The more Telltale games that I play, the clearer it becomes the company strategy is quantity over quality. As of the time I am writing this post, they are 7 days away from releasing episodes for three different franchises at the same time (Guardians of the Galaxy, Minecraft: Story Mode –Season 2, and Batman: The Enemy Within). I believe they are spread thin and their games are starting to reflect that.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier (avoiding the Season Three title to avoid alienating new fans who would be intimidated by not playing the first two seasons) is the worst of the series. It looks weird, the writing is sub-par, it contains game ruining glitches, and new characters came and went without leaving any memories or emotional connection.
I was surprised to see that Telltale didn’t include the TV like intro for each episode like they did for the Michonne mini-series and The Wolf Among Us. The “next time on” feature also isn’t in this game dampening the episodic feeling of the game.
The cell shaded art style for The Walking Dead games and The Wolf Among Us fit well as it looks like a comic book which the stories are based on, and it allowed the game designers to hide any graphical limitations. The art style changed subtly with season two, and the Michonne mini-series, but it kept its cell shaded foundation while improving on the graphics. A New Frontier has almost abandoned the cell shaded look for a glossy less attractive art style similar to the Batman game (it uses the same updated engine as the Batman game). It still looks like a Telltale Walking Dead game but with a peculiar glaze that I never got used too.
A New Frontier introduced a new batch of characters with long back stories and put them in impossible situations. The characters all had unique names and physical appearances to make them easily recognizable by the distracted and absent minded millennial eye. I didn’t care for any of them and most of them died just like the previous two seasons. No new ground was broken.
The game focuses on the relationship between two brothers, Javi and David. Javi is a free spirited baseball player with a former gambling problem, and David is a hard headed army vet who tries to solve all of his problems through violence. This relationship which was intended to come off as complicated and intriguing was nothing more than a lazy way for the writers to create “hard” decisions for the player to make.
Jesus, a character from the comics makes an appearance in the game. He was crudely written into the plot with the sole purpose of connecting the game to the comics. He served little purpose other than that. He showed up, helped the group out, bailed, and then reappeared at the end of the game.
Gabe, the young teenager nephew of Javi is the worst character to ever grace a Walking Dead game. It is never a good idea to have a adolescent boy who is going through puberty to be a main character. The moody, aggressive, but still weak 13 year old boy is very rarely ever done well as a character, and in a Telltale game, it is impossible to do well. Gabe has no redeeming qualities other than he lived a hard childhood growing up in the apocalypse. He is the source of much of the conflict and constantly caused problems which frankly just pissed me off. The relationship the game tried to create between him and Clementine was painful to watch and resulted in nothing more than awkward “it looks like they are hitting it off” comments from the adults.
An older Clementine played a supporting character in this game and received a flash back in each episode which revealed what happened in her life in between the seasons. She is now a loner who took the advice from Jane in Season Two in living alone to avoid the heart break that always comes from joining a group of people. The flashbacks were a lazy way of connecting the two games and the emotional ending of Season Two was rendered useless as both Jane or Kenny died off screen.
One flashback in particular is memorable in its negative impact it had on my enjoyment of the game. Clementine joined the New Frontier, a ruthless but fair group of people who work together to create a successful community. She was struggling with taking care of an infant AJ and wanted the support of the Frontier to keep him fed and properly cared for. AJ got sick and the leadership (David) refused to give the baby medicine as they believed saving him was a low possibility and they wanted to ration the medicine. Clementine stole medicine for AJ and was caught. A drama filled cut scene of David being a total douche bag, taking AJ, and kicking Clementine out of the group occurred. This entire flash back makes it look like the Frontier is corrupt and that David is a heartless and lying leader.
As the game progresses, the player learns that AJ survived due to the care of David and that David liked raising him. The writers tried to make the player feel bad for spitting in David’s face and hating the Frontier for being unfair to Clementine as David actually helped AJ. Telltale always tries to “trick” the player like they did in the flash back, not telling the player the whole story, just the parts that make a character look like a piece of shit, so the player hates them. Then as the game goes on they show the good stuff the character does to make the player feel conflicted.
This gimmick has run its course. It reminds me of the awful movie Righteous Kill which came out in 2008 and stars Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. The entire movie hinted at De Niro’s character being the bad guy and the dirty cop while Pacino was the good straight cop. Every scene was designed to trick the viewer into thinking De Niro was the bad guy then at the end it is revealed that Pacino is the bad guy. That isn’t good writing or a shocking revelation, that is a cheap technique used to purposely mislead the viewer.
Telltale does the same thing over and over again in their games, misleading the player and then giving them information later that reveals their feelings were wrong.
The shock kill is another over utilized technique of Telltale. The first episode of A New Frontier ends with Javi finding his family and happily reconnecting with them. Then, just as his cute niece picks up her cassette player, she is shot through the head. This scared the hell out of me and I felt bad as I was growing to like that character, but it meant nothing. It was another trick, a glorified jump scare to shock the player. Telltale is more capable of creating substantive scary situations than shock killing a character.
A New Frontier had some disappointing hand holding story telling moments while maintaining some subtle moments as well. The main cast is made up of a Hispanic family and they referred to the walkers as muertos. It has happened before when a new group of people are introduced and they call the zombies something different. Muerto translates to dead in Spanish so it made since that they called the walkers Muertos without explanation. Telltale felt the need to include a flashback where Javi and Kate come up with the name (“I don’t even know what to call them.”)
In Season Two Jane teaches Clementine a technique in killing walkers by taking out their knees and then stabbing them in the back of the head. Clementine used this technique throughout A New Frontier and I got nervous when a short scene of her showing Gabe the technique took place. Based on the muerto conversation I figured she would say something like “my friend Jane taught me this” but Telltale kept the dignity of the scene.
Finally I want to discuss the glitches. Telltale games are a mess, they always have been, and likely always will be. I have been able to look past the immersion breaking glitches in the past, but I no longer have any patience for them. This game, one of the newest Telltale releases on a supposedly revamped game engine and is a modern console exclusive (no longer on the 360 or PS3), is the worst performing Telltale game yet. Huge polygons breaking out of the chest of Javi, strobe like flashing back grounds, and the hard crash which not only crashed my game, buy crashed my PS4. Telltale’s number one priority, now that they have acquired a loyal fan base and large IP’s, needs to be fixing, or making a new game engine.
A New Frontier isn’t a bad game, but I know Telltale can do better. The focus needs to go back to character development and storytelling, not setting up future games and using surface level gimmicks.