Back in late 2016, upon starting the third season of developer Telltale’s take on The Walking Dead, I thought we’d seen every possible zombie movie cliché covered in the previous two games. A slightly different route was taken with this one, though. The ballsy move to go with a brand new cast of characters, focusing on former pro baseball player Javi Garcia and his makeshift family, was appreciated. Yet, as The Walking Dead: A New Frontier drew to a close, I realised that aforementioned move was itself ballsed up. Superfluous flashbacks involving a series stalwart, a disappointing crescendo to a love triangle, and an excruciatingly annoying child with terribly delivered dialogue hammered home that fact. This third season had moments of intrigue, especially in the middle, but Telltale’s refusal leave the past behind them makes A New Frontier feel like an ironic subtitle.
Clementine has grown up before our eyes; across all three seasons, she’s matured from girl to slightly older girl. She’s witnessed some big influences on her youth die as the world turns to shit, but she must still wrap her head around things like getting her period (which leads to one of the better interactions in the season between her and Javi). While her appearances are more sporadic in certain episodes, it feels like there’s a reliance on Clementine in this season when the story of the Garcia family would’ve been better off without her — she’s a redundant reminder of what’s come before.I say that because Clem’s playable sections in TWD: A New Frontier come in the form of flashbacks, meaning a life-threatening decision in the past has no bearing on the present when you know she’s still mowing down Walkers at every turn. It’s not that this more grizzled version of Clementine isn’t a well crafted and well rounded character; she just feels like a holdover — The Who’s fourth farewell tour. And Javi Garcia is a good enough frontman on his own without Clem on backing vocals.
Javi is a disgraced sports celebrity that’s trying to make good and, alongside his sister-in-law Kate, look after his brother’s family after the zombie apocalypse. He obviously falls for Kate. When it’s revealed that his brother David is still alive at the end of episode two, all you’re waiting for is the Eastenders drum fill. While the first season of The Walking Dead told a parental tale and the second centred on the series’ heroine in a new group, an undead Jeremy Kyle narrative involving brothers who’ve never gotten along is compelling. At the beginning of each episode we get welcome insight into David and Javi’s relationship prior to the outbreak, showing us that the two have never truly gotten on. And that’s understandable: David is a prick. Although he does test your nerves, you’re presented with some tough choices that ask you whether you love the family you were born with more than the family you’ve chosen. The payoff to this season-long drama is massively disappointing, which negatively affects the enthralling build-up.
A number of the secondary characters are lacklustre throughout, too. Sure, the viking-looking Tripp and Christ-like Jesus are pretty believable, but their commendable additions are overshadowed by unconvincing delivery from a doctor you encounter called Eleanor, and the stock villain of the nice-at-first-but-actually-bastards New Frontier Joan. But my God, Gabe is the real issue. David’s biological son, who has become your pseudo-child, is one of the most annoying characters from all three seasons. In episode four Gabe and Javi’s relationship is explored fully, and, as well as that, Gabe’s ability to be an utter nuisance. Yeah, some of his actions and words may be similar to what a teenager might utter in a similar situation, but it’s his singular, irritating tone that’s the problem. I can only imagine listening to him is what a gearbox must feel like when a learner driver is trying to change from second to third. His incompetence is mind-bogglingly infuriating, too. And as Javi, you’re acting father to Kate’s children, so wishing death upon them probably isn’t the desired reaction, I’d imagine.
Technically, Telltale has struggled in previous TWD outings with poor loading times, character animations — the lot, basically. Here, while not perfect, it’s a marked improvement. Characters still sometimes appear to be puppets when they’re walking from place-to-place, but they do look prettier than they have before when doing so. Lighting is far better than it’s been in other seasons, exhibited wonderfully in episode three while Kate is lying in a hospital bed and the sun is beaming onto Javi’s face through the half shut blinds. Telltale has also almost done away with making you walk about an area in search of a solution to a puzzle, as it occurs less and less as the season progresses. Instead, we get a more filmic presentation, where the spotlight is on dialogue choices and building relationships with characters — what drew people to the series in the first place. Even though there are narrative missteps, the direction here is definitely the right one.
Will there be another season of The Walking Dead? Of course. Why? I’m not sure. As players, we’ve made all the possible decisions, and have seen them nullified shortly afterwards. Telltale took a different approach to the zombie story with A New Frontier, and at points, I thought it might come good. But at the end of the day, there’s always a dodgy group of people who’ll turn their backs on you, highlighting the fact that people are the real monsters. I know. We’ve done this a few times already, and I think I’ve had my fill.
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Available on: PC [reviewed on], PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android
Release date: December 20, 2016 - May 30, 2017