decisions here aren’t meant to be pondered for ten seconds this time.   With the clock running out, the player is put in a position where truly heart-wrenching choices occur about every five minutes.  To be fair, only a couple are truly game-changing, but the general emotions felt are consistent throughout.

Let’s put it this way: thought killing Larry back in Episode 2 was tough? You don’t know the half of it…

These split-second moments of instinct stem very much from how the gameplay and presentation are crafted.  Each scene is framed in Hollywood-style, acquiring a balance between displaying the characters and illustrating the growing danger they face.  Adventure game sequences typical of these episodes are present, complete with the now-standard sensible “adventure game logic” The Walking Dead has mastered, but are spaced out by some of the most interesting and exciting set-pieces I’ve seen in the genre.

Sure, the engine and game in general can lag or sport some jaggy textures, but generally the visual style borrowed from the comic book is still prominent and even adds to the immerse nature of this adventure.  With that said, in various scenes (particularly in the optionally gruesome beginning) the engine is used to emphasize the grotesque and fundamentally altered nature of this world where living and dead can be neither better nor worse than one another.

All of this – all of the choices, all of the dialogue, all of the action – winds up leaving the player anticipating something massive, yet something tragic.  As it turns out, these feelings of unease and anxiety are warranted; when the music – some of the most haunting and memorable orchestral tracks I’ve heard – swells in the concluding half-hour, anyone playing this game knows instinctively that what has yet to come will be worth the effort in sheer emotional value.

And it is.  Like I said above, no spoilers, but show me a player who didn’t tear up at the ending and I’ll be surprised.  Or, better yet, find me someone who isn’t holding up what occurs after the credits as an indication of Telltale’s future plans for The Walking Dead.

No, The Walking Dead isn’t a perfect game, but this episode has perfectly encapsulated and concluded what Telltale set out to do in the first place.  No Time Left acts as a template from which other adventure games can learn from, and it will leave a mark in the minds of gamers, critics and developers for a very, very long while.

A mark the size of a little girl from Georgia.

Score: 10/10

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