Review-in-Progress: The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series - A New Frontier's third episode takes the story in both a new and familiar direction
As spoiler free as it can possibly be.
A New Frontier: Episode 3: Above the Law
A New Frontier’s third episode is here, and it starts off by continuing an established pattern. Once again, an episode starts off as a look into the past and bridges the gap on some significant details like how Javy, Kate, Gabe, and Mariana started on their journey together and why no one else from the Garcia family was present. There are also a few dialog choices that connect with events that happen in the present later in the episode, and it’s satisfying to see those come back around to make a legitimate connection.
Flipping back to the present, Javy and Company are still standing at the gates of Richmond, arms raised as The New Frontier appear ready to shoot them with a wounded Kate dying on the ground. We are quickly re-introduced to Javy’s brother David, who was well established as being something of a jackhole in the previous episodes, and it is here that Episode 3 commences its carefully crafted play that will keep you guessing on David’s intentions.
If you'd like to check out impressions on Chapter 1 and 2, you can do so by heading over here.
Every major character has an angle that they use to bend the story in some distinct way, coalescing into one complex web of drama that manages to hold itself together.
Telltale is seriously one of the best in the business at character drama. Outside of Javy, Clementine, Kate, Gabe, David, Tripp, and even Jesus have their moments to inject a part of themselves on the events that you, as Javy dictate. There’s a moment where you encounter a particularly villainous character who you have the option of killing, or walking away and leaving them to die.
Choosing to kill them elicits subtle facial cues from other characters, telling you exactly what they are thinking without them actually saying a thing. It’s a perfect example show but don’t tell that so many games get wrong all the time. That’s not to say that the characters don’t express themselves as there’s a small bit of obnoxious passive aggressiveness from another (*cough*Jesus*cough*) who tries to drive home the idea of not becoming that which you hate. Then again, maybe Javy and I got a small case of the bloodlust, so who knows.
As a whole, there are so many different subplots at play that you know will (should) come to the surface at some point. There’s the uncertainty Javy has in trusting his historically abusive brother, Kate not wanting to get back together with said brother, while Gabe longing to be reunited with him since he is his father.
Episode 3 - Above the Law is just so Telltale, for better and worse.
By now the world should know what to expect from a Telltale game. The story-telling still has the power to draw you in, but ultimately there’s not a lot here that feels new or even evolved from the company’s previous work. That said, provided you have the right expectations, A New Frontier presents you with a plethora of solid dialog options that legitimately feel like they can branch the narrative in different ways.
Supplemental characters fit well into their roles, even if their roles feel a little recycled. The Walking Dead doesn’t seem like it knows how to present groups of people getting together to form a civilization in any way other than “it looks nice, but something feels off.” Sure, there are little nuances that differentiate one civilization from the next, but the way The New Frontier presents Richmond to the player compared to something like say, Woodbury from the TV Show, are by and large, very similar.
Some of Episode 3’s critical decisions feel too easy to make.
It’s often tough to quantify individual episodes of a Telltale game based on a strict set of criteria. I will say that one of my attempts to do so is to leverage what the game tells you are the key choices and turning point at the conclusion of an episode when it gives you that percentage that tells you how many players chose which decision.
In this episode, three of the five decisions had percentages of 63% or higher. Part of what makes a great moment in a Telltale game are when there are no right answers, and no matter which way you go, something is bound to go wrong. If you have critical decisions where an overwhelming number of players are only choosing one thing, then that particular moment isn’t compelling, it’s obvious. One of them, which involves Clementine and A.J., is just so inherently “duh, why wouldn’t you choose that,” that it doesn’t even register as a significant plot point at the moment until the credits roll and you see it as part of the statistics.
Episode 3’s ending is not one of Telltale’s best work.
In the quest not to spoil anything, what I can say is that the ending to Episode 3 feels like the writer’s felt pressure to raise the stakes going into Episode 4 than just letting it end naturally. It’s not that what happens wasn’t going to go down, eventually, it was indeed leading up to it. It just seems like someone in the writing room said, “this needs to end with a bang,” leaving it feeling a little cliche and tired.
Sometimes the best endings don’t have to make the biggest noise.
The verdict so far.
I’m a bit lower on The Walking Dead: A New Frontier than I was at the end of Episode 2. It’s hard to tell if I’m still feeling franchise fatigue (I’ve been over the show for a couple of years now) or if it’s developer fatigue. Episode 3’s journey managed to hook me along pretty well for the most part, but it’s ending fell a tad flat in trying to reach for artificial heights in physical drama.
The new cast of characters is what keeps A New Frontier going, which is something Telltale should be commended for as it was a much riskier proposition than continuing the story of established characters. It just seems like The Walking Dead as a franchise doesn’t have many tricks beyond “we gotta do what it takes to survive,” “don’t trust anyone,” and “something isn’t right about this place.”