If there’s one thing wrong with The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, it’s the “Season 3” aspect constantly being attached to it. On its own, A New Frontier is a good game. Not a “you can’t miss this game” sort but good enough that I’d recommend it like a good book: I expect a player to take some time with it, for the story to make an impact, but also for it to raise some good discussion questions. Sadly, the first of those questions is “Where is Clementine, the series protagonist?” Don’t worry, I’ll keep this review free of any major spoilers, but I will be dancing around issues that would be known to anyone who’s at least read the episode descriptions.
The Issue of Clementine
Although I hesitated to mention Clem’s initial absence, it’s one thing that many people noticed about the first part of the game, and at this point, it feels like something most people know by now. If not, it’s one of the few spoilers that I think should be noted before purchasing the game, as I know it’s been a sore spot for some people.
Telltale gave us two games with Clementine, a young African-American girl who’s growing up in the Walking Dead universe. In the first game, we’re trying to teach Clem how to survive. In the second, we are Clem. But in the third, Clem isn’t even what I’d consider a main character. She doesn’t even feel like a side character. She’s essentially a very strong cameo appearance, and for fans of the series, that sucks. She does change in noticeable ways depending on your choices from the past two games, both in terms of physical appearances and personality, but it may be difficult depending on your chosen platform (more on this later).
It’s not so big as to make the character unrecognizable, but as soon as you watch someone else play the game, you’ll notice small changes between your Clem and other people’s. Although that’s satisfying, I wish we’d gotten Clem as the star again. We’ve had her at the core of two games, and while changing her to a minor role makes it easier for a new player to jump into the series, it does sting for long time fans of the game. That being said, I still feel comfortable recommending the game to those who can look past the Clem issue.
Family and Relationship Matters
Any good drama revolves around families. They’re important, relatable relationships rife with the potential for tension and betrayal. While Telltale’s tackled this before, there are mixed results. Their Game of Thrones, on the one hand, felt uneven in its treatment of family, probably because we all know anyone can die and is essentially fodder for our greater goals. Oddly enough, their Batman series, with limited family being present, is done extremely well. Walking Dead Season 3 is more towards the Batman side of that spectrum but with greater diversity and personal responsibility. As an older brother myself, I felt an instant connection, especially since I’m a self-identified minority who witnessed the ravages of rioting in a poor neighborhood. While the addition of drug use in some scenes could add some realism, it also feels like it reinforces negative stereotypes, but this could just be a personal hang-up.
The connection with family though, especially because anyone can die for little to no reason, made me invest in the family situation more than Telltale’s Game of Thrones. That isn’t to say that Javi’s family’s safe. This is a Telltale game, so people should know what they’re in for. Even though your family is in danger, most of it feels like it comes from zombies or the characters’ own actions, not so much random killing, which does still happen.
That’s quite different from not just the main Walking Dead series, but Telltale’s past Walking Dead installments. There are certainly moments where you’re screwed one way or the other, or a character will drop dead out of the blue, but it feels less common once you get past the first episode. On the one hand, it gets rid of some tension and cheap feeling deaths (with very few exceptions), making the game and story more accessible to those with a weaker stomach or whose moral fortitude may normally make the series repugnant. On the other, it makes season three stand out as less tense in ways fans generally have come to accept from the series.
It’s not just Javi’s family on the line though. While she’s second string, Clem has her own “family” situation, as do other characters. The multiple families and their interwoven fates keep “right” choices from being clear, and it potentially puts you at odds with everyone, ensuring that you’re never completely comfortable with your choices, which is a good thing. What would a Telltale game be if everything were simple?
Just a word of advice though: focus on your relationships. At the end of Episode 5, when you get a summary of your play through, there are summaries of your overall arc with people. It’s a new, small addition added that we’ve yet to see in a Telltale game, but it’s deeply satisfying, especially because it appears for living, dead, and missing characters. This helps to remind you of what you went through on your journey in ways the usual start of the episode recap might miss.
Recycle, Reduce, Reuse
The first thing that needs to be emphasized is that this game is using data from PC players’ previous Telltale Walking Dead games. Console players have to go through a “What happened?” scenario builder to try to recreate their gameplay choices, assuming they remember them. This is how Clem gets her custom personality and appearance, creating a connection between the games. It’s not exactly the same as a persistent world MMO players are used to, but does create enough of a permanence that makes the story stand out more than other RPG franchises. However, it’s not just mechanical connections that keep the games linked.
One thing that particularly stands out from season three in terms of style is the constant references to things that we’ve already seen. This isn’t just in Telltale’s version of the world but the main series as well. Anyone who watched Season 6 will see similarities to Negan, The Saviors, and certain scenes that killed beloved characters. That isn’t to say they’re reproduced, but actually reflected, inverted, re-digested, and stretched. A simple, non-spoiler would be the use of the baseball bat by the main character, rather than a villain.
Episode 5 has a particularly good example of this. A key character says they’re all alone when the group turns on them, but later, while leading the group and seeing a lone stranger get picked off, the key character casually mentions at the end of the instructions that that guy was alone and they’re not. No special emphasis on any of the words, but it’s there for people who are paying attention.
Not only is this good storytelling, but something that helps ensure that multiple replays/viewings aren’t just about finding different choices, and that’s key to making the game’s Crowd Play option more viable, which I’ll discuss below. The reflective aspect also adds small bonuses for Walking Dead fans who are invested in the series for more than the shock, awe, and betrayal, giving a little more hope than I’m used to from the series without getting overly emotional or sentimental.
Telltale games are often accused of being less of a “game” than interactive movies. I’m starting to feel like a lot of games aren’t even that, with even certain fighting games having the option to allow the game to fight for you to progress. However, I won’t give Telltale a pass just because of that. I don’t play Telltale games for deep mechanics but for story. However, the right use of action can help enhance that. Batman’s detective mode did that. The recent Guardians of the Galaxy allows players to use Starlord’s hover boots and something like a sci-fi detective mode. Walking Dead Season 3, however, has nothing. You might think aiming would be more involved since we have a baseball player as our lead, or maybe a way to slow down action because he has fast reflexes but no. It’s very much Telltale’s old combat system with very little detective/exploration needed. Some fans might actually enjoy this, including myself, but it does stand out as less gameplay and more cut scenes.
I’ll be blunt: Season 3 doesn’t up the ante in terms of tech, combat, or in-game interaction. What it does well, however, is storytelling. I’ve watched several YouTubers play through the game and certain lines, or scenes, are indirectly reflected in unique ways depending on certain situations. Two love birds may never kiss during a playthrough where they’re safe, and even deny liking each other, but if using the same starting point and making a choice that endangers one of them, everything comes out. It’s sweet and tragic all at once.
While this is a single-player game, Walking Dead Season 3 does make use of Crowd Play, which I’ve previously described in terms of the Batman series. It’s a way to give non-playing audience members a way to vote through web browsers. It’s not ideal for streaming, but it does work. The problem, though, is that it’s just not being used by a lot of streamers. As someone who normally doesn’t “get” streaming, this is something I do get and have actually sat and participated in. When it happens, it’s more engaging than I’m used to from a stream. I could actually deal with a streamer playing more slowly and engaging the audience, almost like one might do with a book club or literature circle. There are some cool videos and Reddit threads about the game, but as an MMO player focusing on the in-game experience, there’s simply too few “players” participating in the game. Hopefully, Telltale optimizes future games so they stream better, or partners with streamers who know how to engage the audience.
People are usually hard on Telltale about their games’ appearance, but that rarely strikes me. Instead, I focus on the voice acting. I love the Hispanic representation and lingo, and as someone who’s lived in an environment where we constantly mix two languages together, it felt authentic. However, there are a few moments where the acting isn’t quite up to snuff, and the worst of it occurs during a key scene where calling to a character is an especially meaningful option. The voice acting during that scene was disappointing, but it may have partially been the fault of the script. The delivery is lacking, but the lines aren’t natural for the situation or character until the last attempt, and by then the chance to invest in the scene is passed. It’s a frustrating missed opportunity, but I do appreciate the sentiment.
Value for Money 10/10
Telltale games are always great money for their value. You’re essentially buying a couple of movie tickets but get a much more personal experience. Combined with Crowd Play, the value goes up, as you can enjoy the game solo and later share it with a friend while playing together. While the replay value may not be as high as other games, the pacing and accessibility make it a great go-to option for a wide range of potential players, and for anyone trying to introduce someone into gaming, it fills a unique niche: proving that at least non-MMO games can be art.
+ A very solid choose-your-adventure type game
+ Good Walking Dead entry point for non-fans
– May potentially alienate fans of both other Telltale Walking Dead games and the series in general
– Crowd Play still isn’t designed with streaming in mindRelated: Adventure, PC, Point and Click, Review, Steam, telltale games, the walking dead, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier