[Editor’s Note: While we’ve tried to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, they will undoubtedly arise when discussing a narrative-focused game. You have been warned.]
Desensitized to death and numb to the violence that follows them wherever they go, we find our group alone in the woods. They carry on, almost as if nothing has happened. Sure, some deaths hurt more than others, but it’s a part of life now. There are those who are able to cope with the loss, and those who hold onto every death like a weight carried upon their shoulders. Their spirits have been slowly crushed by the guilt they have for surviving, while their friends have perished. It’s important to remember that it has now been three years since the outbreak, and most of these people haven’t stopped running since.
It’s here that we find our broken few, scattered to the woods to heal their wounded while they recover from a great loss to the group. With Episode 4: Amid The Ruins ending in gunshots, so too does this episode open with violence. It has long been warned that the group has been pushed to their breaking point, but No Going Back asks the question: how long before the stress becomes too much to handle?
At first it’s strange to see the group casually joking and relaxing so soon after the opening events of the game, with most of them seeming to not really care one way or another. But then it hits: this is how they cope and survive in this harsh new reality. Some internalize it, and bottle all of the pain up as if they are the only ones who have suffered losses. The biggest fear here is the mental stress placed on the characters, and this whole season has been about what happens when someone is pushed to the edge. Carver was supposed to have started off as a good man who had to start making tough decisions that seemed right at the time, but the weight of all those choices soon adds up.
Telltale has performed a great job here in making me think people would survive this episode and I was rooting for several to make it. It was upsetting when they met their sad fates. I knew that the entire group wasn’t going to survive the episode, but with no big threat to them I felt that they would more or less be the group going into the newly announced season 3. I’ve since learned that there are numerous choices regarding who lives and who dies, and it would appear that I made it through with a minimal bodycount. However, several characters’ whereabouts remain unknown, much in the same way that Season One used off-screen “deaths” to cloak what actually happened to several cast members.
Throughout the entire season, Clementine has been warned that this group is fragile and close to breaking point, that she should leave them before the situation turns dangerous. I made my decision on where my allegiances were early on, and I felt my decisions to be the best course of action for my Clementine. And despite the fact that I had made up my mind several episodes earlier, my final choices ended up being in the minority of player decisions.
No Going Back has an impressive eight different endings that will vary depending on your choices, a first for a Telltale game. My ending felt hollow and depressing, with no satisfaction about its resolution because the cycle of death simply continues. My Clementine is still balancing on the edge of isolation and companionship, and she’s still unsure which path is best for her going forward. One again she has to start over with a new group of strangers, ones she cannot trust. But this was only my ending; other endings conclude on a more hopeful note. The loss is still high, but Clementine seems to be in a much better place, at least mentally.
However, multiple endings means that Telltale has considerably divided up the timelines between players. Not only are there different characters present during each ending, but the locations and direction are vastly different. I worry that with so many choices Telltale will have to do what they always do with their branching choices – forcefully align the timelines up when moving forward. This would spell certain death for characters who are not alive in all 8 choices as Telltale uses clever tricks to create the illusion of choice. I mentioned this in my previous review of Amid the Ruins, and how multiple playthroughs break the illusion when you learn that some things are going to happen regardless of your actions.
But I’ve resigned myself to not break the experience, and I think Season Two ends on an incredibly strong note after meandering somewhere in the middle. Lead writer of the first two episodes of the season, Nick Breckon, returns for No Going Back and it shows – I felt the opening Episodes were the strongest of the season, and the same is true of the conclusion. The season’s plotlines seemed to be broken down into the Carver story and the aftermath of the events surrounding his imprisonment of the group. Coming off the lackluster fourth episode, No Going Back didn’t have to leap a very high hurdle; but it soared over the one that was set.
There are a few issues I should raise. Some of the characters make questionable decisions towards the end when it comes to choosing their allegiances. Inexplicably, in only the PlayStation 3 version can a certain character be killed – in all versions, their fate is left unclear – something which Telltale would do well to rectify, lest it risk creating a split continuity. Plus, there were several absolute choices which feel heavy-handed and forced, lessening their dramatic impact.
For me, the ending was something that I saw coming, and I knew from the start it was a decision I would have to make. But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t affect me any the less. I’m looking forward to next season to see how Telltale handles the multiple endings, and to continue the strides forward that they’ve made with a more focused story. Season two opened strong, but with no clear unifying goal other than to “survive” it has sometimes felt a little anti-climactic. Thankfully, No Going Back does a good job of pulling the second season back from feeling like a disappointment when compared to the first.
There are plenty of cast members who are still unaccounted for and I would like to see a few return next season. Maybe even another 400 Days-type DLC extra episode to help carry over the story between seasons. I for one enjoyed the multi-perspective storytelling mechanics used in 400 Days and it would be interesting to see a full season told from multiple perspectives. But No Going Back is a strong conclusion to yet another strong series, and Telltale’s narrative skill continues to go from strength to strength.
So, who is your Clementine?