A New Frontier is a bit deceptive of a name for Telltale’s latest entry in their Walking Dead games set in the world of Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse comics. The game does what great new #1 comics do; reward longtime fans while avoiding the impenetrable fence for new readers. While much has evolved to feel new in The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series – A New Frontier, it still retains everything that made the first two seasons of the game powerful.
“Ties That Bind”, the two-part premiere (of 5 episodes) puts players in the shoes of Javi Garcia. A twentysomething baseball playing gambler who’s shamed in much the way MLB nerds will remember Pete Rose of the Cincinnati Reds was. We meet Javi at the beginning of the disaster and instantly see how he could last years in this world. His tragedy serves as prologue and one of the most horror-proper cinematic openings any video game or film can have. You’ll jump ahead a few years later as his brother David’s wife and two kids (Gabe and Mariana) are now under your care. Now not only will you be attacked from all sides by this bleak dangerous world, you’ll have to endure it while trying to be your family’s beacon of hope. This is Walking Dead where everything is easy, right? Nope. Everything goes totally bitchcakes when you come across a new threat in the form of a group calling themselves The New Frontier. From there it’s a battle to keep what remains of your family together and survive a snowball of devastating events all to get help from an unexpected source.
Thankfully, Telltale doesn’t get rid of what made their first endeavors into the world of Walking Dead great. Particularly the time players invested getting attached to Clementine. Once again voiced fantastically by the returning Melissa Hutchinson. Clementine is the young girl you looked after while playing as Lee Everett in the first game and then stepped into her shoes for the second season. If you’ve played previous Telltale Walking Dead games, the developer implements a system which allows you to import decisions from those playthroughs which shape Clem in this series. For those who didn’t play the games, or don’t have a save file to import, there’s also a way to recreate your choices from season 1and2. Should this be your first experience with Telltale Games Walking Dead there’s also the option to go in completely unaware of who Clementine is. Indeed, whether you’re a returning player or brand new to Telltale Games, they’ve thought of a clever way to put the individual on the developer’s story path best suited to them.
Visually, the game continues an evolution that began with upgrades debuted during the course of Batman: The Telltale Series. The cell shaded gritty world of the Walking Dead is more posh with dystopian detail than ever. Even the environments you’ll walk through don’t have that flat 2.5D feel as they once did. Combined with the level of acting you’re able to see in the character models, this is Telltale’s most polished game to date. Mechanically it has a hiccup or two as myself and other players on twitter experienced crashes during episode 2’s tunnel sequence. It sucks to get taken out of your story immersion at such a tense moment, though it’s a flaw that’s sure to be fixed in a coming patch. Also, great to have a button that makes your characters move faster than a turtle doing level 1 on a treadmill, kudos.
While hiccups like that might be deal breakers for more gameplay driven experiences, what sets Telltale among the best studios is their quality of storytelling. The developer’s episodic approach is one suited to comics readers. As comic book fans, we’re more accustomed to being given a shocking cliffhanger then being able to wait a month to find out what happens next.
Overall, this game is a home-run hit with a barbed wired baseball bat that leaves the stadium and smashes a windshield. Love triangles, desperate odds, impossible choices only begin to scratch the surface of the game’s complex multiple moving parts narrative. In cementing the vital place Clementine has in the large world of Walking Dead, along with the addition of Javi, Telltale also demonstrate how TWD’s universe has evolved past the need for touchstones like Carl and Rick. Whether you call them walkers, biters, geeks, or Muertos; the tragedy you’ll play through shows all the moments we’ve seen from The Walking Dead comics, TV, and games haven’t desensitized us to everything. Simply put, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier emotionally breaks you down and gladly makes you come back for more.
The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series – A New Frontier episodes 1&2 are available now for download through PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, STEAM PC, and multiple mobile devices; with the rest of the five episodes set for release throughout early 2017. There’s also a season pass option available, while a physical release of early chapters and pass are set for February.