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The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series - A New Frontier: Episode 1 - Ties The Bind Part One (Xbox One) artwork

Telltale's back with another sequel to its breakout The Walking Dead episodic game series. Season 1 followed Lee and his surrogate daughter, Clementine, while Season 2 put you in direct control of a slightly older Clementine herself. This change presented a bit of a problem: whereas Lee was a new and unique character whose actions made sense for the character no matter what you had him do, Clementine was already an established character with a set personality even before Season 2 began. Her actions generally made sense for her, but that meant you were mostly only given choices she conceivably would have made on her own, without your involvement.

A desire to address that issue probably accounts for Season 3's new player character, Javier. "Javi" is a former professional baseball player, barred from the league for gambling. The game opens by showing Javi's situation at the beginning of the zombie outbreak and introducing several characters, including his big brother, David, his sister-in-law, Kate, and their son and daughter, Gabe and Mari. After everything predictably goes south, we skip ahead several years and catch up with Javi and his family, with David a no-show.

By this point, Gabe is a surly teenager and Mari is still a sweet young girl. Your relationship with the pair is immediately clear. Javi is their protector and father figure, and he loves them. Javi's relationship with Kate is a bit more complicated. Javi has clearly had feelings for Kate since long before the world fell apart. The game gives you several opportunities to become closer with her. The problem, at least for me, is that I found Kate to be a fairly unlikable character. She's somewhat self-centered and fairly immature. She's also not very smart, even going so far as to make an obviously bad decision in the middle of the episode's climax that causes more problems than it possibly could ever have solved. I don't want Javi to get closer to her and, in fact, there aren't any dialogue options that rebuff her strongly enough for my tastes.

While it feels like less of a problem now than it was last season, Javi also doesn't quite hit the balance between “authored character” and “someone who adapts to your choices,” the way Lee once did. Javi has more wiggle room than Clementine (or Michonne, who appeared in her own spin-off miniseries from earlier this year), but he's generally a very nice guy. That's probably setting something up for later in the season, but right now it feels limiting.

We do eventually meet Clementine, who is noticeably older. I got the impression from pre-release materials that she was going to be a co-lead along the lines of Rhys and Fiona in Tales from the Borderlands, but you only take control of her during one scene--a flashback that explains what happened after whatever ending you got in Season 2 that led her to her situation in Season 3--including the fate of Kenny or Jane, if they were present. The narrative has yet to explain why AJ is absent, however.

The game can import your Season 2 save data, or you can conveniently recreate your experience from a series of survey questions, if you played the previous seasons on a different platform. Of course, the game can also just randomly generate a backstory for Clementine, if this is your first foray into the series. (Please don't start with Season 3.)

Javier and Clementine immediately find themselves in trouble with a relatively-friendly survival group and sort of fall into becoming partners, however reluctant Clementine is to admit it. When they run afoul of a significantly less friendly group, the titular New Frontier, it's revealed that Clementine has a mysterious history with them. She's the best character in the season so far, and she does work better as a (mostly) non-player character. She's allowed to be her tough, world-weary self without so much of the burden of player choice. I instinctively wanted to do things that please her, because she's super cool and I want her to like me.

A New Frontier doesn't mix up the formula at all, or bring anything new to the table. Telltale's games are focused enough on telling stories that it doesn't matter if there's no revolutionary new gameplay mechanic every time around. The same tired old engine returns, though, which is disappointing every time Telltale releases a new game. The current generation hardware means their games run better than they used to, but they still stutter when a lot is happening and there are graphical bugs here and there. I reached one scene where the grass constantly flickered and didn't stop until the scene was over, and that sort of issue is difficult to excuse.

This is another case where fans of the series already know that they want to come back for this third season of The Walking Dead. So far, I haven't found anything excessively disappointing. Javi is no Lee, but he's likable and he has room to grow. Clementine is still a great character, and I'm looking forward to seeing where her story takes her over the course of this new season.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (February 17, 2017)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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