It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two and a half years since the end of Telltale’s second season of The Walking Dead. Clementine serves as a bridge to those past seasons, assisting new lead, Javi. This decision allows A New Frontier to both respect the time players invested in those past two seasons, while also easily welcoming in new players with the fresh batch of characters. Telltale has taken the unusual step of launching this series with two episodes, Parts 1 and 2 of Ties That Bind. Episode 1 opens with one of the best sequences they have made yet, and carries momentum through both episodes, ending on a shocker of a cliffhanger that leaves me desperate to continue the story.
Starting from scratch
Having recently switched consoles, I am unable to retrieve my cloud save for Season 2 without downloading the game again. Rather than wait that out, I chose to go with the other option, a backstory generator. Here I was asked about the critical decisions throughout the first two seasons that shaped who Clementine became as a person. It serves as a convenient way to rebuild your story in case you no longer have access to an old save, switched consoles, or simply want to mold your own story line without having played either of the previous titles.
The opening sequence of Episode 1 is a phenomenal setup. At the very beginning of the zombie outbreak, the new protagonist, Javi, races to reach his ill father before he dies. Wise selections of camera angles make this a tense scene, and shows us how this family first discovers what happens after people die in this universe. The important relationships between Javi and his brother David, his brother’s wife, Kate, and their children are all setup nicely for where the bulk of the game takes place.
Years later, Javi is keeping his family together as best as possible, raising his brother’s children along with Kate. David is out of the picture at this point, seemingly for a long time, and I presume dead. The unusual family dynamic can make things uncomfortable. Neither Javi nor Kate are blood parents of the kids, being uncle and step-mother, respectively. You see the typical outburst of “you’re not my mother,” but also can see deeper how they’ve had to pull together in the worst of situations. The son, Gabriel, clearly looks up to Javi and repeatedly expresses a desire to “become a man.”
Javi and family run into trouble while searching for supplies. It’s a relatively minor misunderstanding that escalates wildly out of control, as things so often do in The Walking Dead. Episode 1 ends on a horrific cliffhanger that will make you want to continue on as soon as you can. And undoubtedly that’s part of why the first two episodes were released simultaneously.
The second episode barrels right on through, carrying the momentum straight to the end. It opens with another particularly strong flashback, this time hinting at Javi and Kate’s relationship while David was still in the picture. There’s a pair of twists revealed that really have me looking forward to the season. Thus far the storytelling is extremely solid. Every member of Javi’s family has been developed at least enough to care about. Seeing a familiar face from the comics is welcome, and has me wondering just exactly how close all of this is happening to Rick’s group, and if a potential crossover with the main characters is a possibility. I have a good sense of the motivations for the side characters, too. Then there’s Clementine.
Clementine’s story, between what I last experienced and her return to the current story, is not given a satisfactory resolution. Not from the choices I made in Season 2 anyway. A short flashback scene explains away why she’s out on her own again, which is how she will be regardless of the choices anybody made. The send-off for one of the longest running characters in the series was brutal, done in a very Walking Dead fashion, but the quick here and gone again didn’t give the character appropriate screen time before moving along.
Back in the present, however, Clementine feels like a character who really was shaped by my decisions over two other games. She is the person I created, and at every opportunity I backed her, even when ethically questionable.
The quicktime events don’t do anything new here that set themselves apart from other Telltale titles. I don’t really know how much more mileage could be squeezed out of this style of interaction, but the zombie encounters and standoffs with rival groups are well choreographed.
One minor squabble I do want to bring up is that, just like in their Batman series, there is no ability to replay an episode from a checkpoint. You have to either replay from the beginning of an episode or just carry on from where you last stopped. This was a very useful function to check out branching story lines without having to replay an hour plus worth of identical decisions.
Everything in Ties That Bind, the first two episodes of A New Frontier, is handled well. The new protagonist has a troubled past, both personally and professionally. His familial relationships are complex, and Clementine’s injection into his world feels right in character with the person I shaped over the course of two seasons. Following the cliffhanger ending of Episode 2, I’m not clear where this story is going, but it’s made for quite the intriguing setup. If the rest of the episodes are as good as these first two, we’re in for a treat.