So much time had passed while we awaited the continuation of Clementine and AJ’s story following the events of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season Two. The cliffhanger left a young girl caring for a newborn baby whose parents had just died. Nothing was certain other than the fact that Clementine would do everything she could to care for Alvin Jr. Season Three, A New Frontier, released three years later to fans eager for the return of the franchise, all of whom were curious to see how their choices affected the life of the characters in the series.
Interestingly, the follow-up to Clementine’s story doesn’t follow her directly. Rather A New Frontier follows Javier and his family who are soon accompanied by Clementine and a group of survivors. After a handful of very serious altercations, the group arrive in a survivor camp named New Richmond. Being one of the only safe places from the Meurto (what Javier and his group call the walkers), New Richmond is run by a group of leaders who each specialize in a certain aspect of leadership within their community. As it turns out, the person who specializes in New Richmond’s security is Javier’s older brother David. He also happens to be Kate’s husband. Javier and Kate have been traveling together since the outbreak began and were unable to meet back up with David in the days following. The dynamic between Javier and Kate is interesting because Javier and Kate have shared some romantic encounters before the player takes control of Javier. If the player choose to continue doing so, things get very complicated with David. Upon arriving in New Richmond, the player also learns that Clementine has lost AJ (Alvin Jr.) and blames David almost entirely for the events that caused it. Her goal in returning to New Richmond is to find where AJ is and get him back. There are a lot of story arcs in the game, and A New Frontier does a great job of giving you enough information to know what’s going on in each of them.
What makes Telltale Games interesting is their story telling. While you have all of the information, the game lets you decide how Javier reacts to it and (for the most part) what the progression of the arc becomes. Telltale Games has always done a great job of giving players choices, and in A New Frontier, the choices can have major consequences. Early choices in the story are much more impactful compared to later choices however. Choices at the start of the season feel like there is much more gravity to them than the choices in episode four and five. These can be events that causes other members of your group to think favorably or not of you, or they can be choices that cause the death of one of your party members. Whereas early season choices greatly impact who is with you (thanks to various deaths and departures), later choices have consequences that seem to happen regardless of how the player has progressed up to that point. A lot of these events play out in a scripted fashion instead of making me feeling like I made the wrong decision. It is an unfortunate handling of the final hours of the season that ultimately made me feel unattached to its conclusion. Compared to the wonderfully paced and insanely tense conclusion to season two, the finale of A New Frontier does not end the season in a satisfying way.
Luckily, the saving grace for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier are the characters in it. At first, I was bother by not playing as Clementine, but I quickly found that Javier was an interesting and easy to like character. The choices that you make as Javier affect Clementine, so you are still taking a part in her story much in the same way that Lee from Season One impacted Clementine’s story. As much as I wanted to help Clementine achieve her goal of finding AJ, there were situations where she was willing to do things that I just could not take part in. These were extraordinary story-telling moments. Most players with a history of playing the series started by wanted Javier and Clementine to become very close (myself included), but at the end of the day you have to do what you think is right. Which isn’t always what Clementine would chose to do. There are other instances where your choices to interact with characters push the story in a certain direction. Your relationship with David affects how his wife and son feel about his behavior when he’s in a tough situation. It also affects how willing David is to forgive Javier for events in the past, be them more recent or before the outbreak. At the end of the series, your choices and how you interact with other characters determined how they would help you in the conclusion of the story. You also have to weight the choice who to accompany during the final conflict, a choice that you know guarantees the death of certain people. These sort of instances, which require you to actively weight the relationships with your group against what you feel needs to be done, are what make Telltale Games worth playing.
What causes Telltale Games to be hard for people to pick up is the gameplay. It mostly consists of choosing responses in dialog with occasional ares that you can control the character around. Action sequences can be thrilling, and I feel like they can even be more tense than in other games, but they are for a certain kind of gamer. If it’s not for you, that’s totally fine. But, if you’re someone who is looking at A New Frontier and wondering “Has Telltale finally evolved their gameplay?”, the answer is no. What they have done is tightly tune it so that it feels as good as possible for the gamers who enjoy these types of games. Very few times did I encounter an issues with a control input, and picking up on what inputs the game wanted was easy thanks to how they are presented. Controls are intuitive and simple to execute thanks to years of experimentation and improvements made by Telltale. One of the largest things the game has going against it is that it struggles to run very well. As I mentioned in a lot of my previous reviews of season, textures struggle to load in when a lot is going on, frame rate can be problematic, and occasionally goofy glitches happen. The main problem with this is that most of these issues happen when major game events take place. Later there is a major event resulting in a huge number of walkers, a lot of shooting, and is generally an action heavy piece. Since these are this times when the graphical and performance issues arise, it breaks the immersion of the game. It is tough to become wrapped up in the events when a technical issues reminds you that you’re just playing a game.
With The Walking Dead: A New Frontier at a close, the score I have decided to award the whole season is an average of the scores from the previous episodes, and one that I think accurately reflects the entire experience of the season. The largest demerit for A New Frontier is the lackluster ending, which is unfortunate because the season started out very promising. Following the stories of Javier and Clementine however are what make the game enjoyable to play. Fans of previous seasons of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Game are bound to enjoy a new story set in a universe millions of people have come to love.