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The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is Season 3 of the episodic The Walking Dead game series by Telltale Games. All episodes are now released and you can buy a season pass to play all of them at once. A New Frontier is available on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Andriod and IoS. In this review, Alan Stock covers the entirety of Season 3 for ComiConverse.
Game Review: The Walking Dead: A New Frontier (Complete Season 3)
With Telltale a busy bunch these days on series like Game of Thrones, Batman and Guardians of the Galaxy, we finally see them return to the interactive story series that exploded their popularity: The Walking Dead. The spin-off Michonne series last year was a disappointment, lacking strong characters and plot without adding anything new to the formula. So with new entry The Walking Dead Season 3: A New Frontier, have Telltale managed to regain the storytelling emotional highs and lows that they managed with earlier seasons?
It’s worth pointing out that newcomers to The Walking Dead are welcome here. Although there are returning characters from previous games and cameos from the TV show/visual novels, you don’t need any prior knowledge to understand and enjoy the stories of A New Frontier. If you’re unfamiliar with The Walking Dead, it’s your typical zombie apocalypse setting, with slow zombies rather than “runners”. The franchise started as a visual novel series before being adapted for the highly rated TV show and then the Telltale game series, which is set in the same universe and timeline as the novels. Although the zombie threat is ever-present, it's the conflict and drama between the survivors that the franchise focuses on.
The Telltale formula hasn’t changed one bit. This is an interactive story at heart, you will choose dialogue options in conversations and the linear plot will play out with changes based on your earlier choices. There is a small amount of 3rd person exploration and basic puzzle solving, and action sequences once again uses quick time events (timed button presses), to determine success or failure in pre-canned animations. Primarily though, these games are about the story and the characters.
The biggest surprise and disappointment for fans with A New Frontier is that Clementine, one of the main protagonists from the first two seasons, is relegated to a sidekick in Season 3. A tough girl who has persevered through countless horrors, she’s a much-loved hero of the franchise and most people assumed she’d be at the helm for this one to continue her story. You can import choices you made in previous seasons but it doesn't seem to do much except change some of her dialogue. Instead, in this game you play mostly as newcomer Javier Garcia - an ex-baseball champion in his late twenties. He has been surviving the zombie apocalypse travelling in a van with his brother’s wife Kate, his young niece Mariana, and nephew Gabe. Javier turns out to be a likeable guy who is struggling to adapt to his new role as a father and his complicated relationship with Kate. You still get to play as Clementine too, but only for short flashback sequences, the focus being on Javier and his family.
After getting over the initial hurdle that you aren’t going to be Clementine this time around, you soon warm to the Garcias, who are well written and voice-acted, and have convincing personalities. Gabe is in his rebellious teenager phase, wanting to make his mark and stand up to authority, but he’s basically a good kid who occasionally has stroppy outbursts. Mariana is warm-hearted and likes to keep her head down and avoid conflict. Kate has a difficult time with the kids and looks to Javier for support. There’s clearly feelings between the two of them, complicated by the fact that her husband David went missing during the zombie outbreak (David is Javier’s confrontational brother, who we meet in flashbacks). These character interactions are skilfully presented without the protagonists openly stating how they’re feeling. Of course, once the story gets going and things head south, the relationships develop in a satisfying way.
The Walking Dead lives and dies on its characters and thankfully this season they’ve come out strong. Outside of the Garcia family there’s a solid cast of supporting characters, some of whom are quite memorable, although unfortunately, we don’t learn much about most of them. There’s also a cameo or two from The Walking Dead novels/TV show for fans. Clementine's side-story is disappointingly bare-bones and I suspect this is deliberate, firstly to focus attention on the Garcias, and secondly to give plenty of scope for further episodes based around her. On the whole, though, the roster in this season is quality, these feel like well-rounded characters with their own redeeming qualities and flaws and they are voiced well. You get to care for the Garcias and their crew and you worry about their fate - which is an essential quality in a series in which your choices can mean the difference between life or death for them.
The general plot though is less interesting. A New Frontier is set a few years into the apocalypse and therefore following the previous seasons in the timeline. In the grand scheme of things, not much has changed in the world. Zombies still roam at large. The main difference is that survivors are more organised now, they have banded together to occupy and fortify towns and joined various factions. There’s also more technology around, with vehicles, guns and electricity in much greater supply than before. We’ve seen (usually flawed) survivor outposts before in the series, but it seems this is the normal state of affairs now, with lone travellers more of a rarity. Aside from this it’s totally zombie survival business as usual. Scavenge for supplies, fight and get ambushed by zombies on a regular basis, run away from zombie hordes. Bandits and evildoers are once again the main driving force behind events, as is the usual trope of anywhere safe eventually being overrun by zombies. Once again you must make major decisions that will affect the well-being and even lives of your team.
I personally got bored of The Walking Dead TV show about 5 seasons in. The same apocalyptic setting gets pretty old after a while, as does the repetition of conflicts and dilemmas that the characters face in this environment. The Telltale games revitalised my interest, because you play a role in the story and must face some of those tough decisions yourself. However now we are onto a third season (fourth if you count Michonne) it too is getting pretty stale. There’s simply nothing new here except the same tired scenarios. I’m getting bored with it and A New Frontier suffers from this ennui. This leaves the characters and your decisions to be the factors that make you want to keep playing, rather than the “seen it all before” plotline.
The New Frontier manages to pull it off - just. I was invested in the Garcias and their relationships and I wanted to see their story through to the end. The big choices that you have to make do feel consequential this time around. Because you care about the characters and the choices can be life threatening, they have more gravitas. Anyone who has played other Telltale games will know that they face an issue where your choices often don’t feel like they impact the story much. Here this still feels like the case for a lot of the smaller decisions and dialogue choices, but your major decisions do feel like they significantly change the fates of the characters. It’s knuckle-biting stuff where you wonder if down the line you’ve sentenced someone to death, or at the very least destroyed an important relationship.
The plot also manages to hit some great emotional resonance at times, enhanced with complimentary music to up the feels. There’s some genuinely gut-wrenching scenes in A New Frontier and moments of total shock where it more than lives up to the series’ most memorable moments. This is what the Walking Dead is all about and you’ll leave some episodes with genuine emotion. In this respect it’s a success, Telltale are back on form and it’s the character arcs are more resonant than the weak hooks of Michonne.
Less successful is the gameplay, which has failed to evolve beyond the most minor tweaks. Moving around environments is still slow and clunky, with very basic inventory puzzles just padding between story sections. Quick time events, usually found in combat sequences, are the same as ever. The fight scenes feel more dynamic and exciting (perhaps inspired from the combat of Telltale’s Batman series), and have a few more input types and gun-aiming sections. But otherwise it’s functionally unchanged from the action we saw in Season 1. Limited timers for dialogue choices and action sequences do rachet up the tension a little but again we have seen this all before. Ultimately there’s nothing new here in gameplay terms or their impact on the story, it’s The Walking Dead as we know it, which is a disappointment considering that in other Telltale games they’ve at least tried to add some new ideas to the formula. It all feels pretty stale.
The graphics on the other hand are noticeably improved for this generation. The world and characters are more detailed and lifelike, but still retain the comic book art style. Facial animation has improved a lot, and is much less robotic than previous seasons, helping with the dialogue. The game looks good in general, and lighting is used to great effect, especially in flashlight sections where you poke your beam around the zombie-infested darkness. Sadly these immersive elements fall down in a few areas. Now that characters look more realistic, the comic book art style starts to look a bit odd at times, especially when contrasted with the lifelike environments. Outside of facial movement, other animation is still extremely stilted and machine-like - it still looks like The Walking Dead Season 1 and is completely out of place when characters move so stiffly, when visually everything else has upped its game. It feels like Telltale’s art direction is being pulled in two directions at once, on one hand wanting to rival other adventure games of this generation, and on the other trying to keep to the comic book style and stiff movement of their earlier titles. It doesn’t quite gel, although for the most part the improved graphics do help improve the atmosphere.
Overall, this is a good outing for the never-ending tale of The Walking Dead. Its most important assets, its characters and your decisions, hit the mark and match the highs of previous seasons. But otherwise this feels like too much of a re-tread. The setting, plot and gameplay formula don’t offer any innovation. This is definitely worth playing for the feels alone, but don’t expect to see anything new here except for shinier graphics and a new roster of characters to get to know. If Telltale wants to keep this series fresh they’re going to need to change things up next time around. For now, though, it’s a welcome return to form, one that fans will appreciate - that is, if they can get over their Clementine woes. For scoring A New Frontier, the emotional kicks it provides elevates it to 4 stars for me, otherwise it would be a 3 thanks to its repetition of the formula and lack of new ideas.
A faithful return to The Walking Dead story, with a good cast of new characters and plenty of hard-hitting and emotional moments. The plot and gameplay though are starting to feel stale, with no innovation to speak of.