SPOILER WARNING: This article contains extreme spoilers for the entirety of Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. Read at your own caution.
Even though I’m a fan of Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, I hesitated for a long time to get A New Frontier. This was due to the numerous bad reviews on Steam that criticized the game for having immensely short episodes. However, with the 2017 Steam Summer Sale in full swing, and the game having released all the episodes, I decided it was finally time to take a swing at it. After all, these critics were probably just being very harsh, right?
To my surprise, no. If anything, these reviews on Steam were being overly lenient. The game is, to me, a full on disgrace to its predecessors.
Now before I delve into the whys, let me state one thing: I don’t think the game is bad as a standalone product persay. It has issues, but it’s still a decent enough of a game to be worth playing (for the price I paid at least). There are good characters in the story, it features dire circumstances with choices, the works. My opinion is coming from a place where I’m unable to evaluate it as a standalone product, however. This is the continuation of a series, with the titular character Clementine being heavily part of it. So if you want a less comparative opinion, this is not the article for you.
With that out of the way, let’s dive into why I believe this game is a disgrace to previous titles in the series. Keep in mind, there will be a heavy emphasis on story writing, as that is one of the highlights to the series in general. Also, if you didn’t see the huge warning at the top, this article will contain spoilers, so beware if you haven’t played the game.
Anyway, to begin, this particular title has some of the worst character writing. This is not to say all of them are terrible. For instance, new character Javier is a masterpiece since he has sympathetic motivations, a very rounded character, etc.. As far as I’m concerned, he’s just as good a protagonist as Lee and Clementine. However, whereas previous seasons took care to develop all the characters so they’d have motivations players could understand (making it a very human story), this title brushes half the characters aside. To example, Ava, while she has sympathetic scenes, is not really explained well at all as a character. It isn’t till later that you even learn she was instrumental in David’s survival, but it’s mentioned in such passing it may as well have not mattered at all. This is not to mention other characters never even get a chance to fully develop before they’re swiftly removed from play, such as Conrad. In the end, the game loses a lot of its human element, and the impact of choices feels way more downplayed than it did in previous seasons.
Relatedly, the story’s “twists” were often handled terribly. There are four prime examples I’m going to point out: Ava’s death, Jane’s death, Tripp getting mad about Conrad, and David’s betrayal. Of course, I’m basing this on my play-through, so I cannot speak for deviations (though I have heard choices are trivial at best).
- In my play-through, I ended up killing Tripp, resulting in Ava continuing with me into the last episode. Of course, that wasn’t for long, since a convenient plot device had her save Javier, fall off the highway overpass, and die. In essence, the story tells me my choice never mattered, because plot demanded that the survivor of the no win scenario be gone. This was an issue present in previous seasons, don’t get me wrong, but I have never felt more slapped in the face than with this moment. It is probably most insulting because this choice was made very recently in the overview of the game, and the story did not hide the fact they needed the survivor gone for the sake of the narrative.
- So, long story short, I did have Jane alive over Kenny. Not a popular decision, I know, but it is what it is. But guess what? It didn’t matter. Clementine needed to be alone, so we’ll just kill Jane off really quickly. What is most infuriating about Jane’s death, for me at least, is that she dies via suicide probably not long after she and Clementine holed up at Howe’s. This felt so utterly unsuitable to her character I couldn’t even fathom it was really happening. Kenny, whose lost a lot more I could believe committing suicide. But Jane? That’s just plot device written all over it.
- In my play-through, I shot Conrad in the head to save Gabe and Clementine. When I came out, I flat out told Tripp that Conrad had gone crazy and was going to kill us. From my perspective, the flow of the dialogue heavily implied I was telling Tripp I shot or injured Conrad in some fashion and left him behind. I mean, it’s the only logical conclusion to stopping a guy who is trying to shoot you. Later on, Gabe tells Tripp I shot Conrad as if this was some new news. For the sake of the twist, I guess the obvious implications weren’t enough, because Tripp is surprised and gets mad. Now while this one is debatable as to whether it’s bad writing or not, I felt betrayed by my choice nonetheless. For the sake of the story, plot devices once again occurred.
- Lastly, let’s talk about David’s ultimate betrayal. Throughout the story, David has been a character who’s made many mistakes. At one point, though, you can stand on the roof with David and encourage him that he can change. David seems sincere on this point and even softens with the group a bit. He is viably making an effort to change throughout the last episode. Yet, development gets thrown out the window so David can be the ultimate villain. So it is yet another instance where choices and the writing are discounted in order to have a twist.
While I could name many more, the point is that the twists just often resulted in feeling like the past didn’t matter, whether it was via my choices or via what the story had established. I always felt like the story was going for shock value more than anything, and this often results in bad, bad writing. Most moments felt extremely forced for the sake of this shock value, and in the end the twists were unappealing at best.
This will conclude Part 1 of my complaints towards The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. Tune in next week for Part 2 where I will discuss more of the writing shortfalls.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead series is © to Telltale and all affiliated parties.
Image: Game cover for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier.