Telltale released a lot of good games before The Walking Dead, but that title truly made them a household name. Winning multiple game of the year awards while proving that indie, downloadable titles were a viable source of quality entertainment, The Walking Dead was, in a lot of ways, a turning point in video game history. The studio followed up with a bunch of licensed games, some great, others not as much, but always of a decent quality.
The Walking Dead Season 2 proved to be a bit controversial, with some praising it as a true successor, while others felt it was flawed in key ways, I was firmly in the former group though. Now a third season is upon us with The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. Its first two episodes premiered on the same day with “Ties that Bind” Parts 1 and 2. Again proving that The Walking Dead can tell a good story, TWD: Season 3 Episodes 1 and 2 are truly dramatic and offer great promise for the rest of the season, though some things are worrying.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Episode 1 and 2 pick up long after the split ending conclusion of Season 2. At least, that’s where its main story is, it actually starts with an introduction to our new main playable character of Javier, or Javi. Seeing the beginning of society’s end through the lens of his family crisis, we watch as the impending zombie outbreak impacts them directly, before jumping ahead, to the “present day”. Here we meet up with our new antagonists, the New Frontier, a group of bandits that are intriguingly opaque, but also loosely motivated, causing a bit of confusion about who we should hate and why.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is off to a great start with Episode 1 & 2, “Ties that Bind”
We also meet up with Clementine, who has apparently suffered even greater hardships than we witnessed through the first two seasons. Now a much harder, and fiercer woman than before, the questions that linger are many. Via flashbacks we catch glimpses of what has shaped Clem in the intervening years, causing her to lose a lot of the spark and life that she once had while still retaining some semblance of the girl that Lee taught so well. It is great storytelling, though the way it handles the ending of Season 2 leaves a bit to be desired. Of course, with such divergent endings, it was clear that Telltale would have to do some hand waving, but a more deft approach would have been better.
The story mostly follows Javier and his family. There are a couple of real shocks along the way, including one “oh f***” moment for me. There are also a lot of make or break choices that you have to make. On more than one occasion I found myself almost maxing out the timer, trying to think out the options that were laid out in front of me. While they all might converge into the same story later on, Telltale still does a great job of keeping players feeling like every choice they make could be life or death for Javier, or one of his family members.
This leads to the big gamble that The Walking Dead: A New Frontier seems to be taking. While Clementine is certainly a playable character in the aforementioned flashbacks, for the majority of these two episodes you are firmly placed in the shoes of Javi. This new character is fine, and his family drama is intricate and engaging, but he’s not the character that we’ve spent years shaping and growing attached to. It was a bold choice, and I’m definitely not saying it isn’t working out, but it was a bit of a shock and I do hope that we get more time with Clem in future episodes.
The central narrative is a familiar one for The Walking Dead fans, but this franchise is about how characters react in these typical scenarios, not about crafting some intricate narrative of its own. Here Telltale gives players the advantage of creating their own version of the character, with Javi obviously being a bit of a hero archetype, but still allowing for room to expand into darker or more grim territory.
The new villains, the titular New Frontier, are a bit more troublesome. As previously mentioned, their motivation is a little confusing at the moment. Where Episode 2 leaves off it seems like we’re about to get a better idea of what is driving them, but for now they act as a bit of a chaotic evil, which doesn’t allow players to decide if they should be fighting these people or trying to broker peace. Of course, this is a bit realistic to the scenario, so perhaps that’s what Telltale was going for, as opposed to a mustache twirling villain type.
So the story and characters are all good, as expected from Telltale, but what about the visuals and gameplay? Telltale’s previous engine was driven into the ground with The Walking Dead Season 2 and their other titles. A new one debuted with Batman, but until recent patches it had some issues. The Walking Dead: A New Frontier essentially wipes away all of these problems and delivers a solid and beautiful experience from start to finish.
The new design aesthetic still retains the comic book styling while upgrading the graphics in a number of significant ways. Color is enhanced, texture detail is much improved, and the overall presentation just looks like a more modern game. It’s not up there with AAA titles, of course, but for the type of experience, TWD: A New Frontier certainly delivers in the visual department. More importantly though, the game just runs so much better than its predecessors, allowing players to relax, become immersed, and actually enjoy the story being told, and the world in which it is being told.
Gameplay too is improved, featuring the quick time events that players have come to expect, but in a more refined way. Intricate actions require equally complicated button presses on the player’s part, and combat is about as frenetic as can be expected from a game in this genre. You’ll actually need some quick reflexes for these fights, which are effortlessly presented with gorgeously detailed button and movement prompts.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is off to a great start with Episode 1 & 2, “Ties that Bind”. While it’s disappointing to see Clementine moved more toward the background, Javi is a fine new addition to the series. Learning about his past, meeting hist various family members, and dealing with the zombie apocalypse are just as gripping as you would expect from a The Walking Dead game from Telltale. The new engine is also firing on all cylinders here, offering the most enjoyable visual and technical experience Telltale has ever produced. There are a few key moments of stellar storytelling here, but players will need to wait and see how the rest of the season turns out to decide if this season is worthy of its predecessors in the story department though.