Reviews January 25, 2017

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Episode 1: Ties That Bind Part One

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: PC (Also on Xbox One, PS4, iOS, Android)
Genre: Adventure
Rated: M
Players: 1
Cost: $24.99 (Full Season)
Release Date: 12/20/2016
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games

One of the unique things about The Walking Dead franchise is its ability to keep our attention. This is no small feat given how its popularity has thrived far beyond that of the comics despite how similar the narratives have become. At some point, one would expect that the ills of a struggling group of survivors would wear itself thin; how many cycles of zombie battles, encounters with morally inept antagonists, and dealings with personal loss can be repeated in an interesting way? Take The Walking Dead: A New Frontier for example. As the third season of Telltale’s hit adventure series, it features all of the aforementioned trappings. That said, it still provides an engaging experience.  

“Ties That Bind Part One” opens with a flashback to the first day or so of the apocalypse. The new protagonist, a Javier Garcia, is seen rushing to his parent’s home to visit his sick father. Upon reaching the house he is greeted harshly by his brother David. Apparently, Javi had been estranged from his family for some time. With his dad being sick though, everyone expected him to come around more often. That wasn’t the case; by the time he made it to the house his father had already died. After confronting his brother, Javi went in to see the rest of the family. He gets a kinder reception from David’s wife and kids, his mother (after a nice slap) and his brother Hector. The sentiment is that they’ll be fine as long as they stick together. That’s when David’s daughter Mariana is seen heading towards her grandfather’s room with a glass of water. Thinking that she isn’t aware that he had passed away, Hector informs her that he is “sleeping”. To which Mariana explains how he is awake and sitting up in his bed…

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A few unfortunate events and a jump to the present later, Javi is seen traveling with David’s wife and kids. Using a van as a mobile home, they’ve been moving from one spot to the next in an effort to stay one step ahead of the walkers. Things seemed to be going well. That is until they discovered a trailer full of supplies in an old junkyard. As one can imagine, the owners of the trailer wasn’t happy to see Javi rummaging through their stuff. This group, called The New Frontier, is little unhinged; they’re somewhat reasonable but seem likely to lose it at any moment. One thing leads to another and Javi winds up unconscious in a truck headed to some base. He has to pay for his crimes, his capture tells him. Thankfully Clementine, the heroine from the last two seasons, has other plans.

What I liked the most about this first episode is how the player is the third wheel. The only reason that Clem and Javi ran into each other is because Clem was looking to rob a member of the New Frontier; she accidently saves Javi while taking out the truck. They only stick together because of a shared interest in finding Javi’s family – Clem is promised their van if she takes him back to the junkyard. They don’t trust each other. That said, as someone who’s played through the past seasons, I completely trust Clementine as a character. This leads to awkward situations where my interest in helping Javier conflicts with my fondness of Clem. At certain points I’m asked to conspire with Clem after she makes a poor decision, knowing that I could be hurting myself (Javi) in doing so.

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Of course, this only applies to returning players. Gamers who’ve never played the Walking Dead won’t have the same experience. What I mean is, though the choices will still be difficult in nature, they won’t have the same weight to them. At least at first as the writing does make it possible to become attached to the new characters. 

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This episode is a decent starting point for new comers as it focuses mostly on Javi’s family. At the same time, it acts as a continuation to what came before. It’s possible to upload an old save to incorporate past choices from the previous seasons. This of course creates ripples, changing the narrative in small, yet meaningful ways. Starting afresh is also an option. Regardless, the grim happenings are worth experiencing, whether you’ve been down this road or not. Besides an updated user interface, the game plays like every other Telltale game. As always though, the conflicts that arise amongst the living are the main draw. And while things aren’t as dire as they’ve been in the past, the drama is certainly played up here.

Gameplay: 8
This first episode will certainly entertain. That said, returning fans will have the most fun.

Graphics: 10
Everything looks great!

Sound: 10
Everything from the voice acting to zombies’ moans sound great.

Replay Value: 7
Most people will wait to play through the entire season before replaying this episode. Then again, with to option to have multiple variations to Clementine’s past, some will jump back in once the credits roll.

Final Score:

8.8

Editor's Note: Click here to see how the other episode fared!