After the incredible first two seasons of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Series – and the ending of the second game, which left our hero Clementine far from safe, even if it did feel at least a little optimistic – I wasted no time in starting the third season, A New Frontier.
I was disappointed, then, to find that I was no longer in control of Clementine – nor were there any clues as to where she was or what had happened to her since the events of season two – at the start of the third game. Instead, we’re introduced to Javi and his dysfunctional relationship with his family at a time of extreme crisis, just as the zombie outbreak begins.
Though it’s a fantastic demonstration of the step up in visual quality and cinematic direction from the first two seasons – as well as gripping, well written and brilliantly acted – it still feels like a step back given where we were before. We spend so much time getting to know the characters, which does work to make you care about them even as quickly as the end of the first episode, but it can’t help but feel like a bit of a slow start, even with the dramatic events that occur throughout.
It’s no spoiler that Clementine does make an appearance (given that she’s prominent on the cover art) and in almost every official screenshot) and she’s very integral to the events that unfold throughout the entirety of the story. It may be a minor spoiler to reveal that you will be able to see – and influence, to a degree – important events that led Clementine to where she is by the time she crosses paths with Javi. It’s good to see a popular and important recurring character from the comics make an appearance too – quite an extended one, as it turns out, with Jesus (real name: Paul) popping up fairly early on.
Along with the impressive jump in graphical detail – which brings some fantastic lighting and faux-cinematic effects while still retaining a beautifully authentic comic book style – the quick time button prompts are integrated into the environments, as I noticed was the case in Telltale’s Batman series. It’s a really neat touch and far better than the change in visual prompts for season two, which I wasn’t a fan of at all. Less successful, unfortunately, is the facial animation – which didn’t always sync perfectly with the dialogue and does show some weaknesses with the models at times.
The need to open each chapter with a flashback to fill in backstory rather than simply continue from the cliffhanger of the previous episode – while making sense from a dramatic point of view – also felt as if it killed some momentum during the story, as well as giving you information on each character’s relationship to each other that you really should be aware of before making some fairly drastic responses or choices. Which brings me to the dialogue options: A New Frontier commits the cardinal sin of a choice not playing out the way you intend when you make a dialogue choice on a few occasions, which is something that’s plagued games that feature consequences from making the ‘wrong’ dialogue options for some time, but until now hadn’t ever been an issue in The Walking Dead. It had always been the case that you could trust the intent of your choice; it only happens a few times in A New Frontier, but it’s enough to annoy and frustrate, particularly as you’re choosing from two-word options in some cases – at some very pivotal moments.
Despite these issues, A New Frontier is a fitting addition to the Walking Dead saga – full of shifting character allegiances, dramatic plot developments and those difficult moral and ethical choices that the game series is known for, along with the sense that you’re to blame when the consequences for your decisions come into play. Every episode escalates to a brilliant cliffhanger (though be warned, don’t look at the cover art for Episode 4 if you can help it – it spoils the ending of the episode somewhat) and does leave you hungry for more. It doesn’t reach the heady heights of Season One and Two, but then what does? In my opinion, those two titles are the absolute pinnacle of interactive storytelling – and, even though the third can’t quite reach the same level of quality from a story point of view, it comes damn close.
Though only one season now remains for me to play through, I’m eager to get to it. The Walking Dead: The Final Season is next. I can’t wait.
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