The Walking Dead: A New Frontier review
It was around this time last year when the first teaser trailer was released for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. The third season of Telltale Games' much-loved take on Robert Kirkman's epic graphic novel series was to signify change - a new visual style, a timeline shift, and even a brand-new main character in Javier Garcia. But don't worry - this is still very much Clementine's story too. While A New Frontier's execution doesn't always hit the mark, Telltale's desire to relinquish control and offer a different perspective on our beloved "sweet pea" pays off, ultimately breathing new life into the series.
A New Frontier doesn't actually bear the 'Season Three' subheading. It's still very much a continuation of what came before it, but this time, the desire to cater to new players is foregrounded. It doesn't neglect the series' long-term fans either, though, providing an intuitive story generator alongside game save import options to fill in the blanks.
This time around, the game's primary playable character is Javier Garcia - a troubled ex-baseball star whose dysfunctional family provides the key focus throughout the season's five-episode span. The group is torn in two when the outbreak first hits, and as brother David disappears in the midst of the chaos, Javier is left to continue his quest for survival alongside sister-in-law Kate and her two kids.
In many ways, Javier is the Lee Everett of Season Three - a kind-hearted, selfless individual whose past mistakes define his pre-outbreak existence. Lee is still the more iconic of Walking Dead’s adult protagonists, but Javier remains one of A New Frontier's most noteworthy highlights, filling the sizeable shoes of past playable characters better than you might think. In Javi, A New Frontier provides a leading star who remains investing, relatable and utterly charming throughout. Without him, A New Frontier wouldn't prove half as impressive.
As it is, Javier’s presence not only serves to provide an investing narrative, but showcase the more complex personality traits of co-star Clementine. The now-teenage Clem remains a key component of A New Frontier's story throughout, but her removal from the spotlight no longer binds her by the innocent, heroistic tendencies of her Season Two self. Her ever-evolving personality can feel jarring at first, but ultimately offers a natural progression that only strengthens her character going forward.
A New Frontier tells the tale of a family-oriented struggle for survival, introducing the titular New Frontier as a band of evil, violent protagonists, but it later blurs those lines. The morally right decision isn't always easy to determine in later episodes, and as a result, some of A New Frontier's decision-making moments can prove agonizing in their execution. Regularly, there's a desire to hit the pause button in the midst of a tough choice.
Alongside Clementine, Javier's family plays a crucial role in the season-long conflict with The New Frontier, while a cast of supporting characters work to add substance. Unfortunately, A New Frontier leaves its secondary characters underdeveloped, focusing instead on the well-defined family members through pre-outbreak flashbacks and dialogue scenes.
And while A New Frontier's character development works more effectively than it did in Season Two, past mistakes continue to plague this aspect of the series. Disappointingly, A New Frontier's episodes are a record low 75-90 minutes in length, which naturally limits the amount of exploration and dialogue per episode. Season One's two-and-a-half hour episodes allowed us to build a strong emotional bond with all of its personalities, but A New Frontier's self-inflicted limitations only scratch the surface of this in many instances.
At times, A New Frontier's limitations creep into almost every aspect of its storytelling. There's an occasional air of inconsistency, as characters, deaths, plot points and dialogue fall prey to hit-and-miss tendencies. In particular, Clementine's regular pre-outbreak flashbacks feel overly condensed and underwhelming, with one particular scene threatening to destroy my enjoyment of the entire series in one cruel swoop.
It's a shame, because for the most part, there's a genuinely good story here. Despite its issues, I still managed to remain fully invested throughout the entirety of my playthrough, and even the mid-season lulls weren't enough to divert my attention elsewhere. In particular, the two-part debut offers some of the most shocking moments in Telltale's series thus far. The season's memorable, multi-ending conclusion lays a strong claim to the argument that 'your choices matter,' all while offering a fitting end to its narrative.
A Winning Formula
As you'd expect, A New Frontier's gameplay is very reminiscent of past seasons. Certain elements such as quick-fire shooting benefit from a visual upgrade, but generally, there's nothing too radically different about Season Three's approach to player control. Even full-on shootouts remain easy to handle, although in a few instances the game's engine doesn't quite seem respond to the player’s inputs accurately enough.
A New Frontier also benefits from a new visual style, transitioning away from the engine of old to enhance its cinematography, lighting, environments and characters. Surprisingly, the shift still manages to retain a familiar feel, and it's only during flashbacks involving Season Two characters in which incompatibility becomes a factor. Despite the occasional janky, immersion-breaking animation, Season Three generally benefits from the added detail, and most importantly, A New Frontier suffers far less instances of slowdown than its predecessors.
Meanwhile, Telltale's qualities in the audio department remain as consistent as ever. Voice acting is stellar throughout, particularly on the parts of Javier and Clementine, while Jared Emerson-Johnson's subtle soundtrack continues to lend perfectly to the despair of the Walking Dead universe. From score to sound effects, A New Frontier's auditory qualities enhance its storyline through to conclusion.
Ultimately, it's easy to develop somewhat of a love-hate relationship with The Walking Dead's third season. A New Frontier's engaging story and excellent leading characters showcase much potential for the future, while its core gameplay and presentation builds on the superb characteristics of past seasons. However, those who go looking for Season One levels of quality are likely to emerge disappointed, as despite the odd flirtation with greatness, A New Frontier's self-inflicted wounds prevent it from ever threatening to surpass 2012's outstanding debut.