Before 2012, Telltale Games found its own niche as a developer that was known for classic point-and-click adventure games like Wallace & Gromit and Sam & Max. Never quite a household name, the studio found what they did best and stuck with it, acquiring enough fans on the way to keep the fading genre alive. Four years ago that all changed with the release of their first season of The Walking Dead. The game changed not just how they would approach all future adventure games to date, but how the general gaming public would look at their work and the genre as a whole.
Years later, they're back with their fourth series that is based on Robert Kirkman's massive IP. Each series has given us new playable characters, new locations to explore, and new depressing stories to experience. With so many returns to the world of The Walking Dead, it's a testament to Telltale's abilities to say that the two-part premiere of The Walking Dead - A New Frontier still packs a punch and leaves you anxious for more.
Episodes 1 & 2: Ties That Bind
A New Frontier (ANF) plays like any other game in the series, although simply leaving it at that might not suffice. Telltale wants ANF to exist as a jumping-on point for new players. Seasoned fans can import their saves from the past games, of course, including other platforms, or they can even customize new ones to build a foundation on which the characters in ANF exist. Gameplay comes in the form of point-and-clicking to solve very light puzzles, exploring environments, and most importantly, choosing dialogue and making sometimes hasty decisions all within the game's dark and hopeless narrative.
ANF returns to players the familiar face of Clementine, who is now in her teens but seems much older thanks to the decades worth of life experience that she has acquired. The ending of the second season left players in one of several different scenarios and sadly they're all equally disregarded so far in this latest season. Rather than select one as the canon version or more admirably navigate this season for all series veterans no matter where they left off, ANF just ignores any of that, at least through the first two episodes. Maybe we'll see more of that later as Clem's backstory is given screen time in both parts of the premiere. It's truly great to have her back. She feels different now, an adult and capable more than ever before. It's especially notable when some early encounters have others paint her as a "kid", when really anyone who has played all three seasons can see how much growing she has really done, both physically and emotionally.
Another factor to her feeling so different is that she is no longer the focal point. This was a point of contention and disappointment in the months leading up to the first episode because I didn't see a valid reason for Telltale to take us out of her shoes when it has so far felt like they're telling her story. Thankfully, the new protagonist, Javier Garcia, is surprisingly compelling and is aided by voice work better than anyone else in the series to date. By the end of even just the first episode, all skepticism was lost for the series' decision to relegate Clem to the role of deuteragonist. It seems vital that she is still very much present and a part of the story's path, but having Javi as the main character has so far worked better than could have been expected.
Clem and Javi get off on the wrong foot...
For better or worse, ANF really feels like a fresh start. If you're new to the series, Clementine will so far seem like a mysterious and unexpectedly tough young woman who joins your band of survivors. If you're returning from past seasons then you know much of her story, but it's now Javier that gets the spotlight. The blind spots in Clem's past and Javi's increasingly turbulent present combine to make a very compelling driving force that is stronger than the moment to moment violence that pushes us to those character moments. The Walking Dead has rarely given players easy choices to make and A New Frontier is no exception. However, some will be easier for well-versed players who are familiar with Clem and/or the comics.
The supporting cast of characters has been intriguing and well written too. Many of them are a part of Javi's family, which means that fans of the IP can safely expect things to go south for him. Loved ones in The Walking Dead universe don't get happy endings. Having the Telltale story continue to co-exist in the comic's canon means that more crossovers can be expected, too, but the new settlement that we see in the premiere is new to even the most involved TWD fans.
One minor gripe that I have with the new cast is that they're all traditionally beautiful people. Past seasons didn't have this problem, but for some reason ANF seems to follow the Hollywood rule of casting, where even dire worlds like The Hunger Games or LOST are filled exclusively with objectively attractive people. Maybe you can chalk it up to much of the cast being Javi's family and they apparently just have good genes, but there are no Larrys or Bonnies in this new frontier. It's not so much an issue as just an observation of a bizarre character design decision. Apparently half a decade into the zombie apocalypse, all of the ugly people have died.
..but eventually bond over similar life experiences.
While the first episode, "Ties That Bind Part One", unraveled without any of the signature Telltale annoyances, "Ties That Bind Part Two" did not. Some terrible stuttering and lighting issues were seen throughout, and a few moments even had fauty lip-syncing. After a hefty patched dropped a day after release, replaying the second episode found that those issues had all but totally disappeared. It's good to see them patching it up, but their track record prefers the possibility that they'll resurface in later episodes. That's not the only legacy concern with ANF either. Shooting still takes up a big portion of the action scenes and it's still terrible. To its credit, the game is pretty forgiving in moments where you take aim with a rifle or handgun but this was an issue in 2012 that remains unresolved, much like the stuttering.
All achievements once again unlock by just playing through the story. With two episodes out now, you'll be able to easily secure 400 gamerscore while you wait for the middle episode.
SummaryTelltale has hesitated to call A New Frontier "season three" because they want old and new players alike to attach themselves to Javier's story. They've done a good job of letting those new players in without abandoning the series veterans. If Javi wasn't compelling, longtime fans would be livid at the sudden lane change away from Clementine. Fortunately for players old and new, Clem remains a crucial part of the story while Javi has given the series a fantastic new protagonist. If "Ties That Bind" is any indication of the level of acting, pacing, and writing to be seen this season, fans can rest assured that The Walking Dead will remain high atop their must-play lists.
- Compelling new protagonist with exceptional voice acting
- Clementine remains crucial even in her new role
- Both episodes are well paced and full of tough choices
- Stunning cliffhanger
- Completely throws out the ending of season two
- Bad stuttering in episode two that was only mostly patched out after an initial playthrough
EthicsThe reviewer spent about six hours with the two episode premiere, including replaying episode two after his own internet problems blocked the achievements from unlocking. He ultimately unlocked all 12 achievements for 400 gamerscore. An Xbox One season pass was provided by Telltale for the purposes of this review.
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