Previous reviews: Episode 1: A New Day | Episode 2: Starved for Help | Episode 3: Long Road Ahead | Episode 4: Around Every Corner. This review is written with the assumption you've played previous episodes!
We just started screaming. Not five minutes of No Time Left had passed before my fiancé and I were mentally assessing and vocally rejecting the cruel fate that was unfolding on screen. The fact that I had agency over what was happening, that I had actually volunteered for it, didn't have an effect on the shock and horror elicited by watching it happen. Usually videogames don't create this real-life time warp for horrible events like car crashes or dental surgery that only last a few seconds but feel like an eternity. And there I was, on the couch, nearly reduced to a childlike state where I was resisting the urge to cover my eyes with my hands.
By its fourth episode, I felt like The Walking Dead had worked itself into a corner. Every character was fair game (it's the zombie apocalypse, after all) but it always seemed like Lee Everett would escape danger, that killing off the protagonist prematurely was some next level shit Telltale wasn't quite up for. There was a trace of comfort in knowing any failed event would result in a game over and checkpoint reset. For No Time Left I was back in the mindset of when I played A New Day; all bets were off, and anything could happen.
All I wanted was a little reprieve, but No Time Left just kept stepping on the gas. Clementine has been kidnapped, Lee's been bitten by a zombie, and the group's situation is increasingly dire. There's no time left for idle musing. It's the shortest episode by far, one that finally favors raw action and tremendous risk rather than planning and contemplation. Things happen with a definite sense of finality in No Time Left you've barely got time to internalize any of it before pressing onward.
This is difficult because The Walking Dead makes me feel like a person instead of a person playing a videogame. After playing it piece by piece over the last six months I feel like I've spent a lot of time with these characters, and seeing them off to their fate is often uncomfortable. In No Time Left everything - morality, trust, humanity, hope, time, whatever - disintegrates except Lee's mission to protect, preserve, and prepare Clementine for the world and the world for Clementine.
As an uncultured adolescent it was easy to let the crude power of Xenogears or Final Fantasy VI grasp hold of my emotions, but as adult with a far greater of amount of television, literature, and human drama under my belt, videogame cut scenes are typically an excuse to refresh my Twitter feed. That being said, I've rarely felt such a profound attachment to fictional characters, videogame or otherwise. In No Time Left's tender penultimate scene my eyes started watering and I started to feel self conscious and dumb at that happening over a videogame. I then heard a familiar stifle and saw my fiancé wipe her eyes. What's happening feels real, what's available to say is brilliant, and the eventual resolution is perfect.
The Walking Dead is barely a videogame and yet not quite a visual novel either. It uses interaction as a tool not to achieve a series of goals but as a means to force the player into caring about the good and horrible people in its world. By not focusing on a typical reward structure it put my brain in a constant state of distress, unsure of how to cop the system for my benefit. This isn't traditional or even recognized gameplay, but it is something dependent on interaction, and it’s incredible. Play this without hesitation. Please.