By: Mike Chen
At the end of Telltale’s second season of The Walking Dead, Clementine and her small band of survivors (potentially very small, depending on how you played it) were stuck in cold wintry weather far north of Atlanta where they’d started out. With A New Frontier, you won’t get any questions answered immediately, but even with a new protagonist, Clementine’s journey from then to now unfolds.
A New Frontier doesn’t appear to use any new version of the Telltale engine, and it doesn’t have any significant new gameplay sections that warrant new controls. It’s still mostly point-and-click interaction when it’s not being a conversation simulator.
There are a handful of action sequences, most of which feature Telltale’s less-than-stellar reticule system that feels oversensitive yet with a weird snap/lock to it. The controls won’t trip you up, but it’s a bit disappointing nothing has advanced.
Each Telltale game tends to look like a Telltale game, but with its own slant. A New Frontier continues with the art style established in the first season with Lee at the helm. From a voice acting perspective, there is a focus on a new group of characters, and it’s a solid showing, particularly from Javi (though to be fair he’s given the most to work with).
By now, everyone knows what to expect with Telltale gameplay, and the success or failure of a title comes down to the actual writing, plot and characters. The Walking Dead had a significant legacy to follow with its groundbreaking debut season and successful follow-up which switched the POV to Clementine.
So what’s the trick for A New Frontier? First off, Clementine isn’t the primary character, though she’s a very important secondary character. This was probably a creative choice to show an objective perspective of how Clementine has changed in the three-year time jump since the end of Season 2.
Our new protagonist Javier (Javi as he’s called) is a likable but somewhat generic “good guy with a fatal flaw.” The narrative is split between Javi’s current journey, including an origin story, and Clem’s flashback to how she survived following Season 2’s winter.
One of the strengths of New Frontier is its time jump, as it allows some manner of order to return to the world (there’s a trading settlement with walls). On the other hand, there are standard franchise tropes of “everyone is bad” and “surprise graphic violence when things seem calm.” These moments fit the world, but they feel like unavoidable story beats now rather than anything new or innovative.
That’s the problem with New Frontier. It hits the same issues seen in both the comic book and TV show — namely, how much worse can it get? While it’s fascinating to see an older and hardened Clem (who comes off almost like a tween version of Carol from the AMC show), there feels like there’s little narrative leeway because of the unending apocalypse.
Season 1 was so groundbreaking because of the Lee and Clementine bond, and Season 2 worked because of the experience of playing Clem in a harsh world. Now there’s nowhere to go but trudge forward, and there doesn’t seem to be a bigger picture established, at least not in its debut episode.
Clem’s return in Ties That Bind Part I is fascinating yet feels a bit like a retread. Given the post-apocalyptic landscape, the success of A New Frontier really depends on how the bigger picture plays out.
For now, the strength of Clem’s arc is enough for this to be a must-play experience for previous fans, but in order to sustain there has to be more than just tribal squabbles in a zombie landscape.