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‘The Walking Dead: A New Frontier’: Our first take

Telltale's The Walking Dead still has life in it in season 3

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is a masterful and ambitious continuation of Telltale’s flagship series for new players and series fans alike.

The Walking Dead wasn’t Telltale Games’ first episodic adventure series, but its 2012 adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s iconic zombie apocalypse comic series (and subsequent television show) was definitely a turning point for the studio. Its breakout success paved the way for other high-profile franchise partnerships, such as Game of Thrones, Batman, or the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy, but fans’ investment in the survival story of Clementine may mean the newly begun third season of The Walking Dead is Telltale’s most anticipated game yet.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier picks up Clementine’s story following the brutal events of Season two, but first it loops back to the first days of the zombie apocalypse in order to introduce its new protagonist, Javier Garcia, in a two-part season opening: “Ties that Bind”. “Javi” is a disgraced former baseball player who was banned from professional play over a gambling scandal. We open on him belatedly joining the rest of his family for the death of their father. Javi is established as kind of a screw-up, and tensions with his brother run high. Interpersonal drama is soon set aside, however, when the dead start rising.

Flash forward several years and Javi is on the road with his sister-in-law, Kate, and her teenage stepson and stepdaughter (Javi’s niece and nephew), desperately trying to stay ahead of a shambling herd of walkers, or “muertos”, as Javi et al. call them. With the rest of their family presumed dead, Javi and the gang’s nerves are wearing thin under the relentless pressure to keep moving or die. Soon thereafter they meet a hardened little girl with a shotgun, Clementine from the previous two seasons, and the narrative really gets going. As is often the case in zombie narratives, the greatest danger is often other people, encapsulated here in a dangerous, powerful, and mysterious new faction, the eponymous New Frontier.

“Ties that Bind” is a great opening act to the season for both new players and longtime fans alike.

Starting with Javi as a brand new character allows new players to get acclimated in the world without worrying that they’re missing anything important. The game offers plenty for returning players as well, though, in addition to some familiar faces from the comics and television show as well.

Two seasons (and two expansions) in, there are a lot of branches on Walking Dead’s branching path for Telltale to consider going into A New Frontier in order to respect series continuity. It’s a real testament to Telltale’s seasoned hand that the studio didn’t side-step the problem by starting with a wholly new story in the Walking Dead universe (like the season’s title and lack of numeral may have suggested). A New Frontier has over 40 starting states based on variables from the previous two seasons. Players can upload their save files from previous titles to Telltale’s servers in order to shape their story, or use an easy in-game questionnaire to reconstruct their choices, which can also serve as a great refresher if it’s been a while since playing. Mostly, these choices shape Clementine’s appearance and personality for your particular playthrough, affecting things like how she may be maimed, what memories she talks about, and generally how hardened she has become.

More: ‘Batman: The Telltale Series’ Episode 1 Review

As the title suggests, “Ties That Bind” strongly continues The Walking Dead’s theme of families: those we are born into, those we fall into, and those we choose. Javi stumbling into the role of a father figure for his niece and nephew calls back to Lee and Clementine from the first season. The recurring refrain of “X will remember that” after you make choices serves as a potent mechanical reflection of parenting when it affects impressionable children witnessing your actions. Similarly, Seeing how Clementine has been shaped by the previous two seasons is a striking reminder of how your decisions have long-term consequences.

Mechanically, A New Frontier does nothing to shake up Telltale’s well-honed formula. Most of the gameplay action is conversational, shaping other characters’ opinions of you, punctuated by binary decisions of concrete actions to take. Given the zombie apocalypse setting, those decisions generally revolve around who lives or dies, either directly or indirectly from your actions. These clear, life-or-death stakes lend themselves well to Telltale’s branching narrative format, and may be part of why this series has been particularly successful for the studio.

Telltale’s particular brand of adventure games are something of a known quantity now. Telltale has admirably experimented with new mechanics and types of gameplay in new series like its take on Batman, but A New Frontier is well honed, and as good an example as you could hope to find of mastery over its own fundamentals. For fans, this is a no brainer–A New Frontier is a masterful and ambitious continuation of Telltale’s flagship series, that rewards their investment while also serving as a good starting point to share with newcomers. Players turned off by the previous Telltale games, either because of their lack of interactivity or the transparency of its mechanics, will likely remain unmoved.

We played the first two episodes of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier on PC at an event hosted by the developer.

Highs:

  • Rewards returning players while welcoming the new
  • Greatest starting variability of any TT game so far
  • Looks great

Lows:

  • Telltale formula won’t win over skeptics