Developer: Telltale Games
Formats: Android, iOS, PS4, XB1 (version played), Windows
I still remember, with great fondness, the first time I completed The Walking Dead season 1. Here was a game (or point-and-click adventure, or interactive story, or whatever) that had delivered such a tight. engrossing story that I was subsequently hooked on the Telltale format immediately. I devoured (zing!) The Walking Dead season 2 with equal gusto, and I daresay I enjoyed it even more than the first; the character of Clementine firmly cementing herself in my own gaming cultural narrative, as she did so many others. The Wolf Among Us and Game of Thrones followed, each hugely playable and difficult to put down. The Walking Dead: Michonne came after, a small but satisfying treat as I awaited the arrival of the inevitable Season 3.
And arrive it did; in the form of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, the final episode of which was released 30th May 2017. I consider myself a huge fan of these games; an unashamed fanboy; which is why I feel so deflated writing this review.
There are such a breadth of issues with A New Frontier that it’s difficult to know where to start. The episodes are much shorter in length than any in the previous two games; I completed one episode in less than an hour, but even this doesn’t cause me the most bother. The engine, whilst somewhat changed from previous editions, is still janky as hell, and caused no end of texture problems, frame skips, random characters in scenes, and even a ridiculous beam of light shooting out of the main character, Javi, that wouldn’t go away without a full reboot of the game.
There are issues with continuity; those looking forward to a meaty follow up of the story from Season 2 may be somewhat disappointed by the developments presented. However, it’s the sheer absurdity of some of the decision resolutions that really hamper this game and, sadly, cause it to miss by some margin the sheer emotional depth that previous installments were so effortlessly able to convey.
…it’s the sheer absurdity of some of the decision resolutions that really hamper this game and, sadly, cause it to miss by some margin the sheer emotional depth that previous installments were so effortlessly able to convey.
It’s difficult to write details about the choices here without spoiling things, so I wont, but honestly there are some downright daft goings on in this game that completely interrupted my “flow state” and on more than one occasion even coaxed an audible “bullshit” from yours truly’s usually placid vocabulary (ironically, this is also bullshit). I was given no cause to like or even care about any of the characters besides the ones introduced at the start; for this reason, many of the various life-or-death moments familiar to players of the series just did not resonate at all with me. A huge reveal early on in the season, one which felt like it really should matter, was rendered impotent by the obvious foreshadowing and set up of the scenario. Where was the Walking Dead that I know and love?
Thankfully, the kernel of what makes those games great is still there, it’s just buried deeply beneath quite a large amount of unnecessarily obtuse choices and uninspired writing. Where the game does find its rhythm is in its presentation of Clementine; older, harder, and tempered by a world that ceaselessly does not give two shits. Her regular flashback sections, although brief, provide the biggest emotional punches of the season, as we come to terms with the continued hardships she has had to endure to remain alive. Her relationship with Javi is also another high point, as their mutual mistrust eventually gives way to respect and dependence. There are themes of parenthood and growing up here that are explored thoughtfully, however; whilst this is intriguing to watch unfold, they are never really given time to mature fully.
Where the game does find its rhythm is in its presentation of Clementine; older, harder, and tempered by a world that ceaselessly does not give two shits.
It’s difficult to recommend A New Frontier to anyone but die-hard fans of the series. Terrible plotting, dodgy visuals and odd character reactions to player choices are at odds with the often-brilliant representation of Clementine and her character development. As a subjective piece of art, there are aspects to enjoy here, but as a whole it can’t compete with its predecessors.
Here’s hoping that when Season 4 inevitibly returns us to that dreadful land of death and misery, it can be a light in the darkness, once again.