Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clementine… is not the lead character anymore.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is the third season of Telltale’s point-and-click adventure series. It follows Javier Garcia (Jeff Schine), disgraced athlete turned survivor trying to get by with sister-in-law Kate (Shelly Shenoy), nephew Gabe (Raymond Ochoa) and niece Mariana (Vale De La Maza). While on the road trying to escape a massive zombie horde, the group comes across the violent organisation calling themselves the New Frontier, as well as young hardened survivor Clementine (Melissa Hutchison) who is still reeling after the events of season 2.
Even though this is the third season in Telltale’s premier series, this is actually a surprisingly effective jumping on point for any newcomers. Aside from Clementine’s history, these new characters are introduced completely fresh as the people to root for. While the previous two seasons I consumed episode by episode (and possess some of my favourite gaming moments of all time), when A New Frontier came around my sense of better judgement won out and I forced myself to wait for all five episodes to be released before I dived into the emotional turmoil known as Telltale’s Walking Dead.
And it was worth it! Mostly. While it fumbles in a few ways, the writing and characters are on par with what’s to be expected thus far. Javier’s story hits the ground running and is immediately both engaging and unique from the rest of the series. There’s some great family drama and dynamics that Telltale consistently capitalises on throughout the entire season, and influencing how those conflicts play out is as satisfying as ever. As per usual, the interactive dialogue is more interested in influencing character relationships rather than the plot, and for the most part much of this pays off – even if a few threads feel unfinished depending on your decisions. However, as good as the strengths of this season are, it does get held back by some occasionally iffy dialogue and one character in particular – Gabe – being incredibly hard to sympathise with. To any viewers of the show, lets just say Gabe is this season’s Carrrrl and you immediately know what I’m talking about. He’s whiny, emotional and typically a frustrating character to deal with, and unfortunately that’s a hard knock against a game series built around its strong characters.
Speaking of strong characters, Clementine returns with a vengeance in this season. Now relegated to the supporting role after being the protagonist of season two, it initially feels weird to see the character she’s turned into between seasons. Time after time in the first few episodes I caught myself thinking ‘my Clem wouldn’t do that’, and while over time what happened to her between seasons does become clear, its still a hard position to be in – especially considering I’m more attached to Clementine after season one and two than almost any other fictional character in history. Thankfully though, actress Melissa Hutchison does a fantastic job selling the tough young woman Clem has become, and continues to deliver one of the strongest performances in any Telltale series. In fact, all the performances across the board are up to par with Telltale’s legacy. I don’t know how their casting director manages it, but I’m yet to hear a bad performance in this series and its all the stronger for it.
As gameplay goes, there’s nothing new here. You make decisions, build relationships, pause occasionally to explore a small area and then mash some buttons to kill some muertos. Nothing changes here, nor does it necessarily have to. However, what has changed is that this is Telltale’s most technically sound season to date. Aside from a handful of graphical glitches and one frustrating crash, A New Frontier runs smoother than a walker slidin’ on ice. Perhaps one of the benefits of waiting, or they’re finally getting their act together, but its a criticism that has been long overdue needing a fix.
In conclusion, A New Frontier still lives up to the legacy of the previous seasons in many ways, with some great characters, writing and tough decisions. While its bogged down with Gabe and some occasionally iffy dialogue, it still remains a solid entry in the series, even if it doesn’t surpass its predecessors. Lets hope this technical smoothing is a sign of things to come when Telltale’s Batman returns for a second season in a few weeks time.
Casual Gamers: Highly Recommended
Hardcore Gamers: Recommended
Narrative-drivers: Highly Recommended