Having proved that it has lost none of its ability to resonate and engage, the third season of The Walking Dead hits new heights with Thicker Than Water, an episode that revels in Telltale’s strengths as storytellers, building on previous episodes and layering the story with nuance, and plenty of drama while never losing that sense of tension and excitement. As we rush towards the season’s finale, the stakes are duly rising, and judging from the finale here, it promises to be an epic one.
Echoing Above the Law, the episode begins with a flashback to simpler times; Javi and brother David at the batting cages discussing lives that were admittedly complicated, but nothing like on the same level as they would turn out to be. Back in the present day, the brothers’ relationship is as fraught as ever, and Telltale continues to explore the intricacies of character relationships with an attention to detail that continues to be admirable and most welcome. Those interactions shape the way in which the characters approach their increasing stack of problems.
At this point, things have really escalated, and the tensions of previous episodes are coming out. Javi and Clementine have to act with urgency to accomplish their goals and finally rid themselves of the horrors of Richmond, the settlement of the New Frontier, a complicated and dangerous group whose totalitarian approach has caused our main characters a lot of trouble both in the past and present. Joan, the de facto leader and antagonist, is slimy and passive aggressive, lost in her perceived sense of righteousness – a sign of the darkness that lay beneath the surface in the otherwise seemingly peaceful settlement.
She possesses the clear upper hand at the beginning of the episode and makes use of it, justifying her actions and lamenting the player’s. Another of Telltale’s strengths is their ability to put emotion up against reason in the choices that you have to make, and it’s easy to get sucked up in trying to get revenge in the moment as opposed to playing the long game, and it becomes particularly relevant when you deal with her and her cohort of lackeys.
Javi’s relationship with his family continues to be complicated as things get more serious between him and Kate, while his nephew Gabe is intent on saving his father, David, for whom Joan has caused a lot of trouble, to say the least. Javi and David don’t get on at all, but the tensions in the family mean that helping David out becomes almost a necessity.
Meanwhile, more of what Clementine was up to in between the second and third season is revealed as her character progression continues to unveil itself to us, and her and Javi continue to build an endearing relationship, with one particular conversation stealing the show as Javi is forced to explain what “becoming a woman” entails, stumbling his way through an explanation of what periods are. There’s plenty to like in general about these interactions, and the opinions and actions of all the different characters are layered and well thought out in a manner that shows storytelling is Telltale’s specialty.
In terms of gameplay, there is the usual cohort of quick time events which do add to the visceral nature of the whole experience, and some stealth scenes are introduced that are tense and require the player to react quickly a few times. It’s nothing unusual, serving to enable the story rather than to provide much in itself, but in this episode it feels more well-integrated, whereas previously perhaps a few actions were shoehorned in so the player wouldn’t just be choosing conversation options. Those options do continue to be well written and difficult to choose between, each of them fitting and making sense in their own particular way and forcing the player to think about each situation.
The game’s new engine continues to enhance the graphics on the whole, with a few minor glitches still apparent here as background details flicker in and out from time to time, but there are fewer problems than with Above the Law. The game continues to do a good job of using its environments to build atmosphere in conjunction with the sound design and the score, both of which continue to be both invaluable and excellent.
If you’ve been enjoying this season of The Walking Dead then you will definitely continue doing so with Thicker Than Water, a game that builds on the strengths of previous episodes and ups the ante with a few clutch decisions that have massive impacts on the progression of the story – a hard hitting and powerful story that still doesn’t feel old even though we’ve been dealing with the seemingly endless misery of the apocalypse for a good long while now. As always, it’s the human drama and conflict that provides the most interesting story elements, and the zombies continue to work best as a nagging, threatening danger that drives the exploration of the human psyche, something that we continue to explore in a thoughtful and interesting way.
Here’s to a brilliant season finale next time.
PUBLISHER – Telltale | DEVELOPER – Telltale | ESRB – M | PLATFORMS – PC / PS4 / Xbox One/iOS/Android
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RECOMMENDED – Thicker Than Water is a well-written, intense and powerful episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead that isn’t afraid to take a few risks while it builds on the strengths of preceding episodes. As usual, its best aspect is the story, which is told to the usual Telltale high standard, and the atmosphere of the game creates that gnawing sense of fear that this franchise has become known for. If you want to be told an immersive and visceral story, then look no further.
Reviewed on PC.