Reviews May 16, 2017

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Episode 4: Thicker Than Water

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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: 04/25/2017
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games

Since 2012, Telltale’s aim has been to develop adventure titles that emphasized player choice;where the story is altered by how we handle difficult situations. This mechanic was so well received that other developers started including it in their adventure games, seemingly creating an industry staple. While all of that is true, “Thicker Than Water” is the first episode of any of Telltale’s games to fully realize the potential of player agency.

I would be lying if I said that Telltale hadn’t done a good job of offering interesting scenarios that resulted in tough choices for players in the past. It would also be a disservice to imply that it took this long to improve upon an element that they themselves introduced, in its current form, to the genre. On the contrary, my sentiment is less critical and more congratulatory; their story telling proficiency is on display once again, if you will.

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While this season’s central theme has always been about what it means to be a family, I feel that “Thicker Than Water” ironically eschews some of that for more moral dilemmas. Things looked bad for Javi and Clem’s group. They’ve been separated by dire circumstances, some locked away by Joan while others were in hiding. Much of Richmond’s militia had taken up arms in anticipation their arrival; the place was on lock down as guards patrolled the streets. If that wasn’t bad enough, the place was slowing being surrounded by a horde of zombies making a sneaky exit impossible. An encounter between Javi’s and Joan’s people was all but certain...

One can imagine the types of choices Javi and Clem had to make with all of this going down. What was great was that this episode’s difficult situations went beyond the story’s conventions. It’s like the first episode where, playing as Javi, we had to deal with choices that would affect Clementine. Because we’ve known her for two seasons, choosing a path forward was made difficult. It’s tough to “be” Javi, in terms of looking out for oneself, and know what we know about other characters; Javi doesn’t know if Clem is trustworthy but we do. It also doesn’t help that at certain points we also play as Clem. Basically, these two conflicting concepts of self puts pressure on returning players.

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This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As seen in this episode, it can be exploited. Instead of presenting scenarios where we would have to weigh the pros and cons in terms of what benefits the lead characters, we’re given options that speaks to us, acting as these characters. Do I side with Clem knowing that my actions would go against who I believe Javi is as a person? Or do I maintain Javi’s integrity, knowing that it may prevent Clem from doing the one thing that gave her life meaning (at least, in the current context of the story)?

While I believe this type of dilemma works because of my exposure to the previous seasons, I’m certain that new players will have a hard time as well. These characters are relatable in the best ways, making most take a moment of pause before deciding their fates. My only gripe about this set up though is in how Telltale manipulates the dialog. I don’t like it when I choose a phrase and the character goes overboard with their response. Like if I told Clem to say “no thank you” to an offer of food and instead of saying just that, she smacks the person’s plate out of their hands and storms off. There are a few times in this episode where I picked a seemingly mature response to a question and the character I was controlling went completely nuts. This in turn caused more drama amongst the cast and a profound “WTF!” from me – it sucked for everyone involved.

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“Thicker Than Water” is one of the best episodes of this season. It raised the bar in terms of player choice, utilizing a well-written script and an engaging plot. However, some of its thunder was stolen thanks to misleading dialogue options. It would be ok if my choices turned out to be bad. That I can get over. But when I think I’m doing one thing and my character does another, by design, that feels unfair. All and all, fans will be pleased with most of what’s present. There’s even a bit of a cliffhanger, setting us up for the finale. Here’s hoping that it will close this season out in a grand fashion.    

Gameplay: 9
This is one of the best episodes when it comes to player choice. That said, I take issue with the deceptive dialog options.

Graphics: 10
Everything looks great!

Sound: 10
Same as the graphics; great!

Replay Value: 8
Though most will want to wait until the finale before replaying, there are some interesting paths one can take to change the story in this episode.

Final Score:

9.3

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