Oh, hello Telltale. Um… it’s been a while… hasn’t it? Haha, the good times we had… every time I recall the fun we had with seasons one and two of the Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us, I can’t help but grin. Haha, remember how you made me make a decision I immediately regretted at the end of Season 2 of The Walking Dead and I stuck with it no matter how awful I felt about it? Good times… I also gave Tales from the Borderlands a pretty glowing review throughout all the episodes once upon a time. You really meant a lot to me then and I thought the good times would never end.
Then… then you went and broke my heart! I reviewed Game of Thrones and got concerned as it got pretty shoddy, but I took a deep breath. “Maybe things are stressful at work, maybe it’s just an off-day. At least overall I had a good time!” Then there was the Minecraft: Story Mode and… and… and you became a stranger to me! I couldn’t even bare to look at you. I couldn’t bare to bring myself to buy Batman, afraid to see someone I loved be brought to their knees. You weren’t the man I loved.
…Then I played both parts of The Ties That Bind… is that you Telltale? Have you come back to me?
To the unknowing, Telltale’s The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is the third season in the Telltale’s Walking Dead saga. One where you walk-n-prod your way through a dark dramatic narrative, making choices that may later come back to haunt you. People change their attitude, they suffer and some even lose their life based on your choices or reflexes. They also had some pretty big shoes to fill. The original series won a lot of Game of the Year awards and even the somewhat flawed season two got into a lot of top-10s that year. So let’s dig into the meat of the matter right away: the narrative.
You live in the life of new cast member Javier, an Hispanic family-man who is trying to keep his sister-in-law and her two children safe from the undead. However, in contrast to the two prior protagonists in the series, he doesn’t fight hard or even perhaps too smart. Instead, he works as the optimistic counter-point to the worn-down NPC cast who are bitter and grim at this point. Although that isn’t to say he isn’t flawed as he can seem a bit of an air-head or self-interested (without seeming spiteful) at times. So far, in the first two episodes, his light-hearted attitude feels unique compared to the still excellently written prior protagonists Lee and Clementine.
Speaking of, I confess there was one person who made me worried walking into both parts of Ties That Bind as she was splashed across all the promotional material: Clementine. As she was such a major side character in season 1 and was a dominating force in season 2, it was easy for me to see her appearance as a tight-rope. Too little of her, and her appearance would feel token. However, it was easy for her to overshadow Javier through too strong of a performance as she has two series behind her.
Fortunately, while she does provide a very strong performance which includes some solo-scenes, usually her appearance is in context to Javier’s experience. Large portions of Clementine’s life between season 2 and season 3 are left unknown to the viewer. Instead all you can see is the cold, impersonal and emotionless girl in front of you as that is all Javier sees. You don’t see why she comes off as damaged as she seems as A New Frontier is simply not her story, and I’m pleased Telltale keeps it as such.
Although that isn’t to say everything post-season 2 is absent. Every so often in Ties That Bind you’ll be treated to a flashback of Clementine or Javier, which then has an effect on the current day. While these lack tension (as you already know the result), that doesn’t stop the subject matter from thumping you in the throat at full-force. Without spoiling it, Jane definitely springs to mind. They also work as a nice way of tying the characters into current events without heavy doses of exposition.
Although, as odd as it is, I could have done with more heavy doses of exposition. Not from lack of knowledge but as it would slow the pace down. Usually I admit I love punchy writing and I’m the first one on the front line wielding a pitchfork every time it seems a story is dragging its heels and going nowhere at all. That said, The Walking Dead always felt more like an atmospheric drama than a blood-pumping action series. So it is strange to see it as punchy as this.
This is perhaps more noticeable as both Ties That Bind episodes are about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes long each. While a short time, it is absolutely chock-filled with impactful events. This even includes certain cast members suddenly, out the blue, kicking the bucket in the most violent of ways. Each death in both episodes, as somewhat often as they come, has weight and impact to it. I just admit that I wish there was more down-time to just shoot the breeze with the cast, just a breather before more bad things happen.
Oh, and in case you’re late to the series or you lost your prior save, fortunately Telltale has you covered. Well, mostly covered. They’ve introduced a new system where you can live through the events of The Walking Dead seasons 1 and 2, deciding what Clementine went through prior to A New Frontier. My only grumble with the system is it seemed rather vague at times. Some choices are blunt (e.g. what you did at the end of season 1) but most are things like “Lee taught you which vague concept the most?” There may be a reason for this, but I admit I couldn’t tell what I was altering based on such tweaks.
Speaking of choices, usually Telltale does the typical great job at representing what they mean with the choice-text. There is, however, one scene in part two of Ties That Bind involving a kitchen and a broken glass where the choice was perhaps a bit unrepresentative of what they meant. Then again, perhaps telling off in America means something different than what I’m more familiar with…
Before we leap into the conclusion and give parts 1 & 2 of Ties That Bind, I guess we need to dip into the more technical side. You may have noticed the engine has gotten quite a bit of a face-lift. Well, this face-life came in on the Batman series, but really has become apparent as you see old friends with new looks. There is the odd clipping problem (Trip’s assault rifle going through one of his hands a common one) and Jane looks a bit worse, but overall, it looks a lot better.
The final score of Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Ties That Bind pt 1 & 2 is a 7.5 out of 10. When I’ve been critical of Telltale for the past two years, especially regarding Game of Thrones, it has always been with the perspective they can do better. Even with comedy work, Tales from the Borderlands showed they had the ability to (usually) expertly balance drama with comedy along the knife’s edge.
So it makes me so happy to see A New Frontier get back to the older-Telltale’s quality of writing. There are some hitches, like perhaps it could have done with more down-time to add more atmosphere to the experience, but Ties That Bind parts 1 and 2 put a lot of my fears to rest. I admit that I think I feel some excitement of what more could be coming. I don’t think I could give it an 8 quite yet, as I have yet to feel that gut-retching “OH GOD” sensation Telltale are just so great with. Still, I trust they can do it. I’m really hoping and optimistic this series can bring me back into liking Telltale like an old friend again.
A PC Review Code for Walking Dead: A New Frontier was provided by Telltale Games for the purpose of this review
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
- Clementine's reappearance graceful, not stealing the show from others but also major enough to feel right for old fans
- Javier feels his own role in things, working as a good counter-point to everyone's grim adventures
- Option to create your own past, although the choices are rather vague
- Impactful, with sudden deaths
- A bit short, just over an hour per episode
- Too little down-time, maybe a bit too punchy for an atmospheric dramatic tale
- One non-representative choice that has repercussions
- Rare glitch