NOTE: Some spoilers from all four current episodes of, “The Walking Dead: A New Frontier” are present in this review
Telltale Games has generally done pretty well with The Walking Dead: A New Frontier up to this point, but as usual, they’ve hit a bit of a slump in the game’s penultimate episode. “Thicker Than Water”, the fourth episode of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, is ultimately rather slow-paced, and offers too little in the way of true player agency, with the episode focusing more on bringing in consequences from the past, rather than new turns of the present. Even then though, regardless of how you’ve developed Javier up to this point, the fundamental progression of the episode is pretty much exactly the same, unfortunately doing away with some of the more variable scenarios in the previous three episodes.
Even being a lesser episode though, “Thicker Than Water” certainly isn’t bad. It’s just noticeably less good than the three episodes that preceded it, and in particular the standout first two episodes. Again though, if you’re a longtime veteran of Telltale games, then you’re probably mentally prepared for a slightly less impressive fourth episode. There’s still a solid amount of setup for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier’s climax in the upcoming fifth and final episode however, even if a lot of this is buried under more slogging through the New Frontier’s camp, not ultimately accomplishing much of anything beyond impotently arguing with your allies.
Depending on your past choices, your allies will either be more or less evidently loyal and forthcoming toward Javier by this point, even if it doesn’t fundamentally change the handful of small missions that comprise the episode. Depending on who is alive or dead, this at least significantly changes the dialogue of the episode, but the same objectives of preparing an escape route and/or a plan of attack to save David from an unfortunate fate always remains the same, regardless of whether your buddies are cordial or nasty. Clementine is naturally forced back into events as well, after she seemed to disappear in the wake of the previous third episode, but this isn’t so bad, of course. Clementine probably has the best character storytelling in, “Thicker Than Water”, despite all of the family matters that are brewing with the proper Garcia unit at this point in the game’s story.
Naturally, Clementine is still seeking answers regarding the whereabouts of AJ, even if the latest compulsory flashback to her separation from AJ isn’t too meaningful this time. Depending on how the conclusion of The Walking Dead: Season Two was ultimately decided in your play history, you may or may not get an additional flashback scenario with Clementine as well. Fortunately, that additional flashback is at least a little better, since it offers more rewarding insight into Clementine’s current attitude and connection with AJ. Even in the present though, Clementine’s growing maturity is becoming more evident in this episode, especially in how she finally seems to be (mostly) a little more at peace with constantly ending up in the company of Javier’s family this time.
The episode has a couple of big decisions that most heavily influence the story to come, as usual, though only one of them seems to properly unfold before the episode’s climax, since the one before that is in a flashback that kicks off the episode, and currently seems to have no bearing on the story one way or the other. Granted, this decision in the middle portion is pretty good, especially since it does have unexpected consequences in the climax, and no doubt in the upcoming fifth episode, but it’s also just one great decision in an episode that has quite a few lulls. You don’t even really encounter Walkers in this episode, since they simply stand in a big herd outside the walls of New Richmond, and beyond one Walker-related scare, they don’t truly interact with the protagonists at all in this case.
As I said however, the episode at least nicely picks up at the end, and does set the stage for a fantastic climax in the upcoming fifth and final episode of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. The most challenging decisions of the episode come into play during this climax, which immediately cranks the thrills up to eleven, presenting standout twists and chaos that all culminate in a truly great cliffhanger conclusion. It’s really too bad that the entire episode couldn’t feel this exciting, but it seems to be an issue with Telltale’s current storytelling formula as a whole, rather than an issue specific to The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, if that’s any consolation.
Overall, “Thicker Than Water” doesn’t manage to break the ‘Episode 4 Curse’ that Telltale tends to suffer from across most of their various episodic adventure games, but it’s at least salvaged by some great key decisions, plus an especially awesome climax that helps to make up for the episode’s excessively slow pace. Considering the pressing fate of David, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of a sense of urgency in this episode, which is odd, not to mention underwhelming. Still, Telltale isn’t of the habit of disappointing when it comes to how they wrap up their episodic sagas, and considering how exceptionally this episode ends, the evidence seems to indicate that we can reasonably expect The Walking Dead: A New Frontier to conclude on a high note, once its final episode releases!
This review is based on an Xbox One copy of, “The Walking Dead: A New Frontier”, provided by Telltale Games.
- Some great moments of key decision-making
- Especially good story material for Clementine
- Fantastic climax that effectively sets up the final episode
- Storytelling is often too slow-paced
- Less ability to alter scenarios compared to prior episodes
- Most of the flashback material feels uninteresting