Episodes 1 and 2 of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier improve upon the series’ existing formula, offering an emotionally trying story and a new coat of gameplay polish.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is Telltale Games’ third core series entry to its take on the long-running graphic novel. Gamers who have played any of the prior iterations of the franchise will find that A New Frontier is familiar territory, following the same general formula of decision-making and emotional upheaval, but with enough tweaks to make the game feel a bit fresher than prior entries.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier hands the reins to a brand new main character, Javier. Doing so was probably a risk, since players have become quite invested in the story of Lee and Clementine, dating back to the very first season of The Walking Dead. However, the hand-off is arguably a success, with Javier emerging as a likable guy who’s just trying to do right by his family in the walker apocalypse, while still retaining enough character flaws to be relatable.
Thankfully for series veterans, Clementine has a strong presence in the first two episodes of the game. Players are allowed to use their saves from season 1 and 2 in order to create a custom Clementine, or they can use a story generator to make decisions regarding her character development. As a result, Clementine is still the same girl players have come to know and love, although she’s become hardened from the events between the end of Season 2 and the start of A New Frontier. The Walking Dead: A New Frontier fills in these gaps with frequent flashbacks, also uncovering the fate of baby AJ, and Kenny or Jane, depending on who Clementine was last traveling with.
During these flashbacks, players take control of Clementine, but for the remainder of the game, Javier is the sole playable character. It allows for a bit of nostalgia for series veterans, but also helps to provide balance to characters’ capabilities. In season 1 and 2, the main character was often tasked with performing an action while the remaining NPCs stood around being generally useless. Here, Clementine often feels like an extension of the main character, even though she’s generally not controlled by the player. She often engages in actions while Javier is busy with something else, moving the story along and making it feel less like everyone except for the main character is helpless and utterly relying on the main character to do everything.
The basic gameplay in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is nearly identical to the entries to the series that have come before it, but it’s been tweaked enough to feel more fluid and enjoyable. This is due in part to the fact that the game is primarily set four years after the beginning of the outbreak, so surviving characters are more skilled in survival and combat. As a result, combat is fluid, quick, and satisfying, although it does still essentially boil down to reactionary button mashing and point-and-click shooting segments.
In addition, the main character tends to spend less time slowly wandering around an area inspecting objects and talking with people to progress. While there are still plenty of opportunities to thoroughly examine and discuss everything should the player so choose, this process has been made less tedious. There’s less backtracking, and the areas players can explore are smaller and partitioned off so finishing a task takes less time.
Visually, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier has received a bit of an upgrade since Season 2 and Michonne’s three part mini-series, probably due in part to using the new game engine it and Telltale’s Batman both use. Although the game still sticks to a cel-shaded style to emulate the appearance of the graphic novels, lighting and textures have more depth now, giving characters a more three-dimensional appearance. Characters facial expressions are a bit more subtle this time around, too, which is an improvement over the sometimes over-the-top reactions that were prevalent in Season 1 and Season 2.
In terms of story, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is just as harrowing as fans of the series have come to expect. Javier, his family, and Clementine are thrown into a series of events involving an antagonist group referring to itself as The New Frontier. Although the tension is palpable between characters prior to The New Frontier appearing on the scene, events quickly take a turn for the worse from their involvement, leading to some of the most shocking moments the game has to offer. Unfortunately, each episode clocks in at around an hour, leaving very little time to explore the motivations driving The New Frontier.
Overall, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is off to a solid start. Fans of the series will definitely have plenty to enjoy here – and emotionally suffer through – and players who found the game to be too clunky and slow previously may appreciate this entry more. While The Walking Dead: A New Frontier doesn’t radically change the gameplay formula Telltale Games has developed, it keeps what worked all along and fine-tunes it further to create a genuinely enjoyable – albeit brief – gaming experience.