SPOILER WARNING: This article contains extreme spoilers for the entirety of Telltale’s The Walking Dead series. Read at your own caution.
Welcome to Part 2 of my complaints in regards to The Walking Dead: A New Frontier. Last week, I discussed how the character writing was subpar and also how numerous parts in the story were plot deviced to suit the twists. Today we’re going to discuss three more shortfalls of the writing: namely the flashbacks, the predictability, and the pacing. Please be sure to check out Part 1 if you want to catch up.
Firstly, A New Frontier skips ahead a few years from Season 2. Thus, understandably, some gaps have to be filled in, particularly in regards to what Clementine was up to. After all, she is the character one is most familiar with, yet she is definitely not in the same state we last saw her. This is where the story’s flashbacks come in, which they are often playable with choices. Unfortunately, the execution of these flashbacks leaves something to be desired in regards to these choices. For instance, one of the last flashbacks features Javier, David, and their father. In this scene, the brothers find out their father is dying of cancer, and one of the most important choices is Javier promising that he will be a good brother (or not). This promise comes up later in that same episode when David starts beating the snot out of Javier in anger.
So where is the problem? The problem is the fact these flashbacks’ choices are only relevant in the same episode you see them. It is a very formulaic pattern when you play the game in one go, and all elements of surprise are ruined. Let me put this another way. In Season 1, Episode 2, you have a choice about killing Larry or not (granted he dies regardless). This choice is later mentioned in different episodes further along, resulting in several characters being deeply affected by it through their dialogue reactions. In essence, the choice has a reverberating effect throughout. In this game, though, that is not the case. When a flashback occurs, you know its major choice will come up in that same episode most likely, and it will only effect one thing in that episode. Then, it is never mentioned again. The overall effect is that the choices become very trivial, as there is no reverberating effect to them with the flashbacks. The content of the flashbacks may as well have been conveyed in dialogue over visuals at that point, so they were not used to their full potential.
Another very similar problem is that the game’s writing, overall, is very predictable. Now on the one hand, I can give Telltale some slack, as they’ve made enough games where writing predictably becomes a risk factor; every series becomes ingrained into certain tropes, and consumers stop becoming surprised. However, it is still worth pointing out in this case since The Walking Dead series often relies on twists. So let’s give an example of what was a predictable scenario. In the first episode, Javier, Clementine, and Tripp (at least for my play-through) arrive to the junkyard and narrowly save his family. As the group is exiting, Tripp comments to Javier that he’s used to these missions going bad. Strike one immediately right there, since this foreshadowing doesn’t have a subtle bone in its body. The scene continues and we see Mari run off a bit by herself. The camera begins to emphasize both her loneliness and the openness around her. Strike two, the camera is making her being an easy target very obvious. Mari smiles as she finds her headphone and happily shows Javier. Strike three, as the only reason to emphasize this in a story is to make the inevitable death more tragic.
Guess what happens? Oh, surprise, Mari dies via gunshot wound to the head. Now there are certainly more instances where I could point out the predictability, but this one is the best reflection I think of the overall story quality. The twists, at this point, follow a specific formula in Telltale games, so they’re easy to pick out immediately. Without these surprises, the deaths just feel meaningless from a story perspective, because their emotional impact to the player is vastly reduced. In the end, they were given warning and time to prepare for it, so the tragedy just loses its oomph. As mentioned, this is a problem throughout, so lots of emotional stakes are just tossed out the window.
The last area of writing I want to discuss is the overall pace of the story. Unfortunately, the pace in this story I felt was too fast and focused purely on action. There are a lot of jump cuts in this game in order to move the characters to each relevant section. This, sadly, leaves little time for breathing room. Let’s, again, compare to Season 1. There are lots of quieter scenes where Lee and Clementine bond, such as on the train where Lee helps prep Clementine for the future. This was a much needed moment considering all the tragedy that had occurred. You want players to have a break from the action so they can emotionally and mentally prepare for the next sequence. Sadly, A New Frontier does not really allow for this. It tries, certainly, but the moments always occur during tense sequences. For example, Javier and Kate agreeing to start a relationship could have been a breather. However, due to the tense events on the horizon, there’s less certainty about how long it will last, so players can never fully relax.
This problem is also exasperated by the gameplay itself. In previous seasons, there were lots of moments where characters could walk around and comment on their surroundings, providing some moments of exploration. While there are the occasional explorative moments in A New Frontier, it is overall focused more on dialogue and quick-time events. As such, this adds to making the pace feel overly fast, since these are parts that are relying on quick player reaction as opposed to quiet searching.
All in all, the fast pace just really ruins a lot of the drama; the player is always on high alert for the worst. It also does not help in making the episodes feel long, since the pace emphasizes how much less is happening in comparison to previous seasons.
To summarize, A New Frontier is just a disgrace to The Walking Dead series, in my opinion. The series’ best elements fall completely flat on their faces in this entry and deliver a lackluster experience. The characters are often flat, the twists are boring, predictable, and forced in, and even the pacing illuminates the problems in the writing. Heck, I didn’t even get a chance to mention things like the misleading promotional material or how the UI feels like one big Telltale advertisement. In the end, as I said in Part 1, I don’t think objectively the game qualifies as bad. However, if like me you’re coming to it from other entries in the series, observe extreme caution. If you expect the same quality, you will not be receiving it. If you can accept it at face value, you may find it more worthwhile then me. Either way, this is an entry into the series I don’t think I will be replaying any time soon.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead series is © to Telltale and all affiliated parties.
Image: Screenshot from The Walking Dead Wiki.