The opening to the newest chapter of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead has finally been released, giving a little bit of closure to the second season’s cliffhanger, which took place a little over two years ago. The new season, titled A New Frontier, is not meant to be the third season as much as it’s a new story that builds off past events. In this way, Telltale wants to welcome new players who have no previous experience with the Walking Dead games. For returning players, choices from the previous season have an effect on A New Frontier, and anyone who has played the series before can see how they affect the new season.
A New Frontier premiered with the release of two episodes, The Ties That Bind Part 1 and Part 2. The two episodes highlight the season’s new protagonist, Javier. The first part of The Ties That Bind is mostly focused on Javier’s rocky relationship with his family. The early events of the episode force Javi (short for Javier) to rush home. When he is late in doing so, he is belittled by his family, with his older brother David being especially aggressive about it. This happens right as the Walker outbreak (called Muertos by Javier) begins and Javier and his family are forced to act quickly.
Years pass and the remaining members of Javier’s family have been able to survive by keeping ahead of packs of Muertos in their van. They occasionally have to stop for gas and supplies, but it has been smooth sailing up to the point where the player retakes control of Javier. Almost immediately (and in true Telltale fashion) you are forced to make morally grey decisions and live with the consequences that follow. This is great to help new players see that their choices have an effect on both the short-term and long-term story. For returning players it offers a sometimes harsh reminder that even decisions made with good intentions can have a negative effect.*Minor Spoiler Warning* Thanks to the outcome of your decisions, Javier is captured and separated from his family and is being transported to an unknown location when he is inadvertently rescued by Clementine. She was not trying to save Javier; rather, she wanted the vehicle he was being transported in – but hey, these things happen. *Spoiler Over*
In A New Frontier, you control Javier almost exclusively. During flashbacks, which provide info on the events between No Going Back (Season 2 Episode 5) and The Ties That Bind, you can play condensed sections as Clementine. These sections do not even make up five percent of the story, so it is likely that we will continue to play as Javi until the end of the season. Not playing as Clementine initially bothered me. I knew her background having played as Lee in Season One; actually playing Clementine in Season Two invested me in her journey and survival. I taught her how to survive in Season One, and then in Season Two, I was directly responsible for her survival. Now, playing as Javier and watching Clem kicking ass and chewing bubblegum (note that Clem is feels wrong. Javier is a great character, and I enjoy following the story and struggles of his family in this degenerate world, but, truth be told, I am completely invested in Clem’s story and have developed an unconditional love for her character.
Once I broke my selfish desire to resume control of Clem, I genuinely enjoyed my time as Javier. Compared to Clementine, Javier has a fresh yet naive perspective of the Muerto/Walker outbreak and it makes the interaction between the two really interesting. When they are together and the need to act emerges, Clementine is analytical and perceptive of the situation (just as Javier taught her) whereas Javier is driven to act more by the emotional factors. It’s interesting to see how differently the two characters assess situations and how they communicate with each other to determine the best choices. The interactions between characters other than Clem and Javier all seem very genuine. Other survivors in the world react to death and danger in believable ways. Intense events are neither more nor less dramatically portrayed then they need to be, which makes them feel more authentic. Overall, the story is communicated very well and the twists are given the proper build-up so that they effectively catch you off-guard. Information that the game wants you to infer (so you feel clever when you accurately guess it) is delivered well enough that it is not obvious, but still feeling satisfying to guess it correctly. Telltale has done a very good job with the writing, and I’m hopeful that this will continue throughout the season.
On Xbox (and possibly other platforms), there are noticeable performance issues. A New Frontier suffers from frame rate drops and flashing textures, with the former being a very frequent occurrence. Many pivotal points in the episode were hampered by sudden (and noticeable) frame rate dips and lagging cut-scenes. In certain areas, the audio did not sync with the video, and it was about a second and a half behind. In the final minutes of the game, all of these issues culminated into a visual mess of a conclusion and were only redeemed by the surprise at the end. I do not typically like to demerit games for these issues, but they were a common enough occurrence to break my gaming flow. Since The Walking Dead (either in video game or television form) is meant to be immensely engaging, anything that breaks the gamer/viewer’s attention during crucial scenes should be completely minimal. Unfortunately, nothing reminds you that you are playing a game more than when the game itself is acting up, and this causes A New Frontier to suffer in terms of player engagement. If Telltale can eliminate these snags going forward, while continuing to deliver a beautifully devastating story like we see in The Ties That Bind, then playing the rest of the season will be a treat.
A New Frontier has done a great job laying the groundwork needed to be an emotional and impactful season. I really cannot speak highly enough of the writing the season has premiered with, Telltale has done an incredible job. I am eager to play the next episode and learn what will happen to the new and familiar faces from the series. While it is impossible to know if A New Frontier will maintain the high bar the first two episodes have set for it, it is easy to say that it is off to a really great start.