NOTE: This review is spoiler free of plot details.
Boy, I’m going to have to think about how to shorten that title somehow.
After an over two-year hiatus, Telltale is back with the true continuation of their The Walking Dead series they started back in 2012. Though the three-part Michonne mini-series was a great snack size story and a good way to keep The Walking Dead in people’s minds, what everyone really wanted was to find out what happened to Clementine following the conclusion of Season Two back in 2014. While this new series doesn’t carry the “Season 3” headline but instead a sub-title, A New Frontier, it very much is the follow-up that fans who have invested themselves in the series have been looking for that also seamlessly weaves in a compelling new scenario, a fresh cast of characters and retains the tense situations as well as tough choices that have defined the series.
For the start of A New Frontier, Telltale broke away from trend and released two episodes at launch which I’m going to review together because even though they’re classified as parts one and two, Ties That Bind is more or less one mega episode. In the promotional material leading up to the third series launch, a lot of it was focused on the new protagonist, Javi, and his family that would make up the central focus A New Frontier which initially I was worried about. Images and teases of a more mature, teenage Clementine also started showing up in previews, trailers and other coverage and this was the story that I personally wanted to be a part of. This was also due in part to me personally not really connecting with any of the characters in Season Two but at the same time still feeling like the conclusion my choices lead me to would make for a solid foundation going forward.
It wasn’t long into the first episode that I found myself invested in Javi and his family thankfully, and that’s can be attributed to a smart use of flashbacks. As stated above this will be free of plot spoilers, but I will say that the first episode starts off before the world has succumbed to the zombie apocalypse and seeing Javi and crew in this light helps to build character, in the same way that you did with Lee as he was being escorted to prison all way back in the series premiere. There’s a second flashback after the opening that also helps to build an emotional attachment to these new cast of characters which I feel is something Telltale learned a lesson from in Season Two. In that season, Clem was an outsider in her new group and you have pieces of back story filled in through conversations, yet you still didn’t really feel a connection with anyone and that killed any sense of tension or urgency when things started to turn south.
Speaking of Clem, her introduction into A New Frontier is near perfect and after these two episodes I’m now convinced that Clementine is easily the best female protagonist in video games. I’m all about all races, genders, etc. getting their representation in video games and other mediums, but often to me “strong female character” is normally just one that people think “kicks ass!”. That’s fine and all, and if you just want to see a strong female character doing awesome things that’s great too, but I want to actually care about the person doing said kicking and through seeing Clementine grow up to become this force of nature in this world is something that Telltale has done an outstanding job with. Through the time you spend with Clem, this time as a supporting character, you understand that she is not someone to be trifled with. Characters will often turn to Javi and ask him to reign her in, but at least in my choices I tell everyone that if anything, I as the adult male character am with her and it’s not the other way around.
At the same time Clementine is not someone who has shut down emotionally. She has come of age in this hard world and lost a lot of important people, but there’s still a vulnerability to her and a desire to reconnect with people even though doing so in the past has never really turned out that well. Kudos also must be given for having her play off of Javi’s nephew, who at this point is a character I can’t stand but when placed next to Clementine, it makes his annoyances worth it. To hear him complain about adults and parents only to hear Clem reply with “I wouldn’t know” is heart breaking Like Javi, Clem also gets a set of flashbacks with one linked to the conclusion of Season Two (NOTE: I imported my save file from Season’s One and Two) and another that bridges the two seasons. The conclusion that I ended up with in Season Two was not abandoned, but wasn’t really given that much development yet at the same time I didn’t mind all that much. The small epilogue was very powerful, and it was a clear breaking off point from what came before and A New Frontier. It was something that was somewhat telegraphed, but through the acting and writing it was something that I’ll never forget.
If there’s any fault in the two-part series opener for A New Frontier is that it escalates almost too quickly. You visit a civilization built in this world that for once isn’t run by crazy people and it’s not too long before events lead you away from it. Also I really feel that Telltale is struggling with how to make zombies still threatening after two-and-a-half series. I understand that The Walking Dead is more about the characters living in this world, but when the action starts to ramp up, you don’t get that sense of fear that you did in Season One with everyone learning how to deal with these creatures and in Season Two when you were a little girl charged with defending yourself.
In my 2016 Game of the Year awards I bestowed Telltale my developer of the year award and now with The Walking Dead: The Telltale Seres – A New Frontier, that decision couldn’t have been more justified. With just two episodes, Telltale has wrapped up their starting seasons, crafted a clear entry point for new players and given us new characters to care about as well as old ones that are new and improved. I can only hope that Telltale keeps the pace they did with Batman to deliver an episode a month, because I can’t wait to see what happens next.