Lets face it. While Telltale’s three-part Michonne series was an enjoyable enough romp, it could be argued that it’s existence served as a means to placate gamers until the main event rolled along. Because for all of Telltale’s impressive takes on pop culture’s most iconic franchises (Game of Thrones, Minecraft, Batman) their Walking Dead games are unequivocally their premier product.
It’s hard to recap a story when it ended based on player choices but in a nutshell, either Clementine has hit the road solo with AJ (the baby) or with Kenny or Jane. It could be because of the multiple endings that Telltale have opted to give us control of another character, thus streamlining the process and successfully (I hope) detangling the potential messiness of it all.
Enter Javier. The game begins by briefly taking us back to the start of the outbreak as Javier rushes to his parents house to see his father before he dies. Suffice to say, he doesn’t make it and the a new element of the series is introduced: Family drama. His volatile brother David scolds him for never being there; his sister in law Kate is disgusted by her husband’s actions; his mother is obviously distraught; his nephew Gabe doesn’t understand why they’re fighting and his uncle Hector is asking why his niece Mariana is getting their dead grandpa a glass of water. Well grandpa is up and groaning and all hell breaks loose.
The story picks up at present day and with gaps that obviously need filling, Javi is now on the road with Kate and her two step-children Gabe and Mariana. Stopping at a junkyard to see if they can get some gas, the the family is ambushed and Javi is separated from the group. This is where Clementine shows up and agrees to help Javi find his family in exchange for their vehicle.
This isn’t the Clementine you’re used to either. The time that has passed since the events of season two are unclear (although four is probably a solid guess) but Clem bears more than a passing resemblance to Ellie from The Last of Us than she does that sweet innocent girl we took control of for two seasons. If you were anything like me, you spent those ten episodes just trying to protect Clem from the harshness of this new world but now we find her completely self reliant. She totes a shotgun, cusses like a rap artist and isn’t afraid to make demands and get her hands dirty. Maybe it’s a good thing we’re not playing as her because trying to keep this new Clem and the one we played as in harmony with one another would have been puzzling.
The one issue I found though that could potentially sap the game of the importance of choice, is knowing Clementines motives, compassion and history. Telltale has the ability to let Clementine flourish now in any way they want, unencumbered by player control but for the moment any choice that requires you to trust one party over another, you’re usually siding with Clem. It’s an issue I found with the Michonne series as well. Basically, having pre-existing knowledge of a character funnels you down a path rather than allowing you to tailor the game to your liking.
I felt like the Batman series handled this well. We all know Bats has a code he lives by but that game almost explicitly asked you to choose whether you were going to be a barbaric brute or honour your parents and adopt a moral compass.
Regardless, Ep 1 is packed with plenty of new characters that add weight and backstory to The Walking Dead mythos. The town of Prescott is rife with potential for turbulent relationships. Tripp, their leader seems trustworthy due to his honest disposition and pragmatic approach to certain situations. Despite his protocol, he still seems to do right by people. Eleanor, the town doctor garners Javi’s affection in an instant. Despite this, Clem still has her reservations which brings into question just how jaded Clem has become over the last few years or how trustworthy the people of Prescott are.
It’s with this that The New Frontier lets it’s best attribute shine: The infinitely deep chasm of information that we have yet to learn. What happened to Javi and Kate’s family? Where is AJ? Is Clementine even that person anymore? Is Prescott trustworthy? Telltale have successfully utilised an entire episode of their new game to simultaneously build a seasons worth of mystery and tell a gripping little story in its own right.
The end in particular will leave you reeling. Telltale’s games have had their fair share of jaw dropping moments but none as bold and as downright visually sickening as Episode 1’s closing moments.
It’s a new season and a new direction for Telltale’s award winning series. Taking control away from Clementine as she transitions into a strong woman was a risky move that pays off. Javi and his family drama is a welcome change and telling us next to nothing about what has happened over the last few years is tantalising. Whether the series delivers on the whole remains to be seen but it has done all the right things in its opening episode.
Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Fresh new story; Clementine is awesome; Shrouded in mystery; tense ending
Lowlights: Knowing Clem robs the game of the impact of choice
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release date: Out now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 4.