The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – episodes 1 & 2 review

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  • Format: Xbox One (version reviewed),  PS4, Mac, PC, Vita
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Telltale Games
  • Developer: Telltale Games
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://www.telltalegames.com/walkingdead
  • Game code provided by the publisher

Telltale have taken the slightly unusual step of starting a season off by releasing the first two episodes simultaneously, so we’ve taken the slightly unusual step of bundling two different episodes into one review. Thankfully, this doesn’t pose most of the problems that it ordinarily might; because they’re both fantastic.

The Walking Dead’s third season drops you into the worn shoes of Javi who, we learn through bits and pieces of expert storytelling, was something of a cheat and a loser before the world fell apart. Of course, your pre-zombie life counts for little in the world of The Walking Dead. Post-apocalypse, he’s driving a van around with his sister-in-law, nephew, and niece, trying to balance basic survival with defusing some teenager-stepmother tension.

While still not exactly pushing any machine to its limits, the graphics look more detailed and smoother here than in previous seasons. Although ultimately unimportant, this does help keep the immersion going (but unfortunately, the game froze on us for about fifteen seconds at one point). In fact everything – in the first two episodes, at least – comes together to create and sustain intense storytelling that rises far, far above the dregs that we have come to accept as the norm for videogame stories. The script is relentlessly sharp; the acting superb; the direction effective without being ostentatious; and the themes, vitally, relatable and very much human.

Although we start off with Javi, it’s not too long before Clementine appears. The one constant throughout these games, it’s like seeing a good friend after a long absence. She’s a little older, a little harder, and overall a little hard to decode. If you’ve followed her since she first came onto the scene with Lee, it’s hard to not feel a strange mixture of pride and sadness at what she’s become. It doesn’t matter that ‘she’ is just a bunch of ones and zeroes. Telltale have successfully made her more than that, forever. It must be said though that, if you choose to jump straight in to this season without playing the others, Clementine will almost certainly come across as flat and underdeveloped.

Playing A New Frontier without playing any of the other Telltale games is an option, if that’s what you want to do. Although there are flashbacks, and brief references to past characters and events via Clementine, everything holds water perfectly well if you didn’t play through the previous stories. Even better, you have a variety of options in terms of how you start the story. You can flat-out start afresh, import a save from your device (or through the ‘Telltale cloud’) or, in one of those “why hasn’t this been done before?” ideas, you can (with very broad strokes) create your own history for Clementine with a quick summary of choices from the first two seasons.

As usual, the events and atmosphere match the comics and TV show without resorting to dressing up existing storylines in the emperor’s new clothes. You’ll kill a fair few zombies, yet the undead largely serve as a grim backdrop rather than anything else. What steers the script with much more force than the presence of zombies is the way in which extreme stress will bring out the best, the worst, and the most unexpected from people.

This is, as ever, a script-driven game. More so than previous seasons in fact, as you are (or so it seems) given less scenes than usual with complete freedom of movement. This isn’t a bad thing, and in fact only adds to the strength of the experience. As it happens, the rarity of sections that are closest to a traditional videogame highlights still further that they are – like it or not – the weakest spots. When you’re given control so that you can search for resources or find a way forward, the thunderous pace of the storytelling immediately drops, and you soon find yourself itching for less control rather than more. Aiming remains floaty and imprecise, and regardless of the truth of it, definitely feels like a technical flaw rather than a stylistic choice. Generously placed checkpoints do at least mean that if you mess up, you won’t have to sit through reams of dialogue or cutscenes before getting another go. In a game where the story is everything, this was a wise and extremely important decision.

Both episodes end on powerful and completely unexpected cliffhangers, and the second episode even introduces a canon character (or, if nothing else, Telltale’s interpretation of that canon character. We shall see). A New Frontier, thus far, serves as the strongest possible reminder that nobody in the industry is better suited to a videogame adaptation of The Walking Dead than Telltale.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He’s the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you’ll find something he’s written in there.

Luke doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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