The anticipation has been building, for over two years, since the last Telltale outing inspired by Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic books. Sure, we’ve had the Michonne mini-series, but that never reached the heights of those seasons involving Lee and sweet little Clementine adapting to the treacherous world of walkers. The third season, ‘A New Frontier’, is now upon us with the introduction of a two-part premiere, and the question on everyone’s lips is… was it worth the wait?
It’s been a long time since the zombie apocalypse began, but as a player you are taken back to the very beginning of it for the introduction of the main protagonist for season three, Javier Garcia. Changing the main focus to a completely fresh character is a key decision and adds a layer of freshness to proceedings. I won’t lie though, the premiere gets off to a pretty slow start whilst introducing Javi, his family, and the group dynamics which allude to him being a letdown and generally unreliable. It’s worth sticking with though, as once it picks up and the time period shifts forward many years later, you’ll never want it to end.
The goings on are paced almost perfectly once the foundations are laid out, with storytelling at the forefront. These characters surrounding Javi are completely new, yet within a single chapter or two at the most, there’s a real connection to those he’s helping to protect and survive with. You want them all to stay safe, especially the younger ones. I also immediately took a disliking to his jerk of a brother David, seen in flashbacks, who’s a real bully from the off.
Javi isn’t the only playable character though, as Clementine returns at some point and can be controlled during moments that play out from her harrowing memories which bridge the gap between seasons. It’s almost a feeling of pride seeing Clem all grown up, fiercer than ever and an absolute badass. I can overlook the coincidental binding together of the two main characters because it brings out the best in both undoubtedly.
Fans of The Walking Dead comic books will be pleased to know that there will be tie-ins throughout this season, with one well known addition already appearing to be a brilliant inclusion. I don’t want to spoil it, but this guy is actually a part of the television show too and will be an instant favourite given that his presence is already standing out amongst the already strong group of personalities.
One thing that’s instantly noticeable is the visual improvement, which helps to add more definition to the looks of characters and their surrounding environments – it’s how the next gen of episodic games should be. Each of the locations traversed are crisper than ever, so even though the doom and gloom nature still lingers, they are far more interesting to gaze your eyes upon – especially when able to explore them.
And there’ll be quite a few fresh places you’ll find Javi and co. journeying through; ranging from a junkyard to an entire settlement and a deserted town. The apocalyptic atmosphere is captured brilliantly throughout, and no matter what the situation, you always feel tense, wondering what on earth is around the next corner or what will go wrong. The art of suspense is strong in these two episodes.
Suspense is vital for The Walking Dead, but that isn’t the only area the developers have thrived with. Heart wrenching scenes go hand in hand when the world has gone to pot, and making the player feel for these new faces means it’s a job well done. Being all sad and fearful doesn’t ensure an enjoyable experience though, and in truth it’s the way ‘Ties That Bind’ builds up hope, before bringing down a ton of bricks on your head.
I love a good story, but you can’t spend the entire premiere just chatting and getting to know everyone. It’s not a coffee house, this is a zombie infested war zone. Fortunately, Telltale agrees and have included just the right amount of action-packed occasions to cause the heart to race faster. Yes, Quick Time Events are back and without much difference than before; you’ll have minimal time to react to the on-screen commands and the frantic lining up of aimed attacks, or risk getting yourself killed by failing to comply. QTEs are often frowned upon, however, even something as simple as pressing a button can be difficult when limited by time, so it’s best not to overcomplicate it.
Telltale has attempted to cater for all gamers by have multiple options to choose from when launching yourself into the latest story. Should you have never played The Walking Dead series before (I hope you’ve got a good reason for that), you can allow the game to tailor the back-story entirely, or to do it yourself via numerous choices for the infamous star of previous tales, Clementine. Alternatively, an old save file can be imported for the seasoned veterans. Sadly, I felt like no matter the choices, it’s skirted over pretty quickly during the two episodes. But at least there was some effort made for returning players.
The decision to provide a two-part ‘Ties That Bind’ premiere for A New Frontier allows time for the characters to settle in, to initiate the connections and reintroduce players to the deadly world they now live in. As is the norm with Telltale series’ generally, the voice cast deliver performances to a very high standard and help to produce a group of believable characters. After a relatively slow burn to part one, it snowballed into an opener that you just couldn’t take your eyes off, with shocks, gore and intrigue taking over. What is a shame is that both episodes are over in less time than you’d usually expect – coming in at two and a half hours in total – and the important decisions of seasons gone by don’t really seem to matter an awful lot.
Whilst you could just purchase ‘Ties That Bind Part I’ to get a feel for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, as an experienced Telltale enthusiast, I don’t see any reason not to purchase the entire premiere. With many story arcs intertwined, it’s a ridiculously enthralling journey already and the season has only just begun!