The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Ties That Bind Review (PC)
The outbreak in The Walking Dead affected everyone differently. Some folks lost their whole families right away, while others managed to survive with the people close to them largely intact. While the Image Comic (and television adaptation) have largely focused on Rick and his family --- both biological and adopted --- the Telltale Games adventures have been about finding that family. At least prior to this new season, A New Frontier, they were. Instead of guiding a character on his or her quest to find a place in this broken down world, we experience life from the point of view of Javier, a man who once abandoned his family, but now is desperately doing everything can to hold them together.
"Ties That Bind" picks up in the past with Javier returning home to visit his ailing father, but complications impact his ability to arrive in time. His brother, David, is immediately annoyed, though it's clearly a long-burning resentment finally given reason to break free. The episode then brings us to "present" day, with Javier, his sister-in-law Kate, and his niece and nephew, Mariana and Gabe, trying to find supplies to keep them going in the dark of night. They happen upon what appears to be an abandoned junk yard, but as anyone familiar with The Walking Dead in the least knows, no place is safe for long.
During these early moments in the story, we get a good sense of the new group, though Javi understandably gets the most time in the spotlight. As the player, you can decide whether or not Javi will be calm and collected, flirtatious, or stern and absolute in his reasoning. It's a bit of a different style of characterization for a lead in a Telltale Walking Dead story, as Lee was always a man keeping secrets, Clementine was always too guarded to become empathic, and Michonne, well, we all know how Michonne can be.
Javi is a bit of a relief in that sense, as he's not nearly as jaded or cynical at the start of A New Frontier. He may evolve into that role, but through the various dialogue options, Telltale at least gives players the sense that Javier is a man atoning for his past actions, and is willing to be more selfless than he was in the past.
As can be expected, things don't quite go as smoothly for Javier and his family at the Junkyard as they had hoped, and Javier is captured by a group of bandits. As they're taking him away to locations unknown, the caravan is stalled by a crash. Though he escapes the wreckage, Javi's life isn't safe yet, as he finds himself on the business end of a mysterious stranger's shotgun. Finally, Clementine has returned. It's a moment that we've been waiting for these past few years, and seeing her again brings a lot of emotions to a head. If this is your first Telltale Walking Dead game, the impact of the moment won't be quite as impressive. For those of us that have been there from the start, seeing her again is almost a bit of a relief, right up until it isn't.
The years haven't been very kind to Clementine, and you can tell the journey she's been on is wearing on her more and more every day. She's not willing to give her trust away immediately, which is smart, but it also makes her a bit more cold and callous than maybe we would have played her were we still in control. Clementine does provide an interesting counterpoint to Javier though, being the uncompromising realist to his more understanding disposition. Her attitude almost immediately begins getting Javier into trouble he likely would have avoided on his own, and so their separate journeys become entwined largely as a result of Clem's inability to see the larger picture.
For the most part, the plotting of these first two episodes is terrific. The big, shocking beats Telltale's Walking Dead games have become known for are all present, though the writers still found ways to surprise us even after so many hours of twists and turns in previous seasons. It's always best to be on your guard, but even the most guarded of players will still find some elements even they likely didn't see coming.
There is still the element of not truly having a choice in how events unfold no matter what your decision was during key moments. However, that criticism of Telltale's games has never sat well with us throughout the years. While some events are destined to happen, you are still choosing to act in a certain way, whether that decision brings about the same reaction a different choice would have offered or not. Javier may only have a few ways to respond, but it's still in your hands to shape the kind of character he'll become as a result of those actions. It never gets easier to be at the center of all these choices, and you're going to make some bad ones along the way, but even if "destiny" is already ordained, you've made a choice that brought it about.
A New Frontier doesn't offer much new to the gameplay mechanics of Telltale's adventure games. Batman: The Telltale Series at least introduced a new power attack you could unleash if you timed combat well enough, but here the only marked change is hitting buttons in succession during some shooting segments. That's not to say The Walking Dead needed some kind of drastic gameplay overhaul, but it would have been nice to see some new elements added to break up the formula just a bit.
As a re-introduction into Telltale's Walking Dead world, A New Frontier does just about everything right. The new characters offer some much needed change in perspective, and the narrative is a tight story that lays the groundwork for an exciting and different season. While Clementine's return is a boon for fans, it might not be that way for Javier, who makes for a strong new protagonist. We can only hope doesn't get broken too badly throughout the rest of his story.
This review was completed using a download of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier - "Ties That Bind" provided by the publisher for PC.