Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 3 A New Frontier Review - The Walking Dead A New Frontier Episode One: Ties That Bind Review

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Despite acquiring more IPs than Disney, Telltale has returned to the land of The Walking Dead. After Season Two failed to hit the highs of the first, Season Three starts in the strongest possible way with an incredibly impressive two-parter. By presenting seemingly impossible choices between relatable characters in the best-looking game we’ve seen from the developer to-date, Telltale has done an excellent job recapturing what makes the game so compelling.  It’s just a shame that performance continues to be an issue.

Buy The Walking Dead Season Three: A New Frontier from Amazon UK | Amazon.com

While the previous two seasons focused on young Clementine, Season Three brings us a new family – the Garcias. We join them on the day of the outbreak, Javier is sprinting home before the death of his father. Failing to make it in time he gets a pretty rough time from his brother.

Immediately characters are established: Javier is the favourite disappointment, his brother the heavy-handed jealous-type. While the rest of the family mourn, it turns out “papi” is not so dead. Watching the chaos unfold we’re snapped several years later to the present day, where all that’s left of the Garcias is Javier, his niece Mariana, nephew Gabe and their step-mum Kate.

Previous Walking Dead games have focused on Clem’s ability to forge new relationships and families on the road after losing her own, but the way season three starts off by showing the decimation of an actual family and the remains of it meant I immediately felt close to them.

Javier and Kate are both well voice-acted, their dialogue in the car reveals the struggles they’ve experienced, as well as an underlying sexual tension that exists between them. Don’t worry, Mariana and Gabe are asleep in the backseat.

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Once they wake up we get to discover more about them: Kate is soft-spoken and clearly affected by the horrors she’s seen, while Gabe has more attitude than WWE in the 90s. He’s clearly trying to don the role left by his late father as the alpha male, but does so with a brooding, pouty silence.

The new game engine Telltale, which adds micro-expressions, makes it easier to establish personality. I can see the awkwardness in Javier’s face when Kate says she “needs to get laid”, and the anguish hidden behind Gabe’s anger when he talks about the loneliness of the road. The new mechanic can be hit and miss though, with some expressions lacking the subtlety of others – perhaps a consequence of this new animation technique being layered on top of the old one?

Being a Walking Dead Telltale game it isn’t long before the stuff hits the fan, and the developer reminds me that it isn’t the ‘Walkers’ we need to fear, but the darkness of the people still around. As such, after a run-in with members of “The New Frontier” – a mysterious group looking to ramshackle everything they find – Javier finds himself kidnapped and separated from his family. It was up to the choices I made to ensure The New Frontier didn’t find where Javier’s family were hiding amongst a junkyard, and every choice felt like a great risk, with incredibly tense conversations and staredowns throughout.

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the walking dead season 3

It isn’t long before Javier meets the apocalypse’s toughest child – Clementine. Once again Clem is older, wiser and a hell of a lot tougher, too. After saving Javier, I reached a mutual agreement where she would help him return to the rest of his family. Telltale grants the ability to transfer saves over from previous seasons or answer questions based on situations from them in order to shape the type of character Clem is. In season two *minor spoilers* my Clem ended alone, clutching a child. As such she’s a hard-nosed survivor.

This is the first time since series one of The Walking Dead where I’ve genuinely felt torn by the dialogue choices presented. As I’ve played every episode, I feel intricately tied to Clementine and still possess the desire to protect her, so whenever a choice pops up where it’s either “her or the other” I immediately chose her, despite Javier lacking that connection. Telltale seems to be balancing this season on how connected you feel to this game’s longest-serving character.

While the narrative is excellently-written, it helps that the new graphics engine presents a much better game, too. The characters look the best they ever have, with impressive lighting effects and new camera shots that really make the action sequences far more cinematic. Tracking shots as Javier moves through a swarm of walkers and swift pans and zooms really add to the drama.

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It isn’t until the climax of part two that it becomes clear why Telltale made the series’ debut a two-parter, but doing so works wonders for the narrative. It gives the game time to develop these new characters. It’s only at the close of the first I realise how connected I am when tragedy befalls the group. Being able to jump straight into the next part of the story was a blessing and a curse, as I knew the inevitable cliffhanger would come at the end of the second episode.

But having spoken to other players, I discovered how diverse the game can be, too. Telltale games are often criticised for offering the mirage of choice while ultimately funnelling players towards the same conclusion, but the ending of my episode was completely different to others. Also, depending on the Clementine you create, flashback sequences will be entirely different, depending on who lived in season two.

Unfortunately, as great as the story is told and the game looks, performance continues to be a major problem for Telltale. Framerates continue to jar, and very rarely maintain a consistent 30 FPS, which at this point just becomes an immense frustration and disappointing expectation. Despite all the improvements seen from the Telltale games, the ability to run consistently well has never been something to get better.

Verdict

The Walking Dead Season 3 makes two very strong starts. Splitting the first episode into a two-parter means fans are treated to a double-whammy of excellent storytelling and get to spend more time with these immediately engaging and relatable characters.

After Season Two’s dip it feels like the team is back on form with a setup that’s immediately engaging and choc-full of heart-wrenching choices. It’s just a shame that Telltale continues to commit the same sins it has done for years, with poor framerates and visual hiccups which break the immersion.

Buy The Walking Dead Season Three: A New Frontier from Amazon UK | Amazon.com

However, that doesn’t impede too much on the excellent story. The biggest compliment I can pay the episodes is that during both finales I sat there, mouth agape, throwing my hands in the air yelling expletives at the descent into despair the characters found themselves, and frantically grabbed my phone to search for the release date of episode three.

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