[Just a warning to anyone reading this that some spoilers for episode one and two are present beyond this point. Read at your own risk.]
The Walking Dead is arguably one of Telltale’s most popular series to date, coming out with a third season just recently. Telltale games are episodic and released separately. Though, Telltale gave us a little bonus and released the first two parts for our enjoyment. The first thing I want to get out there is that you do not need to have played the other games in the series to understand what is happening in season three. Telltale does an excellent job making Clementine, the female protagonist, stand out all on her own. Now, that’s not to say I think you should skip out on the previous games. I’d recommend starting with season one because it’s just a generally good game. You’ll also understand what shaped Clementine’s motivations and attitude.
Season 3 is interesting because the first protagonist we meet is a new face. Javier, known affectionately as Javi by others in the game, is a former baseball star who was kicked off the team for a gambling scandal. We don’t find out this piece of information until a bit later. In fact, I feel like we’re thrust too quickly into Javier’s life with little to no explanation at all. Episode one starts off, before the zombie outbreak, with him arriving just a few minutes after his father passes away. He exchanges some heated words with his brother before going in to see how his mother is doing. I wonder why Telltale decided to go so far back, especially since we’ve already had an introduction to the phenomenon with Lee, the protagonist from season one, when the police car he’s in crashes into a forest of zombies.
Telltale gives a glimpse of Javier’s family life before their first encounter with a zombie, and eventually, as the story progresses, we see him on the road with the remaining survivors in his group. I will say that Telltale has created a unique group of characters this time. For starters, Javier is Hispanic so from time to time he’ll speak Spanish which I think is awesome because it feels more realistic. He’s with his brother’s wife, Kate, and her two step kids, Mariana and Gabriel. They meet others along the way, including Clementine.
Speaking of Clementine, why isn’t she the sole protagonist? While Javi is very likable, Clem feels like family. We’ve been with her for two full games already. I understand that we needed Lee to help Clementine grow, but we saw how capable she was on her own in season two, and Season three is no different. The last game’s endings made it completely possible to give Clementine full reign of the story. Especially, since at times, the game feels like Clementine tells Javier what to do anyway. I can’t really complain since Telltale did a great job at writing Javier’s character. I like him, and I am attracted to the fact that he used to be famous. It goes to show how easily someone’s status can change.
Flashbacks were a big plot device this season. As we get to certain plot points, flashback scenes trigger. I both love and hate it. I want to know what happened to Clementine and A.J, but if we don’t have flashbacks in place, we lose Javier’s functionality. The story is then solely Clementine’s. Javier’s flashbacks are less frustrating because I get to learn more about his past. But, I also feel like there are choices (such as kissing Kate when Javi reunites with her at the junkyard) that I would have made differently if I knew what had happened in the past first.
Clementine and Javier are dual protagonists, but the ratio of playability is unequal. We control Javier through most of episode one and two. Unfortunately, because of this, the player has a few smaller choices when playing as Clementine. Ultimately, the choices we make don’t seem to matter since Telltale did establish Clem’s past from previous seasons. My last gripe with the story is continuation from season two’s ending. There were multiple endings a player could get, but it felt like no matter what you chose, the journey for Clementine would ultimately be the same. I hope this is explored in later episodes.
Despite all this, the story isn’t bad at all. There is a central conflict that saved the narrative from being predictable because of the twist at the end of episode two. Telltale knows just how to keep us on the edge of our seats. The ending of episode one was very shocking, and Episode two’s ending had me anxious to play the next part too. I cannot wait to see what happens next. I’m willing to overlook some plot holes in hope that they may be fixed in later episodes.
One positive is that Telltale has implemented more interactivity than simple text choices in their games. Using the back button to speed up walking is a nice touch. It doesn’t do much, since most of the time you won’t be moving your character, but it’s nice to know the option is there. Aiming seems to be a bit off. I can have my optical aimed away from the zombie. However, if it’s close enough to the rim, pressing the back button will still work. This was something I noticed in Telltale’s Batman game as well. It seemed almost impossible to lose, even if you didn’t hit the right button. That feels cheap to me. If you’re going to add more gameplay, make it functional and meaningful. Telltale should not simply make their game seem like it’s more advanced. At times, it just feels like extra and unnecessary gameplay interaction.
There are a lot of choices. I can’t say if any are meaningful just yet since the season hasn’t ended, but I do appreciate having an abundance of them to shape Javier and Clementine as I imagine them. Also, another thing I noticed was the length of each episode. Episode one felt much longer than episode two, which isn’t surprising coming from a Telltale game. What was surprising was how short the episodes felt in comparison to other Telltale series. The first episode of Batman took me nearly two hours to complete. It felt like I spent less time in episode 1 of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier and even less than that in episode 2. This was a bit disappointing considering The Walking Dead is one of their more anticipated titles.
The most disappointing part about The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is that it feels as if your decisions from past seasons do not affect the game in any significant way. The game says right in the beginning that your choices from past games affect the ones in this season. I started with a new game, as I played the past two games on my PS4 and this on PC. Still, I haven’t noticed any references to the prior seasons that aren’t generic. It’d be nice to see this functionality grow in the future, having games where choices do affect gameplay in future releases, like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. However, there is an option to allow you to recreate the past decisions. The issue is that it’s unclear how this will happen.
I feel as if it’s unfair to give a score to a game that only has two episodes out. That being said, there are some cons to the game that are disappointing, but they’re not a deal breaker for me. Clementine kicking Zombies as Jade taught her to is enough nostalgia to keep me invested in her character. Javier’s personality is helping too! Plus, we do have crowd play which allows multiple people to vote on decisions in a local game, which is a plus for someone like me who likes to play with larger groups. I’d recommend picking this game up anyway, as it looks like it’ll tell a promising story in future chapters.