I left the second episode of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier feeling tired. There were very few fresh ideas and the story began to revisit ground that past titles had already covered. With terrible tragedies occurring every few minutes, it felt like the game only knew how to move the player by using death to play with emotions.
Now that two months have passed, Telltale is back with the third episode, titled Above the Law. It picks up right where episode two ended, with season protagonist Javier finding out that his brother’s running the settlement that had attacked him earlier. It wasn’t the most shocking twist, despite the reactions of the characters on-screen, but it seemed like the brother dynamic would be an interesting one for the game to explore, especially with Javier getting close to David’s wife, Kate.
The crux of the episode is whether or not David is heartless enough to have ordered the terrible raid that was seen previously, and if Javier’s only brother turned out to be a monster. It’s here where Telltale’s writing really shines, as David is shown as a very blunt dude, and it leaves the player guessing whether or not he’s traveled down that path. Javier even remarks that while his brother is “the biggest asshole” he ever met, that he couldn’t see him giving up on all of his humanity.
About halfway through the episode, it’s shown that David, despite his many flaws, is ultimately a caring person. During one of the most memorable parts of any Telltale game, David opens up about losing his daughter Mariana, and says that it was extremely difficult to mourn the passing of the same person twice. It’s here that I was sold on David being a decent guy, and gave him my trust from there on out. I’m not sure if it’ll come back to bite me in the ass (or if it’ll even matter considering how these games depend on the illusion of choice), but the Above the Law makes me want to believe in his redemption.
The other main story of the episode revolves around how the settlement of Richmond is operated, as players get to meet the four people that collectively run the town, and see how such a large operation works during the apocalypse. It’s familiar ground for the series, but getting to see group politics play out is always somewhat interesting. Ultimately, this subplot fails to be as compelling a story as the dual sides of David, but it does its job of moving events forward into episode four.
Flashbacks also play a big part in moving the story forward, as they serve to both fill in backstory and further complicate the current happenings. The biggest scene comes when it’s finally revealed why Clementine left Richmond. Non-surprisingly, it revolves around AJ, the baby that she was taking care of, and how she broke the rules of the settlement in order to help the child while he was sick. For this act of thievery, she gets kicked out of the camp by David, and the game does a great job of showing how militant the older brother can be when it comes to survival.
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While the story is finally firing on every cylinder, the same can’t be said for the gameplay. Interactivity has always been quite limited in The Walking Dead, but this season has really taken it to new extremes. Besides a single 10-second sequence, the player never gets to walk around in Above the Law. There’s no puzzles to solve, or environments to explore — the game always feels like it’s on auto-play. This wouldn’t bug me nearly as much if it wasn’t holding the game back, but not getting to explore Richmond is a real shame, as it seems like one of the more interesting locales that the series has been in… and now the player will never really know what it consists of.
Despite a mixed start, I’m now looking forward to the rest of the season with optimism. It may ultimately be misplaced, but I’m hopeful that the Garcia family’s struggles will result in a happy ending (or at least whatever constitutes a happy ending in The Walking Dead universe). I’d still like to see more in terms of interactive gameplay, as it’s a bit shocking how little puzzle solving or decent action there has been this season (even compared to past efforts), but the story is at least connecting better than it had previously.
Above the Law shows that The Walking Dead: A New Frontier has some legs, and manages to capitalize on the interesting story threads that were set up in episode two. All of the marbles are now in motion, and while there’s still time for everything to go off the rails, I’m excited to see where Telltale Games takes the story in the final two episodes. The most shocking thing of all is that Clementine’s tale might even end on a positive note.
This review is based on the Xbox One version, which we were provided with.
Despite a disappointing amount of interactivity, Above the Law manages to be the most interesting episode yet of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier.