Even though it has been over four years since its release, Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season 1 is still the studio’s magnum opus, as it single-handedly spirited the developer away from the enveloping darkness of mediocrity, and instead ushered in forth into an age of jubilation and prosperity. However, since then, the studio has failed to recapture the sheer thrill and narrative magnificence of that single, glorious five episode run. Yes, Season 2 was good, as was Tales from the Borderlands and, more recently, Batman, but none of them had that same edge-of-your-seat narrative impact that so resonated with gamers the world over. The Walking Dead Season 3: A New Frontier – Episode 1, however, looks to be recapturing the magic that made the first season so memorable.
A New Frontier sees the return of Clementine, alongside a brand-new protagonist in the form of Javier. However, unlike in Season 2, Clementine is no longer the main focus, with Hispanic American Javier taking up the reigns for the majority of this opening episode. It’s an intriguing change, one that was undoubtedly implemented due to the series’ migration from last generation hardware onto the new. Javier represents a fresh new start for the series, welcoming both new and returning players alike into the world of The Walking Dead. This is evident in how the episode opens, examining both Javier and his extended family back before the horrific zombie virus consumed the entire world. It’s a great introductory section, and Telltale do an excellent job in establishing the personalities and motives of both Javier and the rest of the immediate cast in a way that they only do best. The writing is, as always, truly incredible to behold, and is brimming with that unmistakable emotional resonance that make the original so utterly breath-taking.
Telltale do an outstanding job of forging meaningful connections between the characters themselves as well as the player, and by the end of the episode (which, surprise, it shocking to say the least), I felt entirely engaged with both the new boy Javier and the kick-ass Clementine. I do wish that Clementine had more play-time, as currently you can only control her in flashback sequences, but the way the studio has interweaved her into the narrative is tantalising to behold.
From the opening moments, the episode barrels ahead at a breakneck pace, overwhelming you with shocking reveal after shocking reveal. While I do applaud them for upping the emotional stakes so early and, thus, keeping my interest throughout, I cannot help but think that the episode, and the series as a whole, would benefit from adopting a slightly more shambling approach at times akin to the Walkers that infest the world of The Walking Dead itself. Some of the most standout moments for me in the first season where those where the action ratcheted down, gifting me a brief minute of rest bite to process no only what had just happened, but also connect to the characters surrounding me on a more languid and personal level. It’s a minor complaint, but as the title of the game suggests, walking is part and parcel of the experience as a whole.
That said however, the narrative as a whole is simply sublime. Pacing issues aside, the way Telltale sets up the action and your expectations, only to utterly confound them and surprise you is just pure, unaltered magic. The plot frequently hits your heart with the full emotional force of jackhammer, something that is accomplished thanks to the agonising choices Telltale frequently throw your way. As yet, it is still unclear whether or not these choices actually harbour any real consequence, but given the emotional significance of these moments, such future issues may not be all that severe as long as the writing quality remains on point.
Telltales games have often suffered from appalling technical issues, as if the games themselves were slowing rotting from the inside out as a result to catching the zombie virus itself. Yet it would that, with A New Frontier, someone over at Telltales has found a cure, as the game runs silky smooth for the first time in forever. Never once, even during loading screens, did I experience any framerate dips or stuttering. I just hope this new-found level of technical polish continues not only throughout this season but all Telltale games in the future, as it utterly transforms the experience entirely.
Walking Dead Season 3: A New Frontier – Episode 1: The Ties That Bind – Part 1, aside from plunging you in a fit of acute breathlessness, is a resounding return to form for a studio that has slipped down slightly from their towering throne. The narrative is exhilarating and promises lots of intriguing reveals in future episodes, and the lack of any technical migraines means that one of the longest-running issues with the series has been resolved (for now). At times, if feels as if you in a rollercoaster that is spiralling out of control but, given the usual mid-season dip that plagues Telltale’s other games, such pacing issues might be quashed. Somewhat