It’s easy to underestimate just how influential Telltale Games’ adaptation of The Walking Dead has proved for episodic game development. With the release of Season One, the company built on previous successes such as its Back to the Future series to deliver a true gaming classic, packing a memorable set of characters, a heart-wrenching story, and inventive gameplay elements.
An additional season, DLC episode and mini-series have since followed. Now, the beloved franchise returns to not only continue the story of young Clementine from the first two seasons, but develop an entirely new tale surrounding family man Javier and his ever-growing band of survivors.
It’s been a while since Season Two was in development, and the Xbox One and PS4 were mere debutants back then. The Walking Dead: A New Frontier remedies this issue for console players with a game save import option, and there’s also an excellent story generator that helps to craft a tailored story from scratch. I wasn’t in possession of my personal save file at Telltale’s review event, but the well-designed nature of this system negated the need for it.
The premiere of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is a two-part affair, and it’s a welcome move. This season doesn’t follow from where we left off, and the significant timeline jump results in an initial episode that works to establish new characters and factions. This allows series newcomers to become invested right away, and Telltale is clearly eager for them to do so, given the absence of the words “Season Three” from the game’s title. Long-term fans haven’t been ignored, however, with numerous references to previous seasons and the comic universe littered throughout.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead has become synonymous with the iconic character of Clementine, but she’s not the sole focus this time around. Instead, A New Frontier’s opening hour largely serves to acquaint us with Javier and his emotionally complex and diverse family. This is achieved in the form of flashbacks and character-building segments, and they help to build an emotional attachment, adding necessary gravitas to later events.
After the game lays this groundwork, Clementine joins the fray. The teenager only bears an occasional resemblance to the 11-year-old of Season Two. She is no longer the squeaky-clean little girl of previous seasons, having grown up troubled and distrustful. While she’s still a kind-hearted presence, her new-found complexity makes it difficult to side with her in the midst of certain debates. It feels like a natural progression given the character’s history, and A New Frontier’s story benefits considerably as a result.
Javier’s tale is littered with shocks and tough decisions following the introduction of the titular ‘New Frontier’: a mysterious band of antagonists who aren’t necessarily as black-and-white in their motives as they initially appear. Both sides of the conflict are fueled by a set of characters that are largely memorable and show promise for later episodes, and Javier himself steals the show.
That said, it’s a shame that we’re not given even more time to get invested in them. There’s only so much that can be achieved in each 75-minute episode, and the story is often forced to move at a blistering pace as a result. Season Two suffered due to its short running length, and the same can be said about the two-part premiere of A New Frontier. An extra collective hour would have given the story and its characters more room to breathe.
Another gripe relates to a flashback scene that reflected my actions in previous events. While I appreciate the effort in tying up loose ends, the scene felt rushed, forced and entirely unsatisfying in its conclusion. Additional flashbacks that were more generic in nature were handled in a more agreeable fashion.
It’s bizarre to get two-thirds of the way into a review without mentioning gameplay, but veterans of Telltale’s creations will know exactly what to expect. Quick-time events populate A New Frontier’s action scenes, while minor exploration elements and timed player choices are included as standard. The PC version ran smoothly throughout my time with it, rarely suffering from slowdown or similar issues on a provided Alienware laptop.
The game engine also benefits from an enhanced graphical style over previous entries in the series. Although voices and facial movements don’t always match up as intended, the new engine adds greater detail to environments and the characters that populate them, as well as retaining the unique visual style of previous seasons. Additionally, Jared Emerson-Johnson’s subtle score complements these visuals to great effect.
I went into the premiere of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier with high expectations as a fan of the series. Aside from a handful of concerns, the two-part debut captivated my interest, concluding with a revealing cliff-hanger that left me eager to get my hands on episode three. I just hope the next iteration is a little lengthier.
Episodes 1 & 2 of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier were played at a Telltale Games review event in London, UK. Both episodes are currently available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Mac, Windows, Android, and iOS.