|Platforms||PC (reviewed), PS4, XBO, iOS, Droid|
|Release Date||December 2016 – May 2017|
Review code provided
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier continues the story of Telltale’s Walking Dead series, this time shifting focus to a new protagonist – Javier Garcia. When the zombie apocalypse happened Javi lost most of his family. On the road with his brother’s wife Kate and their kids Gabe and Mariana, he’s doing all that he can to keep them together and keep them alive in a world that has fallen apart.
A New Frontier, the third season in Telltale’s acclaimed Walking Dead series, finally attempts to break the mould and try something new. After the meteoric success of the first season, it was perhaps understandable that the second didn’t stray too far from the former. It was, however, too predictable and felt all too familiar. The protagonists had changed, but much of season two felt like a retread of what had come before, only with much less interesting characters.
A New Frontier, however, tries to tell an altogether different kind of story. While this is still a story of desperation and survival against seemingly impossible odds, this is primarily a family drama as opposed to the story of a ragtag group of arseholes trying to make their way through a zombie infested world. It’s this new narrative framing device that makes A New Frontier really feel like…well, a new frontier.
There are still plenty of familiar elements here and A New Frontier does still hit some of the same story beats as its predecessors. But it’s filtered through an entirely new perspective. That new perspective does clash with the old in the form of former protagonist Clementine. A New Frontier lets you meet the girl you guided through the first two seasons of the game, now grown into a young woman.
It’s A New Frontier’s greatest strength. After guiding her and looking out for her in season one, then taking direct control in season two, this new season lets you see how she’s turned out. While Telltale have filled in some of the gaps, this is still a Clementine unmistakably shaped by your input and actions across the rest of the series. Getting to see how she turned out in a story that doesn’t focus on her is a perfect next step.
And a New Frontier starts out strongly. It builds its cast of likeable characters well, pushing them to the edge as they try to survive the events that conspire to tear them down. For three episodes the narrative and the mandatory Walking Dead style plot twists work well. Unfortunately it all starts to fall apart in the final two episodes. In the beginning, A New Frontier really does feel like a different kind of Walking Dead story.
But in its final two episodes the season falls back on the worst habits and tropes of The Walking Dead. People begin to act completely out of their established character, or make monumentally stupid decisions, simply for the sake of a “shocking” plot twist or to keep the story moving. There were times when I think whatever decision programming exists in A New Frontier was malfunctioning, as characters began to exhibit multiple personality disorder.
Characters would get mad at Javi for no reason, as if I had made some decision that had offended them. This would only last for a couple lines of dialogue, before they’d switch back to remembering what I’d actually done. These problems, combined with the final episodes habit of inserting dead characters into the background or periphery of scenes, meant that my immersion was constantly being broken by characters being inconsistent – both for the sake of the plot and as a bug.
Maybe if A New Frontier had taken more time to build up its characters and show us their motivations I could have bought some of their later decisions. But this game is entirely on-rails and not really interested in letting you get to know its characters. Lack of interactivity is becoming a problem for Telltale. In Walking Dead’s first season there were multiple areas in each episode where you could wander an environment and interact with everyone – chat to them and get to know more about them.
That’s all but gone in A New Frontier. The game is more interested in simply shepherding you from set piece to set piece. There’s no time to actually get to know the story’s characters and there’s little time to actually connect with them in any way. This hampers A New Frontier’s ability to tell a really impactful, meaningful story. It also means that there are precious few gameplay sections. Dialogue options are punctuated by infrequent bursts of simple QTE’s and a lack of puzzles to solve.
It’s a shame, because when A New Frontier is at its best when it chooses to focus on smaller moments between its characters. The main narrative is the standard type of zombie apocalypse survival story you got bored of 10 years ago. But it’s populated by a cast of mostly likeable characters (for a change). If they’d been given the focus and a chance to shine, this third season could have reached the same heights as its monumentally praised first season.
But it doesn’t. Any meaningful character work is shunted aside in favour of shocks, plot twists and characters behaving erratically to keep the main narrative moving forward. This isn’t a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but its held back from fulfilling its potential by these issues. The Walking Dead season one was a breath of fresh air, both for narrative driven games and for the franchise itself. But the game series is starting to take on traits that make the TV show and comic series painful to watch and read.
You can check out the Words About Games review policy, which includes our score guide, by clicking here.