Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Episode One Review

Telltale Game’s newest entry into their The Walking Dead series has finally released.  After a somewhat disappointing second season, the third season holds a lot of weight.  Appropriately titled The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, this new season changes things up a bit.  While there hasn’t been any drastic changes made to the formula, A New Frontier feels decidedly different in focus.  The first episode in this five episode series really goes for it, too.  Titled Ties That Bind Part One, it’s a definite step in the right direction.  The true question is whether or not the experience pays off.  Let’s break down the first episode in this new Telltale experience and see how it performs.

The walking dead title screen

Let’s begin this new experience.

GRAPHICS AND AUDIO

While A New Frontier isn’t the best looking Telltale game in style, it’s definitely the most competent in performance.  With most Telltale produced titles, there’s an odd array of technical hiccups that accompany the game.  In fact, it’s become so regular that it’s just an expectation that comes with playing a Telltale game.  While these issues haven’t been completely erased, they are much less apparent than before.

Additionally, the game opts to stick to the old visual style of the first two seasons of The Walking Dead.  Other Telltale games like Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones attempted variations on the signature visual style to varying degrees of success.  However, when it comes to The Walking Dead, I’m glad they chose to stick to the series’ roots.

Like I mentioned, the game isn’t visually arresting or astounding, but I don’t think it’s meant to be.  What the game lacks in graphical flare it makes up for in compelling storytelling, which is the primary focus overall.  The game manages to create a visual world that is detailed and immersive enough to envelope your attention.  The visuals are functional rather than excessive, which is a positive in my opinion.  Overall, the visual style and art direction on display is just fine.

On the audio side, things play out similarly.  While the music and sound design aren’t stand out, they are functional when needed.  There’s a few moments in the story where sound really helps emphasize the impact.  When these moments arise, the sound design and editing is flawless.  It’s a bit disappointing that there’s still lip syncing issues and some dull sounds, but what’s here works.  On the other hand, the voice acting is virtually flawless.  I have absolutely no complaints about any of the performances in Ties that Bind Part One.  Each character is played perfectly, and each actor really brings their best.  The overall sound design is average, but thanks to stellar voice acting it edges out on top.

Great voice acting make tense moments even more impacting.

GAMEPLAY

There’s honestly not very much to comment on here.  If you’ve played a Telltale game before, you have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into.  For those who are unfamiliar, most of Telltale games play pretty similar.  True gameplay boils down to more of an “interactive television show” than a traditional game.  As cut scenes play out, you decide on key dialogue choices (as pictured above).   Sometimes you are tasked with pressing a series of buttons when action breaks out, or exploring a limited space to further the story.  Previous Telltale games featured light puzzles and item collection.  Ties That Bind Part One has little of this; most exploration is limited and brief.  When you do explore, areas seem a bit more open than previous games allowed.  I’m interested to see if the season opens up a bit more.  I think that if it’s done right, A New Frontier might be the right season to try out some light exploration.

Overall, Ties that Bind Part One is a passive experience, but engaging in spurts.  You’ll never be challenged by the difficulty of the game, but rather the difficulty of the moral choices you must make.

This creepy junkyard was a pleasure to explore.

STORY

It’s no secret; Telltale games live and die by their storytelling.  Since the entire experience hinges on the story, I’ll do my best to not spoil anything.  Simply put, Ties that Bind Part One utilizes some great narrative mechanics that make for a refreshing experience.  In the first episode there’s a few jumps in time between the past and present, which allow for great character development.  It’s a mechanic that hasn’t been used this well in a Telltale game until now.  Also, seeing characters and how they’ve changed over long periods of time drives empathy and care for the characters.

That brings me to my main point… the characters.  Season 2 of The Walking Dead suffered from mediocre characters that lacked heart.  A New Frontier rights that wrong, and each character is written with excellence.  There’s stand out performances, of course, but each character plays their part effectively.  Don’t get it twisted, however, as Ties that Bind Part One feels more like a character study than a group study.  Whereas Season 1 and Season 2 seemed to focus on the cast of survivors in a group equally, A New Frontier seems to tell the distinct story of our main character, Javier.  Although you are part of a group, the overall narrative seems to focus on him rather than the group as a whole.  This is effective, as Javier is a great character that oozes relativity.  You can see yourself in his shoes often; he’s just a generally likable character.

Of course, there’s the return of fan favorite Clementine, but she’s hardly the focus regardless of her ample screen time.  It’s impressive that Javier manages to outshine Clementine in this narrative, given her long running history with the series.  The story here is tense, emotional, and jaw dropping at points.  I truly don’t want to spoil anything, as Ties that Bind Part One has masterful execution in its narrative.

Our main character, Javier.

THE VERDICT

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the true return of The Walking Dead.  There’s something magical about Season 1 of Telltale’s interpretation that really strikes true for me.  It’s also a magic that I don’t think they’ve been able to recreate… until now.  It’s been a long time since I’ve truly been invested in a character, or exclaimed aloud while playing The Walking Dead.  Luckily, I did both of those things multiple times throughout my time with Episode 1 of the new season.  The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Episode 1: Ties That Bind Part One is not only a great episode from Telltale, but an indication that this new season might just be the one to eclipse them all.  Telltale has regained their magic with this one, and I can’t wait to see where the season takes us.

Rating: 8.5/10

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