The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is the third full season in Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead franchise. In it, you control a former baseball player named Javi who is trying to take care of his brother’s wife and two children. Of course, while hunting for food and gas and dodging zombies, you run afoul of an aggressive, militaristic group of survivors, which takes up the brunt of the game. Clementine also makes an appearance, but she’s purely a secondary character this time out.
As has been the case for all of Telltale’s games recently, A New Frontier is simply an interactive movie, where you get to make choices that have little or no impact upon how the story unfolds. Unfortunately, the writing is poor enough, and the game is so short (clocking in at only 7 hours for me), that the railroading aspects of the game are much more visible and annoying here than they’ve been previously.
As an example, at one point I killed a guy who was threatening my family, and when I told the other people in my group about it, they seemed fine about what happened. But then two episodes later, the killing comes back up, and everybody goes ballistic about what I did, which causes somebody to betray me. You see, the betrayal has to happen for the story to unfold the way Telltale wants, and so you get shoehorned into something that ignores how you played earlier.
At other points, if you do the “wrong” thing then somebody else does the “right” thing to force the story along. Or if you give the “wrong” order then somebody else claims they can’t hear you, and they do the opposite. Or if you rebuff somebody’s advances, everybody thinks you’re a couple anyway, and you end up getting in trouble for having an affair. All of this junk makes the interactive parts of the game unsatisfying, to the point where I wonder if Telltale’s games would be better if they stopped trying to have so many choices and consequences, and focused more on story elements, action sequences, and puzzles.
To make matters worse, the writing in A New Frontier is so by-the-numbers that it doesn’t hold any surprises. You can probably guess about 90% of what happens just from the premise. It’s like Telltale saw a list of boxes they needed to check off for a zombie story, and they carefully filled them out: a rescue, an escape, a betrayal, and a herd of zombies — check, check, check, check. Plus, the adults are so generic, or we learn so little about them, that they’re boring, and Telltale is only able to evoke any sort of emotional response by putting children in danger — or worse. Telltale also apparently doesn’t know anything about professional baseball, and I kept rolling my eyes whenever they presented some of Javi’s backstory.
Other than the pedestrian story, A New Frontier plays about the same as Telltale’s other games. You use the WASD keys to move you character around, and you use the mouse to interact with hotspots. When a conversation starts up, you usually get four responses to choose from, but you’re only given a short amount of time to make your decision. And when there’s action, you have to press keys at the right time, either the WASD keys to dodge or the QE keys to grapple and take actions. Thankfully, A New Frontier only requires the shift key a couple of times, so it’s not too difficult to complete the action sequences.
A New Frontier also continues Telltale’s trend of giving their games good production values. The graphics are effective, the voice acting is solid, and the engine is bug free, although once again the installed shortcut failed to work for me, and I had to launch the game from a special option in my Steam client.
Since Telltale’s games don’t have much to rely on other than the story, a “filler” script like the one A New Frontier has just kills the game. There isn’t anything to get excited about, you can probably spot most of the twists and plot elements coming a mile away, and your control over what happens is minimal at best. Really, instead of buying the game, you could just watch posted videos of the episodes and get the same experience. So it’s safe to skip A New Frontier unless you’re a dedicated fan of the franchise, and even then you should wait for a sale (which seems to happen to Telltale’s games with regularity). Hopefully Telltale can get their act together in time for Season 4, which has already been announced.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Telltale Games
This review is based on a digital copy of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier for the PC provided by Telltale Games.