Full spoilers for Season One, Two, 400 Days and mild spoilers for Ties That Bind Part 1 & 2
Unlike what feels like most of the world, I am not a fan of The Walking Dead TV show. Not that I have anything against zombies, but for the first season and a half that I did watch, it never really felt like the show had a long term goal. On the other hand, when The Walking Dead Game: Season One was released back in 2012, I immediately fell in love.
From the old LucasArts adventures to the more recent Broken Sword and Sam and Max games, point and clicks have always been the pinnacle of storytelling for me. Fortunately Season One proved my eagerness correct and I immediately jumped into the follow ups of Season Two and 400 Days.
I may be a little late to the party (and after spending way too long in transferring my old Xbox 360 save file to PC!), but I finally got round to the opening episodes of A New Frontier!
Starting off in the pre-apocalypse, mid-20s Javier Garcia doesn’t make it home in time to say goodbye to his dying father, much to the anger of his older brother, David. Alas, said father is soon re-animated as the living dead and the family must depart for the hospital in separate vehicles.
Fast forward four years and society has completely collapsed. Javier is now constantly on the move with his sister-in-law, niece and nephew in tow. But, while in the pursuit of supplies, they soon come into conflict with a dangerous group called The New Frontier. Tensions high, hope seems lost until a very familiar figure steps onto the scene…
I’m still in two minds about the decision to introduce a new protagonist. On the one hand, I do understand that with new consoles just released, there are probably a huge influx of new players. Giving them an easy way into the story was undoubtedly at the forefront of the game designers minds (as demonstrated by the fact this game is not called Season Three.)
But it’s hard not to feel a sense of misdirection, especially since The Walking Dead was always meant to be a story about the long term effects of the zombie apocalypse. By reducing Clementine to a mere supporting act, I do feel a strong story-telling opportunity was missed.
But that’s not to say that Javier is an unreasonable person to have as a protagonist. He’s likable and you do root for him to get out of the sticky situations he finds himself in. However the most appealing aspect of Javier is that we finally get to experience how your decisions affect close family members, as opposed to previous seasons pseudo-relationships. Without a doubt this helps to make your journey far more personal and your choices far more complex.
This journey is only made more engaging by the high quality writing from the team of writers lead by Brad Kane. Not only do they deliver a believable portrayal of the strains upon family bonds in times of crisis; but also succeed in showing the paranoia and unforgiving attitude of a girl forced to experience events far beyond her years.
In terms of technical and design achievements, there’s been a significant step up from previous seasons, such as reduced loading times and slightly more forgiving QTE moments. Having said that some technical problems do remain, most obviously a small amount of lagging, as well as the annoying return of the “hidden wall.”
But there is one major story problem that originated in 400 Days and Season 2, but has now only become exacerbated in A New Frontier. However it requires me to dive into spoilers so highlight the following ONLY if you’re okay with me talking about detailed plot points.
When introducing a new protagonist, it’s best that we experience the game entirely through his or her eyes. That’s why Lee in Season One worked so well. Since we were meeting everyone at the same time as Lee did, the choices we made were essentially Lee’s decisions.
But by introducing a new protagonist AND retaining Clementine as a major supporting character, the reasons for your choices are no longer sound as you are making decisions based on encounters and emotions that your character has never experienced.
There are two specific decisions that really help to illustrate this. The first takes place in part 1 where you have to decide if you are to escape with your family or stay with Clementine; while the second choice takes place in part 2 where you have to deal with the plan that Conrad has suggested.
Look carefully at the percentage of players:
Did you escape with your family or stay with Clementine?
16.3% of players escaped with your family.
83.7% of players stayed with Clementine.
How did you deal with Conrad’s threat to Clementine?
88.7% of players killed Conrad.
11.3% of players agreed to Conrad’s plan.
As you can see, an overwhelming number of players are choosing to defend and protect Clementine. But why? From what we’ve experienced through the eyes of Javier, his priority is his family, not a random 13 year old girl that he met less than 24 hours ago.
Because of that the decisions we are making are flawed. We’re not making them as Javier. We’re making them as some sort of unseen omnipotent God that has lived through Lee’s and Clementine’s experiences, and using them to influence our decisions with Javier.
It may have taken some balls, but the moment Telltale decided a new protagonist was needed, they should have gone all out and left Clementine out of A New Frontier. There may have been complaints, but in pursuit of a better story it was absolutely necessary.
Nonetheless, Ties That Bind is a solid (re)introduction into The Walking Dead universe and has enough engaging story-threads that leave me inching for episode 3.
Coming Soon: My review for Episode Three: Above The Law
Stats taken from The Walking Dead Wikia