Although Telltale has struck proverbial gold with some of its other, more recent pursuits, it’s the studio’s take on Robert Kirkman’s ever popular The Walking Dead franchise that exists as its greatest triumph. With it, the San Rafael, California-based studio ushered in a new age of point-and-click adventure games, and did so by intelligently modernizing the decades old genre in various impressive ways.
It’s hard to believe, but almost four years have come and gone since Telltale first debuted The Walking Dead back in April of 2012. Since then, they’ve released a very solid second season, alongside several other adventure games based on other popular brands, like Borderlands, Fables, Minecraft and Game of Thrones. All have been good, and some have been great, but The Walking Dead still seems to be considered the best and most important of the bunch, and for good reason.
Earlier this month, good news was shared, and it was revealed that The Walking Dead‘s third season (dubbed The Walking Dead: A New Frontier) would begin its five episode-long quest just shy of the holiday season. Not only that, but instead of giving us just one episode to chomp on, we were promised two at once, which made things even sweeter.
Both episodes carry the same subtitle, although they’re designated as Part One and Part Two, as you’d expect. Together, they form Ties that Bind, a gripping opening that ushers in what has the potential to be an absolutely terrific season. Maybe even the series’ best thus far.
Things begin away from Clementine and company, while going back in time to just before the zombie pandemic began. There, we find one Javier Garcia, a young and naive former professional baseball player who’s fallen on hard times since being charged with betting on his own team. Things aren’t going well for our new ally professionally or personally, as we meet him at one of the roughest periods in his life. You see, his ailing father’s health has deteriorated and death is imminent — knowledge learned from a family member prior to a desperate attempt to make it home in time.
Due to traffic congestion, Javi, as he likes to be called, is forced to ditch his ride and run the rest of the way. This causes him to miss the unfortunate moment, and sets him up for ridicule and a beating from his older and very angry brother whom he’s not on very good terms with. It’s here where we get a first glimpse into our new hero’s life and the struggles within it, and it’s not long after that we’re introduced to the rest of the family, which is made up of their mother, the brother’s second wife and his two children, a boy and a girl. Most of them play large roles in this opening two parter, and will likely continue to do so throughout this third season.
What follows is ripped straight from a good horror movie, as the unsuspecting family learns that their fallen patriarch isn’t so bedridden anymore. Thus begins a campaign that begins with shock and realization then jumps several years into the future, to where Javi, his brother’s former wife and his niece and nephew are doing their best to survive in post-apocalyptic America.
Over the course of these two episodes, Telltale’s The Walking Dead introduces many new characters, including one that will be familiar to those who’ve read the graphic novels and/or watched the TV series. Most are fellow survivors, some of which aid our cause and help our new protagonists when they encounter danger, while others — as is always the case — threaten their very livelihoods. These asshats are introduced as The New Frontier, and are part of a Negan-esque group that likes violence and threatening words.
Along the way, another familiar face is reintroduced at the side of the road, via a chance encounter. That would, of course, be Clementine, who took over the reigns as last season’s main protagonist after Lee’s unfortunate demise. Alone and much more mature, she’s become a hardened survivor and has taken everything that her former group taught her to heart. As such, she’s not quick to befriend or trust anyone until she’s absolutely ready.
That timetable ends up being sped up rather quickly, though, as it isn’t long before the shit hits the fan again. However, out of respect of spoilers and a desire to avoid as many as humanly possible, I won’t say anything more.
Those who’ve been fans of Telltale’s The Walking Dead since day one, or close to it, should be very happy with what we’re presented with here. Not only are the new characters interesting, likeable and easy to relate to, but the trouble they find themselves in is organic, believable and frightening. The relationships they form during this opening act also blossom realistically, sometimes of out of intent, but often out of necessity. Moving along, Clementine’s story is also done good justice, through flashbacks that give us insight into what happened to Kenny and the baby. Of course, even after the credits begin to roll on episode two, we’re not made privy to the whole story, which makes the wait for episodes three, four and five even tougher.
Another positive comes the way of more advanced button prompts, while tough choices continue to make for exciting and challenging gameplay. Twists aren’t a rarity, either, as at least two major ones are introduced within just these first two episodes. Together, they’re sure to combine for some great drama in future episodes.
Thankfully, the game’s engine has also been updated for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, allowing for mostly solid performance that is only marred by some rare instances of framerate slowdown and visual hiccups. The beginning of the second episode was where I noticed the most problems, but they didn’t last for long. Outside of that, one part of a line of dialogue was repeated (something which used to happen in previous seasons, as well as in other titles like Telltale’s Game of Thrones), but it was just the one line that was affected.
Apart from those issues, I was pretty impressed with how things looked and ran this time around. We all know that Telltale games tend to be a bit glitchy, but they deserve credit for making improvements with both Batman: The Telltale Series and this third season of The Walking Dead. Their engine could still use some work, and their games are still in need of fine tuning, but there’s nothing to really stress over, in the way of glitches or performance problems.
Alas, I guess it goes without saying that I loved and thoroughly enjoyed what I saw and experienced as I played through the first two gripping episodes of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. The direction the story has gone in, the new characters it’s enveloped and the ensuing drama all feels right, and I can’t wait to see how everything turns out.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
- Gripping drama
- Interesting and relatable new characters
- Tough choices
- Those who didn't like the first two seasons won't have their minds changed
- Some performance issues