The more I ponder about Telltale’s episodes of late, the more I wonder how appropriate it is to measure it how I’d examine, say, a sequel to Life is Strange (which got announced, and I’m really looking forward to it). I do episode-by-episode reviews, studying it not only in the context of as a stand-alone tale but also in how it contributes to the overall narrative. I say this as The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Thicker Than Water feels less like an episode and more a set up for the final episode.
[There will not be any spoilers for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Thicker Than Water, but I may end up discussing The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Ties That Bind Parts 1 and 2 and Above the Law, as well as the review of the episodes (which you can find here and here). I also will be dipping into season 1 of the Walking Dead, so spoilers for that season. However, the rating at the bottom will be spoiler-free if you wish to skip there.]
In case you need a refresher: You play as Javier who discovers long after the zombie uprising occurs that his arsehole brother David runs the security in an infamous bandit town. David discovers the bandit town is, in fact, a bandit town and confronts the owner which predictably goes badly. Meanwhile, his partner would rather date Javier and his son pawned his common sense and intelligence on the black market to afford additional blind devotion to his father.
I guess I should get to the heart of the matter right away: It feels like The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Thicker Than Water barely goes anywhere. Literally, it concerns setting up the finale as the showdown with the dagger behind the curtains looms. Sadly, everything is done in the context of the big picture to the extent where it lacks its own identity. It is only within the last 15 or 20 minutes that the main narrative develops, using the prior hour of build up, and this is mostly as a set up for the final episode.
While the plot goes nowhere fast, that isn’t to say the characters stay static. It seems Telltale has a lot of love for Clementine and feel fans of the series feel the same way, as she has further humanizing development. While it does create the concern she is outshining the rest of the main cast and is even beginning to steal the show more and more from the protagonist (who unfortunately seems to have stayed developmentally static since episode 1), it does make for an interesting experience.
On the flip side, the development of other members of the cast in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Thicker Than Water has seemed to of taken a turn for the worse. Gabe increasingly reminds me of Ben from season one: An ultimately weak character doing terrible things, partially to prove they’re useful when in reality damning themselves and others. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, as I liked Ben. While inherently harmful, there was an element of endearing innocence to Ben’s obliviousness.
However, it seems Telltale thought that was enough to sell people on Gabe. Where Ben was occasionally stroppy but overall well-meaning (with a chance of a premature death), Gabe is constantly stroppy with only different degrees of how detrimental he is to himself and others around him. The fact he has plot armor, getting clean away after doing hideously dangerous acts time and time again, colossally undermines how dangerous the setting is meant to be (as illustrated by prior seasons). This “plot armor” approach has made Gabe’s ongoing presence somehow transgress ruining scenes (a typical flaw of bad characters, which Gabe does time and time again) and steps into trashing the setting like a cancerous form.
Speaking of which, it seems Tripp and Eleanor undergo a character development that is wildly inappropriate to who they are even at the most fundamental level just for the sake of conflict. This development also seems to haunt me with the fatalistic feeling that for all my behavior to counteract their recent conduct, all my actions do not matter at the end of the day.
Then we get to the graphical department. I’ve been singing the praises of A New Frontier‘s new aesthetic up to this point, especially in its ability to convey a greater amount of detail. Overall, it is still good. That said, some of the graphical moments are easily worse than even season one. I’d be nicer about it, but the fuzzy appearance of some textures close-up and how 2d or low-res the characters/zombies appear at times is flabbergasting. There’s also an early scene with some background/foreground lighting oddities. It shows a degree of corner cutting that I really would have preferred if they had just spent more time.
The final score of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Thicker Than Water is a 5.5/10. Unfortunately, the episode lacks any real identity on its own, instead just serving to set up episode 5. Instead, we potter about with Gabe who is thicker than water, and Tripp & Eleanor who have either turned into the polar opposite of who they’ve established as being or shown themselves as ridiculously fickle. The main highlight is Clementine who gets some more character development, which while good seems to highlight just how dull or frustrating the main newcomers have become.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Thicker Than Water, as a stand-alone episode, is insultingly weak. Even for the standard Telltale has set themselves up with over the years, it is a “nothing episode” better served as part of a two-parter joint-release. Maybe this sacrifice in quality will be worth it, as Telltale unveils a gut-wrenching finale which proceeds to pluck on heart-strings like an angelic harp? That said, the only thing it has prepared me for is to hunt for the first chance to drop Gabe from a watchtower.