Kill It Before It Turns Completely
HIGH Seeing Clementine again.
LOW Not getting to be Clementine.
WTF Not. Getting. To. Be. Clementine.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead exploded onto the scene five years ago, providing one of the most engaging and emotional examples of videogame storytelling to date. Unfortunately, the series has progressively gotten worse, like a corpse gradually decomposing over time. While season two of Telltale’s The Walking Dead at least allowed players to take on the role of a slightly older, more hardened Clementine (one of the main characters from season one) the latest entry, A New Frontier, doesn’t even get that right.
Starting with an obligatory flashback set before the zombie apocalypse, A New Frontier, Episode 1:Ties that Bind introduces players to Javier Garcia, a ne’er-do-well who arrives at his brother’s house just after their ailing father has passed away. Like other stories in the series, A New Frontier focuses on the juxtaposition between tumultuous family dynamics and the cutthroat fight for survival against foes, both undead and otherwise. After this brief introduction, players flash forward to Javier on a perpetual road trip with his sister-in-law turned lover, Kate, and his niece and nephew. Although absent for years, his brother’s influence can still be felt, not only in his relationship to Kate, but in the growing temper of Javier’s nephew Gabe.
A New Frontier uses the same updated engine as Telltale’s Batman game, yet it does little to change the overall formula on which the series was built and has since rested. As a result, the lack of evolving mechanics and reliance on narrative complexity and character depth make reviewing each new entry feel less like critiquing a videogame and more like conducting a book report. Unfortunately, A New Frontier‘s story falls as short as its presentation.
In an almost paint-by-numbers structure of creative choices, A New Frontier features a quarreling family on the move, a seemingly peaceful settlement that gets disrupted by said family and its troubles, and a morally dubious organization of bandits that threatens the lives of anybody with a conscience. This is, more or less, the narrative box that each entry in Telltale’s The Walking Dead series finds itself, and this one is no different. There are pronounced beats and moments of heightened drama, but none of it feels particularly interesting. If Telltale’s ambitions were to make the videogame equivalent of disposable television, they’ve succeeded.
One highlight here is the return of series favorite Clementine, the young girl players befriend in the first season and play as in the second. Yet, instead of allowing players to continue to direct Clementine’s story, Frontier includes her only as a side character.
Having lost much of her innocence from season one and lacking control over her decisions from season two, Clementine comes off feeling like a bad fanfic version of herself. For those invested in her character arc, this might be quite frustrating because players have no say in her actions except during brief flashbacks that attempt to fill in the time period between the last time we saw her and the events in A New Frontier. More than the stale mechanics and predictable story, the detachment I felt from Clementine — previously the heart of the series — makes the experience as a whole far less engaging, and nearly unpalatable.
A New Frontier doesn’t fail completely as a narrative experience — Javier and his makeshift family aren’t unlikeable as far as characters go — but the story that’s being told in these first two episodes just doesn’t command the player’s investment like it used to. The gameplay aspects are superfluous, the story beats are overly familiar, and and not even seeing Clementine again can save the moaning, ambling corpse this series has unfortunately become.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Telltale and published by WB Interactive Entertainment. It is currently available on Android, iOS, Steam, PS4, and Xbox One. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 3.5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the two episodes were completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M for Mature and contains Violence, Blood and Gore, Drug References, and Strong Language. Zombies are bludgeoned, stabbed, and dismembered. People are shot in gruesome ways. Curse words are freely spoken and characters use marijuana. This is assuredly not for children.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles and onscreen button prompts mean that players can enjoy this narrative game without sound.
Remappable Controls: Certain functions can be tweaked, but the controls are not fully remappable.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
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