With a two part premiere, Season 3 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead not only proves there is still some life in the developer’s standard-bearer series, but also manages to kick off an emotional story in fine style. It’s been a long time since we last saw Clementine, and Ties That Bind gives her a fitting return alongside a whole new cast of characters.
Given it’s been a number of years since Season 2, and an entire console generation jump, A New Frontier is meant to be a fresh starting point for new players. While Clementine does return, the game is structured very much as a new narrative, able to stand on it’s own, separate from Seasons 1 and 2. If you have played the previous games, you can import your save or simply reconstruct one through a series of major choices (if your saves are on a last-gen console for instance). But even then, this has a limited affect, since Clementine is not the real focus of the story.
Establishing itself as a new narrative, Ties That Bind starts right off the bat with introducing Javier, or Javi, the new protagonist for the game. The majority of the narrative follows Javi, with his family and personal struggles being the main driving forces behind A New Frontier’s first two episodes. The first half-hour or so is devoted to introducing this new cast, including Javi, his sister-in-law Kate, and his niece and nephew. The one true weak point of the premiere is how slowly it starts. From a largely non-interactive opening set before the initial outbreak, to a car ride and a calm search through a junkyard, Ties That Bind does little to hook you in its first few scenes.
As it turns out however, this is time well spent. Once things get going, they don’t let up. Though the opening is slow, it helps you build a real connection with the new characters before Clementine enters the fray and bullets really start to fly.
Save for a number of flashbacks that show Javi before the outbreak and Clementine during the years following Season 2, the story of A New Frontier takes place four years after the outbreak. That places it just about even with the current Walking Dead comics (or a bit further ahead if the appearance of a certain fan-favorite character is any indication). People have learned how to deal with walkers by now, the real trouble coming from the wars between the different settlements. While this is nothing new for The Walking Dead, A New Frontier manages to make the human vs. human conflicts feel fresh, mostly due the interactions between Javi and Clementine.
Despite Telltale’s insistence that the two are dual-protagonists, the only time you step into Clem’s shoes is during a couple of relatively short flashbacks, the first of which quickly ties up any loose ends from your Season 2 story. While later episodes might differ, Ties That Bind is very much Javi’s narrative, with Clem introduced as an integral supporting character instead of a protagonist. But this allows Clem to embrace the stoic, gun-totting, mysterious persona that fits her older, more hardened character so well. She is a far cry from the scared little girl we first saw in Season 1, and it’s intriguing to explore the peculiarity of her character through someone else’s eyes.
In many ways, Javi and his family stand in harsh contrast to her. With the insinuation that they have almost entirely kept to themselves and stayed on the move for four years, they aren’t nearly as battle-worn or cynical as most others. Some small details, like Javi’s niece and nephew not having used guns before, come off as a little unbelievable, especially given the examples of Clem and Carl. But it’s more than likely future episodes will place a greater emphasis on what Javi and the others have been doing since the outbreak. Until then, Telltale asks us to simply go along with it, the main focus being the relationship between the world-weary Clem and the far-less-damaged Javi.
Ties That Bind does an excellent job of filling out the cast and building plenty of tension to carry on into the rest of the season. The conflict revolves around a group of survivors called the New Frontier. Most impressively, Telltale manages to take that conflict and make it deeply personal for all the characters involved, something The Walking Dead: Michonne struggled with for instance. Add this to the thoughtfully balanced use of flashbacks, and you end up with a meaningful investment in each of the primary characters. Some longtime fans may have issue with how swiftly, and brutally, the game sweeps your major decisions from Season 2 aside, but in all, it places Clementine in the position required to deliver some of Ties That Bind’s best moments.
Put together, the two episodes of the premiere total roughly two and a half hours. In terms of gameplay, Telltale isn’t straying too far from the formula, dialogue choices and pivotal decisions making up the largest part of how you actually interact with the game. If you have played any of the other Walking Dead games, let alone the rest of Telltale’s modern portfolio, A New Frontier will be par for the course.
Where the title manages to stand out however, is in just how good it looks and runs. While almost every episode of Batman- The Telltale Series crashed at least once during my time with them, A New Frontier never had any serious performance issues. Aside from the rare frame-rate dip, the first two episodes ran uncharacteristically smooth.
That level of quality then extends through every aspect of the game. While it comes as no surprise that the writing and voice acting are strong, character animations and textures have both seen noticeable improvements. The detail work, especially in character’s faces, makes A New Frontier arguably the best-looking Telltale game to date. Couple these enhancements with a fittingly minimalist UI, and you can’t help but fall into the world.
Fans have waited to see the fate of Clementine for years now. Though we are only two episodes into the five-episode season, it already looks as if the wait was worth it. Javi is a solid addition to the Walking Dead world, and seeing his relationship with Clem develop is more than enough reason to be excited for the rest of A New Frontier. While the game certainly doesn’t reinvent the Telltale-wheel, it improves just enough to keep longtime fans happy, and offers an excellent place for new players to jump in.
This game was reviewed on a PS4 console, with a copy purchased by the reviewer.
- Introduces an intriguing conflict
- An excellent jumping in point
- Runs smoothly and looks great
- Slow start
- Doesn't give enough explaination of what Javi has been doing for 4 years