Telltale takes The Walking Dead universe through a new perspective but, for better and for worse, can’t step too far away from the series’ origins.
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: PC (Version Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, Android, iOS)
Release Date: December 20 (Episode 1, Episode 2)
Spoiler Warning: This review will make passing references to all previous The Walking Dead content, including DLC and standalone content while avoiding major spoilers from The Walking Dead: A New Frontier so far.
The entire mentality behind the Telltale Games philosophy is to tell a story with the help of the player. It’s not so much that the decisions the player makes along the way shapes the story, but more that the story is adaptive enough to how a player wishes to project themselves into the characters of the story.
While the effectiveness of the “Telltale Formula” has started to wane, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier takes a stab with a bold move to put the focus on the story on an entirely new person in a world built up by Lee and Clementine. Those elements of the past remain integral to the story, however, in ways that both detract from and benefit the early story at large.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier tells the story of Javier Garcia and the struggles of maintaining a derelict family amid the zombie apocalypse. The ambitions aren’t fresh the third, fourth, or fifth time around; “survival at all costs” remains the simple, oft-repeated mentality of living in a land of the living dead. However, by Telltale putting you in the shoes of a provider for those under your authority, they’re forcing you to take on the perspectives of past characters.
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Lee and Kenny, depending on how you played Season 1, would always butt heads, as Kenny would always put everything in the interest of “my family.” Yet here we are in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, with the player taking on that similar role and having that outside perspective allow itself to permeate into how you chose to play Javi.
It’s an interesting dynamic that gets severely undercut by the sudden re-introduction of Clementine. Yes, this story is mostly about Javier and his beloved Kate and how you will protect them, but Clementine getting involved in your separate story presents a few problems.
First, players have been emotionally invested in Clementine’s story for several years now, bringing weight to her character. Because of this, players are more likely to side with her in situations, which drastically throws off the narrative balance. It’s hard to disassociate yourself from the person most familiar to you in a game’s universe, and because of it, I found myself acting out Javier’s decisions against his character (in reflection) and more about keeping Clem safe.
By involving Clementine so early in this season’s plot, Telltale doesn’t have the luxury to let other characters establish who they really are…
It leads to the second problem I have with Clementine in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier: she is better at both being a survivor and being an interesting character than anyone else because of that backstory. How Season 2 ends is ultimately wrapped up in a neat bow depending on how things ended, with each scenario digging deeper into what makes Clementine the competent, cold, but caring person she is today.
By involving Clementine so early in this season’s plot, Telltale doesn’t have the luxury to let other characters establish who they really are amid the zombie apocalypse. Instead, they get marked off as trope-ish archetypes and familiar representation that we see in every piece of zombie pop culture; the person who breaks down, the rebellious teen, the beacon of optimism, the sarcastic love interest.
With that said, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier still manages to pull off an exciting time because they focus on Javier and Clementine. With the odd exception of a flashback, you still control Javier’s fate, and the slow peek into just what kind of man he is works to demonstrate the strength of the Telltale Games narrative. It’s the experiences acquired on the journey that makes for prime entertainment value, not to see just how wickedly different each playthrough can be.
Both episodes of “Ties That Bind” showcase a man who fell from grace as a prospective baseball superstar and the steps he takes striving to make things right again now that all hell has broken loose. He can be equally as understanding as he is sarcastic, witty, stern, and sardonic, with voice actor Jeff Schine producing a well-rounded protagonist that feels right at home for this series.
As this is my first game experiencing the “new” Telltale Games updated engine, I’m pleased to report that The Walking Dead: A New Frontier hasn’t encountered most of the problems that plagued previous series entries. I’m still not a fan of the hidden wall interaction with your character model and the edge of the wall, as it still looks like you’re doing some sort of mime/Michael Jackson dance move sliding in the same spot.
A new problem I have encountered, however, is the outright skipping certain parts of their dialogue. Constantly, I found that the characters’ dialogues would cut short in the middle of speech. Had I not had subtitles on, I wouldn’t quite be sure what characters were saying at times. Considering the slew of technical issues this series has produced, it’s nothing too terrible. Yet, I can’t help but wonder which series will finally nail the technical problems correctly.
Without getting into spoiler territory, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier starts out the new season with a bang, setting up an uneasy scenario that has our adventurers constantly backed up into a corner. Starting from a prominent place of strength and devolving immediately into chaos sets the tone early in a memorable way, driving the tension to a natural boiling point. As “Ties That Bind” comes to a close, I’m left with more questions than answers; something Telltale finally seems to remember is keenly important to keeping their fans intrigued for what lies next.
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.