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The Walking Dead: A New Frontier - Episodes 3 and 4 Review

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier - Episodes 3 and 4 Review

The last time I played a Telltale game was back in 2012, when The Walking Dead: Season One was released. I loved that game to bits -- the story and decisions were top notch, and Lee and Clementine’s odyssey really etched itself in my memory as a sweet and enjoyable journey. To my surprise, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier feels exactly the same five years later. The interface is the same, the animations are eerily familiar, and the game still looks just like Season One did. It’s a great thing if you’re a fan of nostalgia, but awful news if you hoped any technological progress would have been made in half a decade. Just like its subject matter, The Walking Dead is a brilliant tale of human interaction based around a shambling, rotting corpse.

The game revolves around Javi, a former baseball player who got discredited after gambling on his own games. Fast forward years into the apocalypse, stuff happens, corpses starting eating folk, and you got yourself a Walking Dead game. As the first two episodes were already reviewed by us, I’m skipping directly to Episodes 3 and 4. If you want to know my abridged opinion about the first two episodes, it’s actually simple: they’re damn good.

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Damn good.

Clocking in at about two hours as opposed to its predecessors’ 90 minutes, Episode 3’s cold opening is inferior to previous episodes’ prologues. Featuring an uninteresting narrative arc and a shoddy technical execution, it lacks the emotional oomph that gets you invested into the game. Even the music constantly cuts into each other via very noticeable segues, forsaking the usual smooth transition that often accompanies Telltale’s emotional change of score.

The whole episode was inferior to 1 and 2. It often got stuck in one single style before jumping tracks: a bunch of talking, followed by a load of action, then again a bunch of talking, all with little payout. The previous episodes interweaved active and passive sequences much more artistically, creating a more engaging and fleshed out experience that kept you at the edge of your seat. Episode 3, on the other hand, feels like a forced endeavour that culminates on a weak cliffhanger, it’s sole purpose to keep the series moving.

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Although "moving" is a good idea when you got this right behind you.

Episode 4’s prologue is way stronger. The events it deals with sets the stage for the flashback at the beginning of Episode 3, shining a light on them that completely changes the meaning behind those events. The little bit of backstory doesn’t come as a revelation, but it creates such a sizeable chunk of context that I can’t help but feel the order of those episodes’ cold openings should have been swapped.

The penultimate instalment is considerably better than the third, but it’s events are not all that enticing. It does goes back to the 90 minutes’ length of the first two episodes, but the actual situations here depicted lack the sheer excitement of the originals. Episode 4’s every step seems to set the stage for the happenings in the fifth and final part of New Frontier, getting all the pieces into position before performing a checkmate.

It isn’t out of surprises, though: while Episode 3 is largely inconsequential, Episode 4 does sneak up on you with some pretty important decisions. The ending, especially, gave me a moment of joy only surpassed by a situation involving an asshole and an aluminium baseball bat on the middle of part three.

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This series is full of assholes. And strangely, also full of baseball bats.

Clementine, as always, is a charm -- it is nigh indescribable how amazingly proud I felt, seeing the little girl I cared for during the whole first season become a brave and heartful young woman. The other characters are all fleshed out with their own consistent personalities, possessing a depth not often found on most games. Javi, Dave, and Kate -- the protagonist, his brother, and sister-in-law, respectfully -- are the best of the bunch, closely followed by Prescott’s overseer Tripp and the famous Jesus from the comics. Javi’s young nephew, Gabe, is a little whiny bitch, and I’m sorry there isn’t a button or sequence in the game that allows me to beat him with a chair. Alas, those are the limitations of a linear story-driven game.

Technically, The Walking Dead: New Frontier is wholly unimpressive. The graphics are pretty yet far from groundbreaking, being just a hair and postprocessing above what The Walking Dead: Season One was half a decade ago. Animations and textures leave a lot to be desired, yet are reasonably functional and do not often break your immersion.

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Those wooden horses in the back are not actually made of wood.

Downloading Episode 4 reset my settings; I accidentally played the whole of Episode 3 on medium quality, and it was frightening stuff. Lightning was non-existent, shadows were a thing of legend, and interactable objects popped out of the background like Hanna-Barbera cartoons of old. Once I changed it back to the “high” preset, graphics became unbelievably more tolerable: environments now have a uniform texture and lighting, complete with shadows, faux reflections, and luminescence, while characters are significantly more attractive. But make no mistake: Telltale really needs to pay attention to their technical standards. This is a 2017 game with the graphical fidelity of a Playstation 2 or Xbox 360 title: there are blurry low-res textures, weird animations, and two-dimensional flat grass to be found everywhere.

The voice acting, however, is top notch. Melissa Hutchison is back once more voicing Clementine, complete with her signature straightforward delivery that gave me goosebumps upon her introduction. Brandon Keener, best known as the voice of Garrus on Mass Effect and the ISAC computer on The Division, voices fan-favourite Paul Monroe, aka Jesus. Keener is a fantastic voice actor, and I have a tremendous soft spot for his work -- hearing him in any game always makes me happy, and I am not being hyperbolic in the slightest -- but I must admit his casting felt a bit weird to me. For some reason his voice did not seem like a good match to the Jesus character, but I personally attribute that to me getting used to the portrayal of the same character in AMC’s TV series -- it is in no way a strike against the actor’s talent, which again, is phenomenal.

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Pictured: Jesus. He doesn't show up a lot.

Actually, the whole voice cast is amazing -- if any of you are reading this, rest assured your work in A New Frontier is flawless, and I’m really happy you have chosen this career path. Of the new characters, Jeff Schine, Vale De La Maza, and Shelly Shenoy -- Javi, his niece Mariana, and Kate, respectively -- were the ones who stood out the most for me, but that is mostly a matter of personal preference -- the delivery, inflection, and emotions of the whole cast truly came across beautifully.

Musically, though, the game stumbles. While the audio quality is overall serviceable and pulls its weight very well, the score is inconsistent. Most of it -- especially the one used during the shamefully bad “Previously on...” recaps -- is quite dull, lacking any noticeable arrangement. Even when the soundtrack gets good, often during tense or emotional moments, its composition is devoid of distinctive chords, yet successfully elicits meaningful emotional responses. We could say that musically, New Frontier equals its graphics: it’s serviceable and sometimes good, yet it could definitely use some improvement.

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Not Garrus, though. He's always awesome.

While A New Frontier ran without any bugs or performance issues on the highest preset, it did lack some significant gameplay optimizations. Checkpoints were sparsely spread out, and the few times I needed to exit the game or restart forced me to replay exceedingly long sections all over again. The inability to skip dialogue or even speed up the conversations compounded on that, forcing me to rewatch and replay excruciatingly extensive portions of the game to get back to where I once was. I mostly played episodes in one sitting, but the handful of times I had to endure that protracted waiting were heartbreaking -- I can’t imagine someone having to repeatedly sit through that and not giving up on the game. While bad controls are kinda of a hallmark of Telltale games by this point, it is lazy and incompetent of them to not improve upon it after all those years.

Ultimately, the end result is an amazing emotional experience that made me mad at its execution, at times. The first two episodes are without a shred of doubt superior to Episodes 3 and 4, but the overall package still made me remember why I loved Telltale games in the first place. I put off playing The Walking Dead: Season Two for reasons unknown, and it’s been years since I last touched a Telltale title, but The Walking Dead: New Frontier reignited my interest in the company. Even though they’ll need to severely step up their efforts if they expect any critical acclaim for their future titles, right now, I can safely say I look forward to New Frontier’s final episode. And I’ll finally play Season Two, soon.

7.50/10 7½

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier (Reviewed on Windows)

This game is good, with a few negatives.

An amazing emotional experience that trips and stumbles, but shows what Telltale is capable off.

This game was supplied by the publisher or relevant PR company for the purposes of review
Marcello Perricone

Marcello Perricone

Staff Writer

Passionate, handsome, and just a tiny bit cocky, our resident Time Lord loves history, science, and all things that fall from the sky.

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