After dozens of comic book reads, years of TV binge-watching and two seasons of the interactive games from Telltale, I feel like I know what to expect from The Walking Dead. At its core it’s about walkers, surviving walker attacks, surviving hostile attacks from other survivors and scavenging enough supplies to live another day. It’s a good formula, but we’ve had heavy doses of it for a long time now.
The first two seasons of the game were an emotional roller-coaster, especially Season 1. But when The New Frontier was announced, the excitement I felt for the previous releases just wasn’t quite there. Sure, I still love the franchise, but maybe I was finally burned out on all the zombie games. Or perhaps I just needed to curl up with a really good, fresh zombie story. Could Telltale still tug at my emotions after all this time?
Eager to reignite my love for The Walking Dead, I jumped in to the first two episodes of The New Frontier. Ultimately the series will be five episodes, but as of this writing only the first two have been released. Telltale introduces us to a new protagonist in this series, a former pro baseball player named Javier Garcia.
The official launch trailer gives us a taste of what’s to come for Javier and his family:
For New AND Returning Players
For those who haven’t played the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, the latest release can be a fresh start. When starting the game for the first time, it asks if players are new to the series or returning – the story is then tailored accordingly. My review will be based on a new playthrough.
The first episode begins with a flashback of Javier’s family in pre-apocalypse times. They’re a likable enough bunch, but there’s a problem – Javier’s father passes away and turns into a walker, which as you probably guessed, sets the stage for the entire season. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but it’s still early in the story…
We are then whisked ahead to the present day and find Javier and crew struggling to survive in a zombie-ridden world. They live in a van and have been on the road for some time. In order to rest and stock up on supplies, the crew stops at a junkyard. Everything appears to be going smoothly with the search until Javier is discovered by the group running the junkyard. They’re not a friendly bunch, either. Following an altercation, our protagonist is knocked unconscious.
Javier wakes up in the passenger seat of a truck, being driven away from the junkyard and now separated from his family. He has a curt conversation with the driver that’s interrupted by a tree crashing down on the road in front of them. The tree causes the truck to veer into the woods and crash, killing the driver. It turns out that none other than our girl Clementine was behind the falling tree. She makes a deal with Javier – in exchange for his van, she’s willing to help him find his family.
Before returning to the junkyard, the duo make their way to a community called Prescott. It’s built atop an abandoned air strip and is dirty and run down. But it has walls, relative peace, and even a bar for folks to hit after a hard day of zombie slaughtering. It’s as good a place as any to call home in the land of the undead. Clem and Javier meet some good people here that eventually join their group.
In typical Walking Dead fashion, however, things get complicated as the story progresses. Javier does eventually reunite with his family, but not without a confrontation that ends with his sister-in-law seriously injured. As the group searches for help, emotions run high as a major secret of Clementine’s is revealed. Her revelation sets off a firestorm of drama that continues through the end of Episode 2. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Telltale game without a huge cliffhanger at the end that leaves you starving for more.
In addition to a compelling narrative, The New Frontier relies on flashbacks to piece together elements of the story – something I really enjoyed. Also, Telltale did a fantastic job of introducing new characters to an already existing franchise. Javier and his family are likable characters right from the start, and that helps new players ease into story while fleshing out an existing world for veterans. What’s different about Clem this time around is that she is more of a strong supporting character, rather than being front and center like in previous seasons. She’s grown up and become quite the badass, and I like her more than ever.
Visually, The New Frontier isn’t going to push a modern PC to it’s limits (in fact, it ran smoothly on my 2013 Lenovo laptop with a meager GeForce GT 635m GPU). The cel-shaded graphics still look great though, and the added grittiness of the characters and environments compliment the game’s mood perfectly. Voice acting is also top-notch, something I’ve come to expect from Telltale. They didn’t disappoint.
At the end of two episodes, I can say The New Frontier has absolutely reinvigorated my interest in The Walking Dead games. Whether you’re a newcomer or a veteran, there’s enough fresh storytelling and tough decisions to make it worth your time.