Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Review Platform: PC
Release Date: December 20, 2016
Due to the nature of Telltale’s games, this review is going to have two parts. The first part will be spoiler-free, and discuss the technical and gameplay aspects, and the second will be spoiler-filled and feature more focus on story. The PC which this was reviewed on features an nVidia GTX 970, an Intel i7-4790k at 4.0GHz, and 8gb DDR3 RAM.
With the release of every Telltale game, it seems that everyone’s first question is if the engine has gotten any better. While the problems seem to mostly be relegated to the console versions, I’ve personally run into few serious issues with the publisher’s games in the past, the most notably coming from season one of The Walking Dead, when I lost my save a few times. That said, A New Frontier performs better than any of Telltale’s previous games.
Granted, I haven’t played far enough in to experience broken saves or anything of the like (and I’ll be sure to mention if I do!), the frame rate was damn near perfect. With the added performance increase and flashier graphics, people look decidedly less cartoonish, as do the environments and zombies. While the style is certainly off-putting at first, it’s a clear sign of the maturation of the engine. If Telltale wants to continue using this engine with other franchises, it needs to be versatile and universal, and the look and feel of A New Frontier is certainly that.
If anything negative comes of this upgraded engine, it’s that The Walking Dead loses a lot of what made the series the definitive comic book game that it was before. Instead, this appears to be more in line with the popular TV series of the same name. That mimicry stretches beyond the basic appearances. A New Frontier is hands-down the most cinematic experience that Telltale has created thus far. Because there aren’t any awkward pauses in action, or the aforementioned brief blank screens between scenes, the director of A New Frontier is able to position his “camera” and direct his “actors” to levels that previously the series could’ve only hoped to achieve. The opening sequence in particular is impressive.
But few are playing Telltale games for their graphics. If you’re playing A New Frontier, you’re almost certainly in it for the story. The spoiler-free synopsis of episode one is that it’s mainly here to introduce you to the new characters. You’ll take control of Javi who, after the zombie outbreak – a sequence we get to experience for the first time since the first episode of the first season – finds himself with various members of his family as they attempt to live on the run from the ever-looming threat of zombies. Of course, Javi and company experience the harsh realities of a post-apocalyptic America, complete with friends and foes.
To put it plainly, A New Frontier is incredibly successful at introducing these new characters, much better than how something similar was handled in season two. The decision to feature a near-all latino cast of characters gives a fresh perspective on the outbreak and apocalypse. Entire sequences are spoken in Spanish. The zombies are referred to as “los Muertos” (I always get a kick out of the many ways the writers try their damndest to not refer to the zombies as “zombies”). The series has always featured a racially and culturally diverse cast, rarely cheapening characters with the use of stereotypes, and that tradition continues with the latest season.
Again, I want to state that this is now spoiler territory and assumes you’ve played the game already. You can scroll down and still see the score and summary free of spoilers, you know, if that’s your thing.
A New Frontier succeeds plot-wise with what is most important. It introduces and develops a new cast of characters and does an amazing job of getting you to care about them in a considerably brief amount of time. In fact, these new characters are so well done that when Clementine eventually shows up, I found myself decidedly less interested in her and what she’s been up to. It’s not until a flashback that I was even reminded we’d last seen her with a baby (not hers). Of course, all of this is a testament to A New Frontier and Telltale’s exceptional growth as storytellers that a character we’ve seen grow through two entire seasons seems less developed than the handful we’ve only just met.
The secondary characters – the ones we meet later in the episode – are also really nice additions, particularly Eleanor and Tripp, despite much smaller roles. The villains leave a bit to be desired, however. We’ve yet to meet a villain in this series that comes close to matching someone like The Governor from the comics and television show. This season desperately needs a great villain to match its great characters, one we can come to know and hate, while getting excited to see every time they’re on screen – a Darth Vader of the series.
Undoubtedly the thing that everyone will be talking about is the game’s shocking finale. It’s not going to work for everyone, that much is clear based on Twitter and comments from other sites. The death of a young girl is surprising to say the least, especially in such a blunt fashion. Telltale isn’t afraid to show a child take a bullet to the head, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily something that ought to be applauded.
The Walking Dead brand seems to be pushing further and further into basing its identity around needlessly shocking moments. The show kills off central characters in terribly grotesque ways that rarely serve a purpose beyond disgusting the viewer. I can’t speak for the more recent story arches in the comic, but last I read Carl gets shot in the face and loses an eye. These moments feel like they’re created to highlight their brutality, and the moment in the end of episode one of A New Frontier walks that line. Of course, that’s the point that The Walking Dead has been trying to shove down our throats this whole time – the world has turned into a ruthless, brutal place – but these moments must be earned for them to hold any significance beyond their brutality.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure Mariana’s death feels earned, at least not in this way. If the game wants me to feel something beyond shock and disgust at the death of a child, it needs to make me care about that character ahead of time. Remember, if you will, the death of Duck in the first season. While he was a character that few of us cared for, we cared for his parents, particularly his father. Duck and Katjaa’s death were impactful to the story because they were impactful to Kenny, and because we’d worked to befriend Kenny as Lee for so long, we were bummed -or at least I was – for Kenny.
Mariana’s clearly important to Javi in A New Frontier, but the story heavily favors developing his relationship with his two other family members – Kate and Gabe – over his relationship with Mariana. I stated above that “I’m not sure Mariana’s death feels earned” and I mean that. I’m undecided, even after thinking about it in depth. These moments will definitely impact the following episodes, so it’s possible that Telltale will handle her death better in episode two, allowing us to better realize why we should care. But the headshot, and more importantly showing it, wasn’t exactly needed.