Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead is one of the greatest games I have ever played, and for many, it was an introduction to the prowess that narratively-driven adventure games could have on gaming. It proved that if a story was good enough, it warranted a place among the greats that other developers release on a yearly basis; and did so by taking home Game of the Year back in 2012.
It’s weird in the sense that it feels like so much has changed, yet stayed the same since then. Telltale has completely transformed themselves into a factory of narratively-driven adventure games, releasing 2-3 different episodic IPs annually. It’s been a while since the studio has delivered a true Walking Dead game, with Season 2 releasing back in 2014. Sure, the studio kinda cheated and released a Michonne-focused mini-series last year, but it was far too brief and was meant to stand on its own.
A New Frontier picks up the Clementine narrative, though not in the way most fans were likely expecting. Clem has gone back to being a (somewhat) secondary character, and in her place is an all-new protagonist, Javier, a young 20-30 something whose relationship with his family is strained for reasons you can interpret through the subtext of the dialog. The first episode does its job establishing a context for Javier’s background without taking over the events of the present. Once we are thrust back, it’s clear that some time has passed since we were last here.
With that said, let’s talk about A New Frontier: Episode 1- The Ties That Bind: Part 1.
Player, meet Javier (AKA Javy), your new protagonist.
One thing that Telltale’s The Walking Dead has always been able to do well is to establish character. This is mostly emblematic in Season 1’s Lee Everett, who was something of a blank slate when we meet him as opposed to Clementine in Season 2, whose context players were already familiar with, resulting in a somewhat different vibe. At its outset, Season 3, in some ways, feels like a return to Season 1, as the first thing we are introduced to is a face we haven’t seen before.
Instead of memories of previous adventures and contexts flooding back, we are left to think only, “who is this guy?” In an entertainment world where leveraging the “OMG that character is back” moments often outweigh the importance of actual narrative chops, it is good to see Telltale take a risk, and go back to basics, and better yet, succeed at doing so. That’s not to say that Season 3 doesn’t have those “OMG” moments. Clem’s introduction is certainly one of them, and although it’s outrageously cliche, it still works like a charm.
Javier himself is a flawed individual, with a slightly seedier past hinted at. It’s nothing at or near the levels of Lee Everett, but it’s apparent that he’s been through some stuff, making him a very relatable and down-to-earth protagonist. It’s also that classic but effective subtext where the writers know exactly how much to reveal to the player, and then to let them fill in the blanks themselves. This kind of writing is also paramount because the importance of Javier’s past does not outweigh that of what we know as the present. And Episode 1, does not skimp on the present.
The supporting cast is as well thought out and delivered as ever.
With a new protagonist, comes a new supporting cast, and fortunately, Telltale has made it easy to dive right into getting to know Javier’s family. Your primary companions include Kate, Javier’s equally flawed sister-in-law with whom there is a mutual, but star-crossed attraction, Gabe, his troubled nephew, and Mariana, his innocent niece.
Each of the supporting character’s personas plays off of one another to create a very modern and believable family dynamic. Once the story flips to the present, the main hook with the family is that Javier is still adapting to being the father figure to two kids who aren’t his, without encroaching too much, while dealing with keeping his group alive and on the move. There is a lot at play here, and as usual Telltale has delivered multiple layers of character development to make for incredibly deep protagonists.
Telltale has not lost their touch on raising the stakes, developing villains, or stomping all over your heart.
If you’ve been exposed to anything The Walking Dead related, you probably already know that characters often are not long for the world they inhabit, and A New Frontier is the same way. As you might expect, Javier and his group are incredibly vulnerable in a fight, given that half the group consists of children. So, when Telltale decides to bring out the firefight towards the climax, it makes for very tense and costly encounter that ends up having legitimate long-term ramifications.
The New Frontier is the new antagonist this season, and in many respects, they live up to the cliches you’ve come to expect from The Walking Dead as a whole, be it TV, comics or the game. They are your typical thugs that demand retribution in the most brutal of fashions for things they deem actions taken against them, no matter what the truth of the matter actually is. We’ve seen this kind of thing before with The Governor, but it still works in the sense that the group is not unquestionably evil from top to bottom, so they also have a certain unpredictability factor to them.
Daniel R. Miller
I'll play anything at least once. But RPG's, Co-Op/Competitive Multiplayer, Action Adventure games, and Sports Franchise Modes keep me coming back. Follow me on Twitter @TheDanWhoWrites