The Walking Dead: A New Frontier review: Still my Clementine

Telltale Games
Telltale Games /

The Walking Dead A New Frontier promised a fresh start with a new protagonist, but by the end of the season, Telltale proved they can’t let go of their worst habits.

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), PS4, Xbox One, iOS, Android
Release Date: December 20, 2016 (Episode 1); May 30, 2017 (Episode 5)

This review of the game may touch on some spoilers for episodes 1-5 of The Walking Dead A New Frontier.

No season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead has affected me the way Season 1 did, and since its heavy conclusion, I’ve found that almost all emotional impact landed by the series has been based on my memories of that season. But while Season 2 managed to find some moments of its own despite the gradual descent into Bad Telltale Gameplay that’s permeated all of their other games since, Season 3 wasted four out of five of its episodes not sure what story it wanted to tell. Were we meeting a new lead and a new group, building relationships with them through dialogue, and setting them up for failure or worse failure based on our choices? Or was all this just a set-up for Clementine?

It’s Clementine. Of course, it’s Clementine.

Don’t mistake me. I love Clementine. But The Walking Dead A New Frontier’s narrative spends most of its episodes floundering as Javier and Clementine duke it out for the spotlight, with Clementine’s briefer moments taking the greatest toll on your tear ducts purely based on the build-up from previous seasons. As a result, attempts to make me care about Javier and his companions faltered. When Telltale finally hit its stride in the final episode, the impact of my decisions was blunted by the fact that I wasn’t invested in most of the people I was traveling with. I just didn’t know them that well.

The Walking Dead A New Frontier
Telltale Games /

I won’t put this all on Clementine. Telltale Games’ decision-making as to what consists of compelling gameplay lately has me stumped. To reference Season 1 once again, every episode gave the player an open opportunity to walk around the camp and have in-depth conversations with each member of it, including making some key decisions while doing so that influenced our relationships. Later, when I had to choose who to save in a tricky situation, I could feel the weight of the decision because I had learned something personal about each character and cared about their fate.

But since Season 1, Telltale has abandoned these open moments and kept the player mostly on rails, limiting my conversations with members of my group to important story beats or just a sentence or two. This resulted in my relationships with characters like Tripp and Ava feeling…well, non-existent. If, for example, I was presented with a choice between the two of them, I’d be hard-pressed to pick one just because I barely knew either of them.

Furthermore, those moments of free exploration gave me time to get to know my protagonist. Lee would pick up objects of relevance and ponder them for a moment, allowing me to understand him and the world around him a little better. Javier merely looks at a chair and mutters that he can’t use it for anything. Thanks for the insight, buddy.

The Walking Dead A New Frontier Episode 5 screenshot
Telltale Games /

But whether or not this weakness is attributable to a loss from Season 1 or no, there’s no denying that The Walking Dead A New Frontier suffers from the repetitive gameplay Telltale can’t seem to innovate in any meaningful way. I know exactly what’s on the tin for each episode now: a series of conversation decisions that don’t make an impact, five big, obvious decisions that will, and one to two QTEs where I’ll mash Q and E until I can progress forward.

I’m willing to accept the monotonous gameplay if the story is compelling, but there was just never enough of a build-up in themes or characters throughout to make this a truly enjoyable story. Javier was apparently a troublemaker, but we never saw that side of him. Kate’s marriage was falling apart, but she was alternately stuck to David and ready to smooch Javier at any second in a jarringly inconsistent way. I barely got to speak to Eleanor or Tripp. Telltale even threw in a cameo from the aptly-named Jesus for some hardcore deus ex machina at the end there, as if his brief stint with the group before made his appearance at the end with the big guns sensible.

The Walking Dead A New Frontier
Telltale Games /

While how Javier’s story ends is important for Javier himself, the player’s investment is in Clementine.

Moreover, technical glitches abounded in every single episode. Characters clipped in bizarre ways, I watched a walker slide across the ground for no discernable reason, trees flashed like strobe lights, and the herd of walkers looked absolutely ridiculous, alternating between fuzzy and clear, every time it was viewed from a distance. Some of the dialogue trees didn’t even make sense–I had a character thank me for doing something in a previous scene that I had made a very clear decision not to do.

So far I’ve done nothing but rag on The Walking Dead A New Frontier, but I want to redeem it somewhat by bringing back the star of the show: Clementine. My problems with A New Frontier’s narrative largely stemmed from the underused potential of Javier and his family, who could have stepped up as new protagonists. But the ending of A New Frontier made it very clear that this was not their story–it’s still Clem’s, even though we were in Javier’s shoes. Telltale doesn’t want you to know that from the start, as they want you to frame your decisions around doing the best for Javier and his family. But Clem is always hovering in the picture, swaying you back by all the time you’ve put into her journey.

The Walking Dead A New Frontier Episode 5 screenshot
Telltale Games /

Clementine’s moments are by far the strongest, especially when you take them all into account with the Clementine you brought with you from prior seasons and saw how she’s grown. That weight behind them offers a stark contrast to the stumbling attempts at impact in Javier’s story, though I imagine the experience is quite different for newcomers to the series. Ultimately, while how Javier’s story ends is important for Javier himself, the player’s investment is in Clementine, who is shaped (as in previous seasons) by what you have done. It was always about Clementine.

More app trigger: 50 Best PS4 Games Right Now

A New Frontier’s finale does finally manage to step it up with its multiple branching narratives and realization of the “who is truly family?” themes the season has been grasping at this whole time. I finally, finally felt connected to Javier in the season’s waning moments. The impact of my choices in the final episode did a lot to ease my frustrations at the previous four, and for better or worse, it left me actually wanting to see a season 4. What I don’t want again is this weird bait and switch where Telltale tries to make me care for a newcomer, only to sap his impact at every turn. I don’t know if Javier could have been another Lee, but Telltale didn’t seem to give him much of a chance.

Telltale Games. . The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. 6.5. The Walking Dead A New Frontier has a story worth telling at the heart of it, and Telltale eventually gets there, but the narrative stumbles at almost every turn. Repetitive gameplay, technical glitches, and the constant overshadowing of one character by another significantly blunt the set-up of the season’s cutting finale. The journey must continue in the inevitable fourth season, but I hope Telltale devises a better game plan for when that time comes.

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.