Two years after the end of the second season, we return to Telltale’s Walking Dead franchise with a new subtitle and a new main character. The first season thrust the company into the spotlight, their emphasis on well-written and engaging stories that give importance to player decisions proving that the adventure game still had traction. They have gone on to have many successful titles with this formula and A New Frontier seems set to follow in their footsteps on the evidence of these first two episodes.
Having spent the vast majority of our time with Clementine in past seasons, the series introduces a new player-character, Javier. Clementine’s role is reduced, though still significant, as she becomes a supporting character whose relationship with Javier blossoms over the course of the game.
There are still moments where you take control of the fan-favorite through flashbacks, but Javi, as he is known, is unmistakably the lead and brings with him a new storyline and set of character arcs, opening new possibilities and avenues for the series.
This is an interesting way to mix it up, and it certainly works in a lot of ways, providing us a fresh perspective on the apocalypse and giving us a new family to care about, as well as getting us to think about Clem from another point of view, and look at how she’s grown in a different light. In true Telltale style, we get a lot of great dialogue and typically strong voice acting, as well as a reliably evocative score from Jared Emerson-Johnson. We also benefit from the company’s new game engine, which gives the graphics the sharper edge they were perhaps missing before, and adds a new layer of appreciation for their hand-drawn art style.
The story moves us along well from the tragic events of the second season, which was in general very strong, but looked quite hard to move forward from in to new ground — such was the bleakness of its ending. The introduction of Javier and juxtaposition with Clementine’s story allows the story to move off on a tangent, making it easier to become invested in new characters.
Of course, past events have a severe impact on the once innocent Clementine. Here, she is a veritable badass, having matured extremely quickly and having come to terms with the reality of a very bleak situation. She’s a quick-thinking and mature presence, even if her new, cold attitude can seem standoffish to a character who is, at the start of the game at least, still full of hope. This is another area that becomes interesting to explore, the personality clash between Javi and Clementine making for some of the game’s best scenes so far.
These interpersonal relationships are probably the game’s strong point. As usual, the emphasis is on human conflict here as zombies start to fade in to the background, almost an annoyance this far in to the apocalypse rather than something that drives the plot forward. Of course, their lingering threat is precisely what pushes people to extremes, but it’s more about the extent people will go to in order to survive.
In terms of gameplay, there is sadly no real improvement. The fixed viewpoint sometimes makes exploring awkward and Telltale continue to seemingly arbitrarily decide what actions they would like you to do and what is part of the cutscene, but these are all standard Telltale bugbears.
Of course, the general gist of the gameplay involves the odd puzzle, a couple of interactions with items and the trusty quick time event, but these are all things Telltale fans will be used to by now. The decisions, which are the main driving force of the player’s interaction with the story, continue to be well thought out and interesting, though the continuing criticism that Telltale force all choices down the same avenue continues, perhaps with good reason.
Still, this does not take away from the power of the story, where family takes center stage and the stakes are high. Cults are popular in this franchise, but the New Frontier of the title seem genuinely menacing and the second episode drives home the conflicts that are rife within the new group about them and their involvement in events, with the twists and turns coming thick and fast by the end.
Both parts of Ties That Bind do a good job of setting up our new characters, and examining their relationships with each other in typical subtle and intelligent style. It’s possible you will begin the game less invested in proceedings as the days of Lee are left far behind in Season 1, and Clementine isn’t front and center anymore, but the way it handles her past and looks forward to her future is thoughtful and powerful, taking choices from the last season in to account wherever possible — a solid start to the new season.