The Walking Dead: Episode 5 – No Time Left
There was an indisputable sensation of anticipation and excitement as the final episode downloaded. All met with the welcome screen of flies humming above the ground, the passing wind and cheeping birds in the trees. We and the cast of this fifth episode are very much at ground zero. Yet writing this article wasn’t an easy task. Thrashing out the style and concept for the fifth and final time would be a little… mechanical. Part of a larger beast, this final entry into the series is all about the delivery of these final moments.
So yes, the point’n’click template with some free roaming persists. The straight-out-of-a-graphic-novel aesthetic remains. QTEs litter the script and lamentably continue to cede a jarring death of Lee, our main protagonist, upon failure. The use of QTEs is an area of concern. They do provide some moments of tension, sure. They’re also counterintuitive to the story. Struggling free at the ultimate moment as one of the living dead tries to consume a chunk of Lee steak can be edge-of-the-seat. Failing to do so then leads to death and the scene restarting, the flow and conviction temporarily broken.
“Edge-of-the-seat”It remains that Telltale are yet to employ a more intelligent use of this system. Having failure of a QTE sporadically lead to negative consequences, or another character rescuing Lee that can affect later morale, rather than ‘game over’, would be more competent than replaying a sequence until you press the buttons you’re commanded to fruitfully. And on that note, Telltale has also missed a trick here: a decision only mode.
You may well call it casual, if that makes it any better, but the addition of a mode that auto-plays the QTEs would have welcomed a whole new audience. Friends, partners and family members could be introduced to video gaming through this series. Essentially a story only mode, the point’n’click and decision making would remain the same. The timer during conflict and vital moments unchanged. By simply removing the quick-time commands an untapped audience could have been captured.
The optional surgery to remove an element from The Walking Dead’s spine may seem contradictory to my cries of integrity. This would be true if the very element didn’t feel unresolved, and the functionality was at the very heart of what this series is. A choice to remove it for audience enjoyment would not be pandering. It would be breaking down the brick wall that controller interaction has for those inexperienced in this medium.
Whilst a criticism, the use of QTEs does not prevent No Time Left from being an utterly gripping gem. And thankfully, the impact of the story remains. By the end of the first episode my choices had shifted from roleplaying as the character of Lee to that of myself. Clementine, a young girl rescued at the beginning of this tale, was my focus. No matter what, her wellbeing was priority. This belief shaped every decision that was made. I was no fool to social reality too; trying to please everyone will only serve to piss them all off. My investment in the lore, survivors and decisions, along with the strong writing, lifted the final scenes to an emotional level rarely witnessed in this medium.
“All art is manipulative”Manipulative? Yes, of course. Though there’s nothing wrong with this if done right. All art is manipulative. The magic is in hiding this. If the audience can see the trick being performed the illusion and effect is broken. Maintain it, however, and your audience will remain captivated.
In previous episodes some of the choices seemed a little odd. Here, there was a moment when the characters took the longest and hardest choices available to twist out every drop left in them. Sorrowful string arrangements ebb in as the inevitable loss of close friends dawn. What prevents this from turning into another sour tasting story casserole is its dedication and vision. This is a story about Lee and Clementine, set in stone from the outset, understood and realised without pandering or misunderstandings of its own world.
“A true sense of concern”The ending to this narrative was given away via a MacGuffin in an earlier episode. If a character produces an item during the story then it will be used at some point. The original Alone in the Dark toyed with this concept by introducing items of no use. However, in its storytelling Telltale have kept to this technique popularised in cinema. Worry not though dear reader, for this does not lessen any of blows to the gut dished out. If anything, it created a true sense of concern for the characters as the end came into sight.
No Time Left is a wholly satisfying and rewarding conclusion to one of this year’s best. It makes a grand statement for episodic content. It’s brought the storytelling benefits of a point’n’click adventure to a new audience. Its finale had me shed a tear. The medium of video game has a serious affliction in ending a story arc sensibly that needs to be addressed. Monolith and Bioware take note. But not this time. Telltale has done itself proud.