It’s Episode 4 time! As Telltale’s newest season of their key mark franchise continues, I’ll be here delivering my verdict on The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. So far, the episodes have ranged from great to bad, mainly providing us with an inconsistent experience. The fourth episode in Telltale seasons usually indicate the overall quality, and while it’s not a perfect science, it’s one that I’ve found remains consistent. Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Episode 4: Thicker than Water (wow, that was a mouthful) is finally upon us, and sets the stage for Episode 5. But is it a stage worth occupying?
Note: This review will contain spoilers for previous episodes. Consider this before reading further.
Walking Dead: The Penultimate Frontier
Of the course of the season, we’ve gotten closer to Javier and his family. Their story has been the best part of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier so far, and Episode 4 gives us a bit more insight into their time before the outbreak. We gain this information through flashbacks, and while we don’t get as much as we did in Episode 3, the flashbacks are pretty well done. The episode opens with the first one, showing David and Javier at a set of batting cages. They amble on about their lives and their woes, with David discussing his failing marriage with Kate.
Just as quickly as it starts, the flashback fades, and we find ourselves back in Richmond. Richmond, the main base of the New Frontier gang, played a large role in Episode 3, and Episode 4 continues that story. Javier and the gang are trapped within the walls, unable to escape due to the gang’s leader Joan and the zombie horde banging on the gates. After David went off the handle in the Episode 3, his own people have betrayed him, locking him up alongside his Javier. Joan stops by and pays them a visit, letting the brothers know that their judgement will be executed the following afternoon in the town square. This prompts an escape plan from Javier, after Joan takes David and leaves him.
Briefly Walking with the Dead
And… that’s where I have to stop. Telling you anymore about the set up to Episode 4 will ruin the entire episode, because once again, Telltale has crafted us an experience that clocks in at just over an hour. Walking Dead: A New Frontier is probably the most rushed and brief Telltale experience I’ve seen thus far, excluding their adaptation of Game of Thrones. As a side note, it seems like The Walking Dead Telltale series has gone the way of the show, containing an episode that barely contains any actual walkers.
We get some more time with Javier’s group, with Tripp and Eleanor getting some time in the spotlight. Additionally, Episode 4 sees the return of Ava, a conflicted New Frontier higher up. I really enjoyed her compassionate and empathetic actions in Episode 3, and hoped we would get to see more of her as the series progressed. I enjoyed Ava and her character, although she remains pretty one-note throughout the episode.
Clementine pops up as well, and she gets her own flashback to boot. As the season wraps up, I can’t help but feel like Clementine was added into the story as a necessity, rather than a creative choice. She’s my favorite character in the game, no doubt about that, but that’s mainly due to the emotional connection brought on by the previous two seasons. Besides Javier (and perhaps Kate), I don’t really feel any connection to the new characters.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Episode 4 also fixes a previous complaint I had, but disappoints in other areas. I had complained about the lack of true gameplay in Episode 3. The entirety of Episode 3 was done through cinematics and quick time events. Although that style takes up most of Episode 4 (as it should, in true Telltale fashion), it also opens up a bit and lets you walk around. There’s only a handful of sections that allow free movement, but I enjoyed being able to actually control Javier this time around.
The beginning segment that tasks you with breaking out of the New Frontier jail cell, along with exploring the surroundings of a New Frontier outpost, both feel nice and break up the monotony. These portions of the game are brief though, and I would’ve liked if they were a bit longer. It’s obvious when compared to other Telltale series (like The Wolf Among Us) that A New Frontier is a much more passive experience.
As a final disappointing touch, Episode 4 seems to stutter and drop frames much more than usual. In fact, along with the signature “Telltale stutter” that happens during scene transitions, the overall technical quality is pretty shoddy. Characters slow down to a crawl during scenes, some animations become flip book style when the game drops frames, and it feels like a generally unpolished product.
The Bottom Line on Episode 4: Thicker than Water
Despite decent story telling and a plot that actually progresses, Episode 4 just barely performs better than Episode 3. Unfortunately, a rising amount of technical issues make for a more disruptive experience. A lot of the episode’s big moments (of which there are few) require a certain connection or care for the characters affected. Unfortunately, I haven’t felt any real emotion since Episode 1. Telltale has struggled to make me feel for these characters, and while they’ve been through a lot, I can’t say that I care.
Episode 4 feels rushed, unpolished, and at points, incomplete. I can tell that Telltale is struggling to put out episodes as quickly as they’d like, but if a longer wait means a better product, I’m all for waiting. With the Guardians of the Galaxy adaptation taking off in the right direction, I can’t help but feel like the production has taken priority over The Walking Dead. It shows too, as Episode 4 continues the tradition of a hollow and emotionless experience. There’s a decent set up to Episode 5, and maybe the season will be able to redeem itself somewhat. More likely though, I feel like A New Frontier will end with a fizz rather than a bang. With an abrupt ending that does nothing more than set up the finale, Episode 4 fares just as poorly as the previous episode.