The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
Episode 2: Ties That Bind, Part 2.
So, we finally get around to reviewing the second of the two episodes of this series that were initially released. The first one somewhat impressed me, at least by the standards of a Telltale Games' game, so I had pretty high hopes for this one. Well, moderately high. A little high. High-ish. Medium, really.
Continuing from the end of the first episode, the second episode sees Javi and Clem return to Prescott, where Kate is bleeding internally. When the New Frontier attacks Prescott to get at Javi, as revenge for him killing several of their own, the town is destroyed, and Javi, Clem, Kate, Eleanor, and Gabe, along with Prescott citizens Tripp and Conrad, and mysterious wanderer Jesus, all head to the town of Richmond, which has been taken over by the New Frontier, to get medical care for Kate. The already tense group threatens to fall in on itself, however, when Clem is revealed to be a former member of the New Frontier.
So, this episode wins no points for doing the most predictable thing and having the nice, functional town immediately get destroyed. At this point, it's such a Walking Dead cliche that it's basically just a joke: If there's a nice town, or a nice settlement, or anywhere that is remotely okay to live, it's going to get destroyed within the space of an hour. It happened with the motel in the first series, and with the ski lodge in the second series, and it's happened again this time. It's not interesting anymore, because 'interesting' would require a break from the norm:
At this point, the most interesting thing Telltale Games could do is set an entire five episode series inside a functioning, safe town, dealing with the necessary measures for running the town and keeping it safe.
But no, before long the characters are back on the road, because of course they can, and obviously as is this series' tradition, there is one member of the group who is irrational and crazy and turns on them all. Twelfth verse, same as the first, and all that. There's nothing compelling about Conrad getting crazy and violent, because crazy and violent is basically just normal for this story.
Instead, the most interesting thing the story has going for it is the ongoing question mark over whether it's a good idea to side with Clem, as siding with her increasingly leads Javi -- and by extension, the player -- down extreme paths, such as shooting Conrad. If Telltale follows through on that, it'll be a pretty expert use of the affection players have already built up for Clem to deliver an emotional impact. Unfortunately, I don't have all that much faith that Telltale will follow through on it, especially as it will most definitely earn them the ire of the fans.
We also get more flashbacks -- one showing the start of Javi's sort-of-romance with Kate, his brother's wife (along with the reveal that David was in the army, thus setting us up to discover that he is a high-ranking member of the militaristic New Frontier, and establishing some future conflict for him and Javi), and one showing Clem being recruited into the New Frontier. These sections are even more pointless than the present-day sections, from a choice-making perspective: Even if you have Javi brush Kate off, they'll still end up in a romance, and even if you have Clem refuse the offer to join the New Frontier, she'll still end up joining. The game doesn't even try to pretend your actions are having any impact here.
|Also, what did happen to AJ? We've not seen that yet.|
All of which should mean that I didn't enjoy this episode at all, but I actually kind of did. Once we get past the 'Prescott being destroyed' section, which is exactly the same as every other 'a safe haven gets overrun by zombies' section from every other The Walking Dead series, the game does actually become pretty enjoyable. It's difficult for me to put my finger on why, save that the story does actually set up some interesting ideas amidst all of the cliches: The New Frontier are actually a pretty interesting villain group, and I'm interested to see what David and Javi's interactions will be like, and moreover, I'm actually pretty fascinated by the question of whether we can trust Clem or not.
That said, it's very obvious that this is just another chip off the old Telltale block. I'm not surprised, I'm not even really disappointed, but it's nevertheless a little frustrating how Telltale seems content to just churn out the same stuff again and again.
Still, I enjoyed this episode well enough. There's no release date for the third episode yet, but I'd be surprised if we didn't see it by the end of March at the latest, especially as this seems to be Telltale's only project right now.