The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Ties That Bind
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier avoids third season syndrome with a confident double-bill in Ties that Bind.
Between the comic books, the TV series and the games, the cyclical nature of The Walking Dead’s narrative has become ever more apparent. Still, if a riff is catchy enough it can bear a certain degree of repetition, and though some of its scenarios are familiar, A New Frontier opens with a double episode that shows the game at its best, with characters you can care about, a couple of genuinely shocking surprises and a clutch of well-staged set-pieces. It helps that Telltale’s new engine finally feels fit for purpose. There’s little to grumble about in Ties That
Bind: everything runs that much smoother, and snappier transitions give the action sequences a greater sense of urgency. Press a button to jab a sharp object through a walker’s skull and the only delay between tap and squelch is in the swing. Better lighting and superior cinematography enhance the visual storytelling: episode one’s terrific opening offers a shivery reminder of the time the dead first started coming back to life, following a wonderful corridor shot with a jittery handheld camera to heighten the growing unease.
It’s here that we meet new protagonist Javier Garcia, a disgraced former baseball star who quickly moves from absentee son to surrogate father as his story picks up a few years later. He’s now on the road with sister-in-law Kate and her two stepkids, the sullen Gabe and the more immediately likeable, levelheaded Mariana. Theirs is the kind of dysfunctional family unit we’ve seen before, but there’s some solid character work here – and a winning line in gallows humour – that establishes the bond between them. Then there’s Clementine. A few years have passed since Season Two, and she’s more hard-bitten and distrusting than ever. It’s startling to see her like this, but we come to understand why, via two playable flashback sequences. The first draws a firm line under last season’s events, and for at least two of the possible endings resulting from your pivotal choice in the finale, the outcome is especially grim. It’s a reminder that your decisions can only shape your journey rather than its destination, but in a world where surviving is an act of defiance, there’s something to be said for a choice that lets you spend a little longer with someone you care for.
These moments are slightly more problematic in light of the main narrative. As players, we want to know what happened to Clem between then and now, so it makes sense for Telltale to fill in these gaps. But outside of these flashbacks, the story is told exclusively from Javier’s viewpoint. Taking time out to explore the backstory of someone he’s only recently met feels strange, and also leads to a certain disconnect in terms of your decision-making. We know Clem, but Javier doesn’t: though Telltale steadily establishes an uneasy alliance between them, there are key decisions we’re invited to make as Javier with knowledge he couldn’t possibly have. Later, after arriving at a new settlement, it’s not long before Javier indirectly causes a crisis, and yet characters are all too ready to trust him over companions they’ve surely spent a good deal longer with.
Otherwise, there’s much to admire here, from a darkly amusing exchange between Javier and Clem about their different terms for the dead (“What do you call the ones that run?”) to a torchlit tunnel escape that concludes with a tense confrontation and a choice that threatens to have serious ramifications for the next episode at the very least. An optional DIY surgery scene is every bit as squirmingly grisly as Clem’s wound stitching in last season’s opener, while an appearance from a familiar face will delight fans of the comic and/or TV show. It’s clear that the “graceful exit” imagined by one character isn’t going to happen any time soon for The Walking Dead, but
Ties That Bind makes a surprisingly convincing argument for it to keep shuffling onward.
A familiar face will delight fans of the comic and/or TV show