A horde of zombies, scrapping for supplies, death all around.
It most certainly is a new Telltale Walking Dead season. Opening as a double bill, with two episodes taking up parts of one narrative arc, this season is already different. It pits Clem away from the lead role and has you focus on the new protagonist, Javier Garcia, and his family. It’s a new focus and a new story – and it’s a refreshing and exciting change.
Ties That Bind Part I places you back in the world of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, a world many of us will be extremely familiar with either from the comics, the TV series or the two outstanding previous seasons crafted by Telltale. However, this time round, the world is perceived through unfamiliar eyes: Javier Garcia, a Cuban-American. We witness the birth of the walker apocalypse through him before cutting to the modern day where the season is set, taking place nearer to the current timeline of the comics and well after season two.
The starting sequences give you a real look into the world of the Garcias: this is a close-knit family undergoing many struggles. There is a gap in the timeline between the past and present: we only see Javier travelling with his brother’s wife and kids. It’s intriguing and is bound to be filled in in the future: what happened to the rest of his family? With teenage mood swings and step-mum problems, the setup resembles a family drama – albeit with an ominous back drop.
In Ties That Bind Part I, there is an emphasis on family, and what it means to be a family in this new world. The commitments to one another feel real, which is a triumph considering the circumstances. There is solid foundation built in the first few sequences that really grind this importance into you – but doesn’t beat you over the head with it.
I will say that the first few sequences of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier start fairly slowly. Although there is a lot of interesting drama, the sense of danger we’ve come to expect from The Walking Dead is fairly absent. I felt I was watching television for the first few scenes: I was gripped, but somewhat passive to begin with. I was never bored; I just felt like a viewer. That said, for this type of game, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and the rest of the episode really ramps up to an exciting tempo.
As an area they’ve often been criticised for in previous releases, it’s important to note that Telltale have really improved on the animations of their characters. They may still have the same sketchbook style, but the facial movements are better, with subtler emotions and more realistic nuances. The cinematography is spot on; you would forgive yourself for thinking you are watching a film.
When you do get to the action sequences, these flow much smoother and the way its presented really gives you a sense of emergency. The dire situation is portrayed much clearer through quick time events that a that aren’t a million miles away from what we’re used to from Telltale, but feel better refined and more engaging.
So it looks better and it plays better than previous Telltale releases, but as they say, the proof is in the pudding. For a story-driven game that pudding is narrative, so how is it? In short, it’s good. The story feels familiar, but different; the episode is set up as a new story with no need for prior knowledge. Javier is extremely likeable as a character, and that really pays off as the new frontman. While the world feels familiar, it also throws you away from everything the first seasons have established; I think that the game is all the better for it. Clementine’s story, while not over, had become over-saturated and required a bit of new blood and creative freedom.
There are no warm reunions with former characters. However, we do meet Clementine but more as a lone stranger in contrast Javier’s family and their more protected upbringing. The greatest achievement of A New Frontier so far has been its ability to pull me, as a returning player, away from my natural inclination towards Clementine. While the decisions in these episodes aren’t as hard as they have been for Lee and Clementine in previous seasons, Ties That Bind plays on the need to preserve your family. Making decisions in this new way is difficult; not only must you survive, but be a role model as well.
If you are a returning player hoping to revisit Clementine and more familiar faces, then then there is still enough here for you. We get a peek into Clementine’s past since we last saw her, as well as inter-connectivity between the new settlements and those previously familiar to us. We are also introduced to the overhanging threat of the New Frontier, a group of survivors that aggressively settle and exploit others.
For the first time in Telltale’s history, two episodes have been released simultaneously, so the end of the first leads directly into the second. Ties That Bind Part I still has its own worthwhile, dramatic ending, though it’s clearly intended that you play both episodes together. Overall, it’s a fantastic introduction to The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. The story is incredibly well created, still managing to feel fresh despite the amount of baggage its carrying from two previous seasons of diverging narrative. While it may take a while to really settle into the unfamiliarity of the game, it isn’t because you are not interested; for me, it was because I was in awe at how these stories can be told. A New Frontier feels completely fresh, but still scratches that Walking Dead itch – something I was truly worried about when I first realised I was playing as someone completely new.