The long-awaited season three of Telltale’s The Walking Dead is here and suitably titled ‘A New Frontier.’ Not just because that’s the name of the main antagonistic group, but because Telltale has improved its emotional writing while still preventing repetition and staleness. New scenarios break through the mold. Sure you know people are going to die, but you don’t know when or how. Everything about episode one and two is incredibly fresh and this season is looking to be the best Walking Dead experience in any format. I’ll reign in my excitement a tiny bit so I can bring you our review of Telltale Games’ latest creation.
Episode one starts out with our new main character, Javier Garcia. We are first taken to the moments the walkers first came to life and introduced to Javier’s family. Sadly, one of them, his father, is on death’s door and due to situations out of his control, Javier fails to make it in time for his father’s passing. Naturally tempers flare and things go about as well as you’d expect for people going through a zombie apocalypse. Meanwhile we’re introduced to Javier and he’s quite the character. He’s a former baseball star that was disgraced for gambling and can be viewed as a lazy slacker. However, beyond this flawed character is where the player comes in. As usual with choice based games, you can determine if your guy is caring and trustworthy to a fault or a stoned jackass who doesn’t care what anyone thinks and anything in between. There is some depth with the choices but as usual with Telltale, your choices are nothing more than a means to an end. Only very few moments will truly effect the overall story.
We’re eventually taken to present-day where only a small portion of the family has survived and Javier is doing his best to keep everyone together. Along for the ride is Kate, Javier’s brother’s (who is presumed dead) wife, Marianna, Kate’s “daughter,” and Gabe, Kate’s “son.” Both of the kids are Javier’s brother’s biological kids. The group is currently doing what it takes to survive and for them it’s always driving and finding resources to continue their road adventure. These characters (among the rest in the episodes) are superbly written. Everyone has their own personalities and their motivations are very believable, however annoyingly stereotypical. When someone felt any emotion you knew why and could come to terms with the why. Even if crap hits the fan. In Walking Dead fashion our group’s plans eventually hit a snag with their scavenging and they wander into the crosshairs of The New Frontier. This villainous group is a band of misfits who claim to be upholding justice but their beliefs are often selfish in nature. Let’s just say it doesn’t take a lot to hate this group for what they do and what they say. A perfect opposing force to go up against, then.
Things happen, heroes get separated, Clementine arrives (duh!), new characters enter the fray, and conflict appears in many forms. Surviving zombies is tense and thrilling, navigating conversations with people is as stressful as ever, and keeping everyone alive is a mature, yet fun challenge. Also, these episodes are rated M for a reason folks. Coming across Clem again is easily a standout of the first two episodes. Not only is she a bona-fide badass but she’s one who doesn’t take excuses and someone I’d be afraid to go up against. Still (depending on your season two choices) she knows when to show her humanity and when to pop a fool. A situation between her and a merchant being shady was definitely a highlight. Episode two deals with the fallout of the first episode’s consequences and a larger group trying to find refuge at a rumored compound. New conflicts and struggles are still as fleshed out as ever and scenarios never fall flat. Not to mention plot twist after plot twist.
The gameplay remains unchanged from previous entries and is more or less a point and click adventure when not in scripted scenes or conversation. You can look at objects, interact with them if the plot demands it, and talk to characters. When in conversation you can choose from silence, the caring pick, the jerk option, or general indifferene. For the most part what you decide to say is relayed as you would expect it to, but on one occassion the character’s words weren’t what I’d have expected from the dialogue choice. Again the great characters contribute to the decision-making and you really feel like your having a two-way conversation. When the personalities aren’t carrying the plot, the writing most definitely is. There are times where events hit you in nearly every emotion and some more than one at a time. Other times moments get incredibly tense and they don’t ease off until the scene has run its course. I can’t really say it more than once but Telltale is as good as it has ever been with the plot and development. The first two episodes lasted about three hours which is more or less about average for two of these types of games.
Telltale’s new engine, which they also used for their Batman series, has done The Walking Dead series justice. Animations are no longer wooden or stiff and character designs are crisp. Clementine especially, or as I called her, platonic bae. Her hair curls are neat and face structure is well crafted. Even though the graphics aren’t amazing, the characters are closer than ever to actual people. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t fix the technical problems that are notorious in Telltale titles. The loading screens take a little while and scenes will occasionally freeze for a few seconds. The worst issue was a complete game crash in the middle of running away from zombies in a train tunnel. It really took me out of the moment and ruined the tension.
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Reviewed on a base PS4 console.