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Friday, 6 January 2017

Telltale Games' The Walking Dead: A New Frontier E1: Ties That Bind, Part 1

Telltale Games' The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
Episode 1: Ties That Bind, Part 1.

It's really difficult to actually make reviews of Telltale's games interesting, you know? Because this is basically how they always go: "The gameplay is the same as every previous Telltale game before it, apart from this one meaningless bit of innovation, and your choices are totally meaningless, which means that the story, such as it is, lacks any impact because your suspension of disbelief is constantly being broken by pointless moral choices." That's it, that's the entire review of every Telltale Games game, you can basically now skip half of my reviews.

But that last is the crux of it, I think: Plenty of games have stories without choice at all, and I often praise their stories -- but the addition of choices which I know aren't really choices will always throw me right out of the story, as I am forced to sit and make note of the fact that, actually, that choice is meaningless. When a choice mechanic is the only thing your game has going for it, that basically just means your games are completely empty.

Which might be why it took me so long to review this episode. It came out quite a while ago, but I've just not been able to muster up any interest in it.

Set a few years after the end of the second series, A New Frontier follows Javi, a young former baseball player who, after the zombie apocalypse began, went on the run with his brother's wife and two children. When the group run afoul of a group of scavengers, Javi is separated from the others and winds up running into Clementine, who agrees to help him find his family on the condition that they give her their van afterwards. Ending up at the town of Prescott, things swiftly go downhill when Clem accidentally murders a man, landing the two of them in jail.

Clem, Javi, and also some other people.

Not mentioned above is the fact that the technical issues from Batman: The Telltale Series are back! Well, sort of. They aren't nearly as bad as they are in the aforementioned, but even players running on pretty advanced rigs will get sudden lags and stuttering at points. For a game that isn't remotely technically demanding, that's actually really not acceptable, and it's baffling that it would even be a thing. Telltale Games has not changed its game engine, gameplay features, or technical demands since the first Walking Dead game, apart from some very minor graphical updates, so there should really be no situation where any of their games should run less smoothly than their earlier ones.

The story does manage to take a slightly interesting turn by having you control the more innocent, less jaded Javi, while having series standby Clem as the more cynical mentor character -- and it capitalises on that by presenting the possibility that Clem might have started to go off her rocker slightly, as she murders a man and then enlists Javi's help in covering it up. It gives the audience an interesting dilemma, since at this point, we've all been thoroughly trained to think the best of Clem and trust her judgement, and it's be interesting to turn that into a trap where following Clem's advice would be the wrong choice.

Except it's never going to be a trap, because that would require a branching story, and as we all know, The Walking Dead games have no such thing going for them.

Prescott, an actual functioning town.

It also actually even managed to shock me at one point, where a heartwarming moment between Javi and one of the children is interrupted by the kid's face exploding as she's shot from behind. The shock wore off quickly, but given that Telltale's stuff increasingly fails to elicit any emotion from me, that was a pleasant surprise. And I'm even actually sort of invested in Javi's struggle and his relationship with Kate and Gabe, and just as invested in Clem's development.

Incidentally, as far as Clem goes, while the game is quick to invalidate the choice at the end of the last game by having whoever she let live die in a flashback, it does at least have each die in different ways: Kenny gets paralysed in a car crash and mauled by zombies, while Jane will commit suicide after discovering she's pregnant with, one assumes, Luke's child.

A first meeting.

Overall, this is definitely not the worst episode Telltale Games has ever put out. There's not much new here for me to talk about, but the story, at least, has managed to slightly catch my interest. Whether it can keep it over another four episodes is another matter altogether, but is doubtful to say the very least -- but I hope it can. It's nice to see an older, more cynical Clem, at least, even if I am a little suspicious of her.

If we're lucky, Telltale Games can keep up this quality in Guardians of the Galaxy, too, but I'm not holding my breath.

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