NOTE: Some spoilers from all three current episodes of, “The Walking Dead: A New Frontier” are present in this review
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier started very strong in its first two episodes, which were released together at the end of last year. It’s taken a little while, but towards the end of the following March, we finally have the next chapter in Telltale’s latest Image Comics-inspired story, “Above the Law”, which finally builds upon the shocking cliffhanger conclusion of the two-part, “Ties That Bind”, namely when protagonist, Javi discovers that his estranged brother, David is part of the antagonistic survivor group, the New Frontier.
Overall, “Above the Law” isn’t quite as strong as the first two episodes of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, since it falls into a lot of familiar trappings that have even become standard for Telltale’s The Walking Dead games at this point, let alone the rest of the Walking Dead franchise as a whole. Still, Javi’s rediscovered connection with his family, which has always been at the core of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier up to this point, remains a highlight in this episode, so the story remains satisfying, even as we start seeing the same old conflicts that we’ve already seen in the previous Walking Dead offerings from Telltale and Image Comics alike, along with AMC’s separate television adaptation for that matter.
Depending on your actions in the two previous episodes of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, certain characters will either be present or not present for your time in the New Frontier settlement, largely depending on whether you decided to shoot Conrad dead, or go along with his plan to use Clementine as a bargaining chip in, “Ties That Bind – Part II.” If you went along with Conrad’s plan, both characters will be brought into the camp with Javi from the start, but if you shot and killed Conrad, you’ll only have Tripp and Jesus at your side for your time in the New Frontier camp. If Conrad is still alive, it also opens up another major decision during this episode’s big confrontation. Beyond that added decision however, Conrad’s survival and Clementine’s presence don’t make much of a difference in the New Frontier camp proper, especially since the camp is pretty standard for a large-scale settlement in the universe of the Walking Dead comics. It’s a little more laid-back than Carver’s camp at Howe’s Hardware from The Walking Dead: Season Two, but nonetheless looks and feels the same.
Where the interesting conflicts start coming in is when we see how the time away has changed David, and how Javi responds to his brother’s connection with the New Frontier, especially after their people shot and killed Mariana in, “Ties That Bind – Part I.” Kate and Gabe now spend most of the episode in the background, but this allows the strained relationship between Javi and David to take the fore for much of events, with players ultimately deciding whether to go along with David’s plans, or defy them. Javi being torn between his fractured family consistently makes for the most interesting and fulfilling decision-making on the part of the player, especially when something naturally doesn’t feel quite right about the New Frontier settlement before long, which Kate is quick to point out.
We also get a few more flashbacks in this episode, from the perspectives of both Javi and Clementine at various points. Javi’s flashbacks aren’t particularly interesting, since they just detail the initial closeness between Javi and Kate, which players would likely already have a good grasp of, so they essentially only exist to have players decide whether they’re honest about Javi’s pretty clear feelings for Kate or not. Clementine’s flashbacks are a little more interesting (if you chose to shoot Conrad, she’s still a part of this episode, just not as frequently), especially when we finally learn just how she lost AJ in this episode, but even they feel too inconsequential in the end. AJ’s fate remains the same, regardless of your decisions with Clementine, and her separation from the New Frontier on bad terms always remains the same in turn. There’s just too little interactivity there to make it all that satisfying.
The attempts to ground and humanize the New Frontier at least go over fairly well, though this is also hurt when loose cannons like Lonnie, Max and Badger start making them less believable. There’s no way that a remorseless killing machine like Badger, who actively gets off on his cold-blooded murder of Mariana, would ever be allowed in the New Frontier, since he’s clearly a massive liability. Max and Lonnie at least become a bit more multi-dimensional here, but when the true evil in the New Frontier is discovered, Badger deflates it a bit by being a blatant cartoon character, simply serving as a crescendo to the episode’s lone major action moment. It’s cathartic, but still degrades into the same old conflict of the price of perpetuating both survival and humanity in the zombie apocalypse.
Also a bit frustrating is that the episode ends on something of a whimper, especially when you’re forced along the same approximate story path, regardless of whether you follow David’s orders or not. Even if you defy David at every turn and actively try to get out of dodge, the game will nonetheless force you back into the current conflict, which is annoying, since the first two episodes found more unique ways to mix up their scenarios, even if just a little. The true culprit behind the shadiness of the New Frontier is also a bit underwhelming, coming out of nowhere, and having the same tired motivations that most Walking Dead villains seem to consistently have, only being less outwardly honest about it this time. Perhaps the next two episodes will make this new antagonist a more interesting foe, but for now, they’re not all that compelling of an enemy.
“Above the Law” feels like a pretty clear bridging chapter for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, one that largely exists to develop the New Frontier and the Javi/David relationship, though its other elements suffer from being predictable and/or disappointing. Javi remains a great lead, and the efforts to flesh out David and his complicated history, along with adding more depth to the New Frontier as a whole, all keep the story going fairly strong. Clementine, Kate and Gabe all being pushed into the background in this episode does somewhat hurt the storytelling though, especially when the apparent villains aren’t all that exciting or credible yet. Things at least end with the promise for more excitement in the next episode however, so now that we’re done getting to know the real New Frontier as of this current episode, hopefully the next two can effectively increase the stakes again.
This review is based on an Xbox One copy of, “The Walking Dead: A New Frontier”, provided by Telltale Games.
- Javi and David drive the story well
- More grounded and complex development for the New Frontier
- We finally learn how Clementine lost AJ
- The apparent villains aren't that interesting yet
- Flashbacks feel too restrictive
- Your loyalty to David is ultimately irrelevant