The first season of The Walking Dead (TWD) blew me away. I thought Telltale had absolutely nailed the heart-string twang that came with TWD’s reputation for handling characters. It was that style of narrative that helped me to ignore the design and gameplay foibles that have become part and parcel of not just Telltale Games’ TWD, but of Telltale games in general. Those foibles, however, quickly became glaring issues that Telltale clearly had no intention of addressing. Now, after so many games, not even the narrative is enough anymore because the whole routine has become rather… Well, rather routine. No changes in mechanics, gameplay, or design compared to the rest of the series, and a narrative that feels like it’s treading old ground. I want to like TWD: A New Frontier, I really do, but Telltale have hit a new low with this one.
As always, the game is just chockers with charmers like this one.
By this point in the series, Telltale’s The Walking Dead is ostensibly a story about Clementine. A New Frontier might have switched things up with Javi as the playable character, and even went as far as introducing a slew of new characters with their own connections to him. Ultimately, however, the story often revolves around what Clementine does, and her role in the events are far more interesting than anything else going on. How could it not be? She’s been the only consistent character for three “seasons” now. That’s why it was so frustrating that, at least for my playthrough, she didn’t feature as much as I felt she should have. Perhaps that’s all because of the choices I made and mine was just the most boring timeline. Somehow, though, I doubt it.
Playing Javi wasn’t really an enjoyable experience, partly because he flip-flops between trying to appease everyone or being an asshole to everyone. There’s rarely a middle-ground, and taking it whenever it appears rewards you with seeing just how spineless his character can be. It likely doesn’t help that his friends and family are equally indecisive, treacherous in their own ways, or just downright stupid. Past experience with the previous seasons and Clem also meant that, in the long run, I couldn’t bring myself to care about anyone besides her. Whatever I felt was going to benefit her was what I went with. If it was a choice that didn’t involve her at all, I went with whatever I thought would be funniest because I didn’t care if it landed Javi or his group in hot water or not.
“Sometimes… Sometimes it just feels like my life is controlled by this powerful, unfeeling force, you know?”
A big part of this is that Telltale took away the one thing that kept me going throughout this series: Clementine. She is almost a side character for a good portion of the game, usually disappearing for long periods of time before suddenly showing up for pivotal moments in the plot. It’s as though the writers couldn’t decide if they were going to cut Clem with a hand-off to Javi or keep her around for a third party view of her actions a la Lee. This feels especially true when you consider the story that surrounds A New Frontier, and how incredibly similar it feels in comparison to the other games. Whatever expectations the title “A New Frontier” might stir in you for new narrative ideas, trust me when I tell you to cast them aside now to avoid disappointment.
Most of the new characters feel a little samey, which will happen when you use the same kind of villains and environments, in the same ways, for three games in a row. It quickly becomes apparent that a lot has transpired in the time between Season Two and A New Frontier. It would have left some gaps in the narrative if the game had been kept entirely in the present. To resolve this, Telltale uses flashback sequences like commas, dropping them into each episode whenever they’re about to use something that’s never been seen before as a plot device. It really feels like they could have easily taken a bunch of the content from A New Frontier and released something like 400 Days as a prologue to this season. Instead, it just makes the writers look like schizophrenic hobos telling a story only half-remembered.
Oh my God, this is all I’ve wanted to do for, like, three games now.
Regarding design, gameplay, and presentation, nothing else has really changed, which is kind of the hallmark of most Telltale titles of late. I’ve banged on about this in more than a few articles in the past, so I’ll keep it simple here: The formula that Telltale uses for these point’n’click-interactive drama hybrids hasn’t changed in years. It was novel and exciting when they first started using it, though it needed work. Now it’s five years later, and I’m basically playing the same games I was in 2012. The over-reliance on quick-time-events to provide some semblance of actual gameplay because there’s almost nothing else is beyond tiresome at this point.
In fact, I’m sure that Telltale are even aware of this themselves as there were noticeably fewer QTE sections in this season than others, the only issue being that they weren’t replaced with anything else. Some that were present were entirely inconsequential, as well, because I totally missed them while distracted by what was happening on-screen and received exactly no punishment as a result. So, we’ve got a new cast of characters with the charisma of dried dog turds, the same design we’ve seen for five years now, and even less gameplay than was already present. This isn’t the way to fix your games, Telltale; if something comes out, something else has to go in to replace it. Otherwise, what else have you got?
Shit. You’ve got a lot of shit in your hands where there should be a game.
It took me a long time to get back around to finishing off The Walking Dead: A New Frontier for full review, and, honestly, it’s because I knew exactly what it was going to be like. TWD games from Telltale these days are the same as all their other titles of this “hybrid” genre. Literally, their designs are all the same with different skins; it’s boring, and they’ve been somehow getting away with it for five years now. A New Frontier is no different, and it’s disappointing as I’ve really enjoyed the Walking Dead games up to this point. However, considering the lack of direction with the narrative, and the generally unlikeable cast present in this series, it’s clear that the well of ideas for Telltale to draw from is running dry. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll probably want to play it in prep for the final season. Otherwise, this is nothing special. Perhaps it’s a good thing that the next season of TWD is the final one from Telltale.