THE WALKING DEAD: A NEW FRONTIER/ Developed by TELLTALE GAMES/ Published by TELLTALE GAMES/ Distributed by WARNER BROS. INTERACTIVE ENTERTAINMENT
[WARNING – This reviews contains SPOILERS for The Walking Dead: The New Frontier.]
The Walking Dead has saturated pop culture unlike any post-apocalyptic property before. Robert Kirkman’s comic series continues to dominate the industry, with a run of over 150 issues that shows no signs of stopping. AMC’s The Walking Dead is practically unmatched in the ratings, even as quality and viewership declines. There’s apparel, board games, novels, action figures, prop replicas — just about anything a company can slap Norman Reedus’ face on in order to make a few bucks.
The Walking Dead is everywhere, meaning that by now there have been several tie-in video games, from mobile to shooters to RPGs. Without a doubt, the cream of The Walking Dead gaming crop is the Telltale Game Series. Set within the universe of Kirkman’s comic, these episodic adventures have a narrative created from players’ in-game choices, making it a perfect mechanic for exploring a world where even the simplest decisions can result in life or death scenarios. Whether choosing to keep moving or camp for the night, steal those supplies or not, the Telltale Game Series is best at reflecting the tough choices those in a zombie apocalypse are constantly making.
In its first season, Telltale’s The Walking Dead put players in the shoes of Lee Everett and asked them to not only navigate the post-outbreak landscape, but care for a young girl, Clementine, along the way. In its follow-up, The Walking Dead: Season Two, players took control of a slightly older Clementine, now more cynical and hardened by a life focused solely on survival. Needless to say, after caring for and then inhabiting Clementine, players are heavily invested in the character. And she’s a great character, mixing the naivety one expects of a someone her age with a world-weary attitude earned by her experiences.
the walking dead new frontier clementine javier
So when it comes to season 3, The Walking Dead: The New Frontier oddly decides to make Clementine a supporting character and not the lead. In this game, players are in control of Javier “Javi” Garcia, a washed-up baseball player with a gambling problem who finds himself protecting his sister-in-law, niece, and nephew once the world goes to hell. For the most part, Javier is a fine protagonist whose tense dynamic with his hot-headed brother, David makes for a compelling emotional through-line. But with Clementine right there, lingering on the sidelines, it’s frustrating that her journey isn’t the centerpiece. There are small sections of flashback in where players are able to participate in some of what Clementine and Alvin Jr. (the baby she became a surrogate mother for in Season Two) have been up to, but they are bread crumbs at best, only teasing what a proper continuation of Clementine’s story might have been.
More frustrating, The New Frontier has the gall to end with a cliffhanger that implies Clemetine’s adventure does continue, and we’ll just need to come back for the next game to find out how. Clearly, The New Frontier isn’t the Season 3 players should have expected, and it’s infuriating that the game was marketed in such a way. It’s understandable that Telltale wants to find a happy middle ground where new and veteran players can enjoy The New Frontier, but the end result just isn’t as satisfying. In this instance, they should have pulled a page from the comic’s playbook and accepted that this far along in the narrative just isn’t a good jumping on point for newcomers and direct them towards Season One instead.
As for the adventure at hand in The New Frontier, it is still entertaining if not quite as engrossing as the previous installments. This is partially because many of the big decisions The New Frontier has players making, they’ve made before and with larger investments in the characters. The magic of these games has always been that a player’s individual choices shape the outcome, but the strings are beginning to show. When asked to make a choice in where only one character lives and the other dies, it’s only too obvious that later on, that survivor will die too, because the outcomes can only be so dissimilar when every player must reach the same end point. It’s an unavoidable symptom of such innovative play style centered around choices, that eventually the players will wise up to what’s actually happening, but there must be a more creative way to hide the fact that a player’s choices matter only a little in the grand scheme. The same goes for Javi’s final decision — follow his brother or remain behind and aide Kate — either way, Kate winds up missing and your brother dead, removing a lot tension from the game’s grand finale.
The Walking Dead The New Frontier David Javier
Still, the relationships being tested and the performances given make for an enjoyable story, and there are moments which really shine — be they Javi and David grappling with family and personal responsibility or Javi’s mentoring of his nephew. These are interesting characters and their dilemmas can quickly turn heated and tragic, but they are lacking in emotional resonance. Plus, so much is left unresolved by the game’s final episode that the adventure feels incomplete. Will Telltale really being checking in with Javi and the surviving residents of Richmond? It’s doubtful, seeing as what’s promised next is Clementine searching for Alvin Jr., making The New Frontier feel even more like a one-off, side adventure than a true Season 3 in Telltale’s Walking Dead series.
The Walking Dead: The New Frontier provides much of what players have come to expect of the Telltale series — gruesome quick time actions, interesting dialogue, and compelling characters. But it also has a lot of what’s so frustrating about these games, like stupidly sensitive controls and obvious story manipulation, making The New Frontier a sampling of the best and the worst a Telltale gaming experience can offer.