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July 2018

The Walking Dead: Season Three

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: Dec. 20, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


PC Review - 'The Walking Dead: A New Frontier' Episodes 1 and 2

by Brian Dumlao on Jan. 24, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

The Walking Dead: Season Three continues the story a group of zombie apocalypse survivors, seeking safety in a world gone mad.

Buy The Walking Dead: A New Frontier

Of all of the games Telltale has done since it started turning big licenses into adventure titles, The Walking Dead series is considered to be its best work. The Wolf Among Us presents a fantastic story, and Tales from the Borderlands nails the vibe of the source material, but the strong characters in The Walking Dead made people feel real emotion when choices were made. Unlike past works, the third season begins with the simultaneous release of two episodes.

The season's subtitle, A New Frontier, immediately tells you that the series will feature a new cast, and if you didn't pick up on that, the opening certainly hammers home that point. In the prologue, you take on the role of Javier, who arrives at his parents' home after hearing that his father's sick. He arrives too late, and the chilly reception from his mother and brother clearly indicates that he's the black sheep of the family. Since this prologue is set just as the zombie phenomenon begins, the family soon discovers that its patriarch has also joined the undead.

Fast-forward to the first episode, and Javier is in the family van with his niece, nephew, and sister-in-law. The group has been living as scavengers, taking what it can to survive and running away from zombies. On a stop to refill supplies, the group runs into the occupants, who aren't too pleased about them invading. A brief scuffle ensues, and Javier is separated from his family. After a rescue from fan-favorite Clementine, Javier tries to reunite with his family.

Up until this point, you'll be reminded of the AMC spin-off series Fear the Walking Dead. Latino family aside, both the series and the prologue deal with the beginning in effective ways. You know how the living turn into zombies, but the scene still sets up the tension and fear so well, with different family reactions and quick cuts of them trying to decipher the situation before everything comes crashing down. The decision to start with a fresh set of protagonists would be more welcome if they didn't embody the traits of the spin-off TV series' characters. We've already seen the overly moody teenager and optimistic younger sibling, and nothing here makes them endearing. The sister-in-law becomes a more fleshed-out character in a very short amount of time, though, so her presence is very much welcome.

The rest of the episode is spent on setting up the new locale and cast of supporting characters. The makeshift city of people tries to maintain some semblance of a normal life. Aside from that, you get a flashback sequence with Clementine, and her company can be determined by your actions from the end of The Walking Dead: Season Two — if you imported that save file before playing this title.

On the subject of Clementine, two things are apparent. Despite her age, her growth as a character is pretty much complete. What you have is a resourceful survivor who is already world-weary. She only trusts people to a point, and she isn't shy about wanting to go solo, so she won't have to see loved ones die. There is understandable backlash about her no longer being a lead character, but the change is more acceptable since she's in the role of a mentor and Javier is now a student of the world.

Another thing you'll notice is that the storytellers love to mess with Clementine. Without spoiling anything, the current story scenario has her accidentally doing something wrong, and the flashback shows her suffering something pretty horrific while protecting another person. At a time when people are starting to tire of how the show seems to needlessly traumatize characters with little to no payoff, it is off-putting to see her in a similar situation. This is especially the case since her event feels unnecessary and didn't change her outlook at all.

Your attitude toward the show is also going to shape how you view the end of the first episode. The big shocking twist is par for the course for the game series, and this is especially true of the TV season's premieres. It still provides a good setup for the rest of the season and serves as the constant reminder of how bad the world is. It's also perfect for lapsed fans or new fans, since the shock factor is still fresh.

In a surprise move, Telltale released the second episode of the game alongside the first, and it provides a little breathing room before big things happen again. The episode starts at another time before the outbreak, with Kate washing dishes right as Javi comes in. Based on the actions and little flirtations, you get the impression that Kate's marriage to David isn't as solid as it should be and she wants out. Fast-forward to the present day, when the family is reunited under dire circumstances, and things fall further into despair — and this is all before the opening credits roll.

The rest of the episode doesn't slow down. There's more action here, as you'll battle it out with loads of zombies. Interestingly, the sequences make Javi look like a pro at zombie-killing, and a few parts look rather stylish. The story advances further as you learn that the group that attacked you is called The New Frontier. One thing that is of interest is a cameo appearance from another character in the main series who, unlike Glenn, has a more involved role with this group.

From a gameplay perspective, the Telltale formula is in full effect. There are several instances where you're pressured into making a choice or response, there's some walking around, and there's some very light puzzle-solving with obvious solutions. If you're coming in fresh, it is best to think of the style as a Westernized version of the Visual Novel genre that uses more 3-D characters and environments instead of flat 2-D images. Like Batman: The Telltale Series, this season comes with a Group Play option that lets everyone in the same room vote on all of the choices. The feature is more novel than revolutionary, but it is nice for those who see this as more of a shared experience than a solo one.

One thing that isn't appreciated is the presence of ads. The end of every episode playthrough comes with a static ad asking if you want to purchase another title from the Telltale Games library. It feels weird to see something like this after all these years, especially since ads feel like they should be part of a free-to-play game instead of a paid title. The option to buy within a game already exists in the title menu, so it would've been better if these ads didn't exist.

Despite some tweaks to the game engine, the expected performance of the presentation remains the same. The voice work is amazing from beginning to end, but there are times when the subtitles added extra words or came in very slowly, even if the scene doesn't call for it. The character models and environments show off more subtle color shading compared to earlier games, but the animations can still appear stiff. There's even some stuttering that occurs when scenes change and choices are made; it's more of an annoyance if you've played other games from the publisher.

Thus far, the first two episodes of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier set up the intrigue. Javi is a decent character for the player to control, and Clementine is much more complicated than before due to her experiences. The story beats seem to replay some of the events of the TV series and comic, although with different characters and locations, but the ending of the second episode is enough to capture the attention of those who may already be tired of the franchise general. With only three more episodes to go, it'll be interesting to see if Telltale can keep the momentum going.

Score: 8.0/10

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