The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Episode 4 Review – Thin, Not Thick

Telltale Games
Telltale Games /

In an effort to ramp up towards a thrilling conclusion, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Episode 4 continues the dawdle of anticipation.

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: PC (Version reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android
Release Date: April 25, 2017

This review will make reference to the events of past episodes while remaining free of spoilers for anything of consequence in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier

Stuck between telling its own story and servicing its long-term fans is no new concept for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. Episode 4, “Thicker Than Water,” does end up steering back towards Javier’s viewpoint, but ultimately putters around in waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Picking up from the last episode, “Thicker Than Water” sees Javier captured once again, forced to escape the confines he’s placed in. It’s clear that Richmond is a powder keg ready to explode, so it’s up to you to find a way to reconvene with your family and friends before it really hits the fan. However, one very public, skewed display of “justice” threatens peace as we know it, putting everyone in jeopardy.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Screenshot
Telltale Games /

Before I talk more about the episode, I would be remiss not to mention the open. Players explore another flashback to the pre-apocalypse times between Javier and David as Javi enters a batting cage for the first time since his ban from baseball. I won’t say much about the moments that matter, but as you play as Javier, something as simple as crushing or whiffing at pitches becomes a “choice.”

I understand that this series is about the small moments and that the levity helps raise spirits before the dark. However, it seemed like Javier could do no right. If I let up, David complained I shouldn’t go soft on his ego. If I socked some dingers, he would get on my case for rubbing it in his face. It’s clear that he was setting up the serious decision moments later, but it seemed like no matter what I did, Javier could do no right.

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It’s frustrating because that’s what The Walking Dead: A New Frontier has felt like so far; inconsequential. These games are all about the journey; I get that. The choices you make, however, seem so railroaded that any moment that takes the path less ventured seems more shocking than praiseworthy. For the first time that I can remember from a Telltale game, there was just one moment where what you decide became more complicated than a yes or no answer.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
Telltale Games /

I had to stop and think about what I had done, suddenly bringing me back to the early moments I’ve had with this series. That “huh” moment came once, though, amid a series of “oh, this again” moments that preceded it. The Walking Dead: A New Frontier has always had a protagonist problem, and Javier doesn’t quite step it up in Episode 4either. The focus decidedly rests on his input, but usually in efforts of servicing others’ problems.

Telltale Games shifts the focus to others because Javier, the character, is boring.

The player, instead of forging a stronger identity of Javier through his struggles, has to deal with others. He’s there to make sure Kate is safe. He’s willing to give romantic advice. He’s there to serve as a guardian. He’s making plans to make sure the group is safe. He can also step in and do as best a job at talking to young people about their big moments in life.

Telltale Games shifts the focus to others because Javier, the character, is boring. He serves a generic leader archetype that stories like this need without offering much in terms of personality. Sure, a protagonist needs a certain amount of flexibility within the graphic adventure genre, but no part of his performance has stuck in my mind yet.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
Telltale Games /

To make up for their boring lead problem, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier continues to rope Clementine back into the story’s scenario. Even though the story arc of this season, as poorly paced as it can be as it revs its engine in place, offers up interesting branches in narrative and gameplay exploration through her lens.

The biggest problem about that is, even though she exists as the most interesting character left for the players to care about, she’s fairly inconsequential, too. You can cut out almost all of her content and, barring one or two minor changes, the narrative up until the end of “Thicker Than Water” still holds up.

As a big opponent to “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” moments in gaming, ones that hint to gameplay moments of a series’ past done in an overbearing way, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier continues to edge further past the “acceptable fan service” line in Clementine’s references, story moments and allusions. Her story is supposed to be secondary, but you can’t help but care more about what’s going on with her in comparison.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
Telltale Games /

As I was nearing the end of my short 80-minute run of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Episode 4, I suddenly lost control. For the first time that I can remember since the 400 Days DLC days, the game crashed. Not only that, when trying to explore one of the multiple puzzle-solving explorable areas (a great improvement over previous episodes), you could see the void of the wall consume the right-side of the camera.

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Telltale Games have plenty of properties and series either in development or in the middle of a release schedule, so I shouldn’t expect them to make any next episode changes. However, the wear and tear of the Telltale engine tool has resulted in software crashes, shoddy animations and poor camera design. These things break the few moments you become truly immersed in this story.

Honestly, I had given up hope on this series as a whole until the final ten minutes of this episode, where events are put in motion that make you question every decision you’ve made up until that point. It’s not new for The Walking Dead universe to have a season that starts out big, peters out in the middle, then revs up for the finale, and I’m certainly intrigued to see how it all ends. That still doesn’t forgive the poor pacing up until that point, however.

6. The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is at a crossroads. In setting up an explosive finale, the player’s predictable busywork and inconsequential story as Javier fall into predictable, repeated tropes. Barring the final moments (some of which flip conventions on their head in a genuinely interesting turn), Telltale cannot decide how to make their protagonist compelling enough without servicing the narrative needs of others. Hopefully, the final episode carries forward with its momentum and salvages a worthy capper to the story of A New Frontier.. Telltale Games. . The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Episode 4 - Thicker Than Water

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.