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.

PC GAMER (UK) - - Contents - By Chris Schilling

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.

walk on

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

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