The first episode of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier ended with one of the series’ signature shocking deaths as Javier’s niece Mariana was shot in the head. This occurred right after the game had seemingly teased a rare happy ending to a bad situation, and I had felt pleasantly surprised that Telltale Games had the restraint to not kill one of their major characters within the first episode. I ended up being very wrong and felt dumb for not realizing that it would happen.
After all, shocking death scenes is what made the first season of The Walking Dead a hit for Telltale. From the startling scene on the farm in the very beginning to Lee’s heartbreaking end, it seemed like the game was constantly trying to top itself for the most shocking death. After two seasons of witnessing gruesome passings, I’m no longer shocked. I’m just tired.
I’m tired that Telltale keeps reusing the same ideas since the impact is extremely lessened the second time around. It was emotional when they had me dig a grave back in 2012, yet this episode starting off with such a scene didn’t manage to garner a similar reaction. I didn’t feel like crying, I just felt annoyed that the game thought it could lazily force the same emotions out of me. Sadly, that sense of a tired narrative is weaved through the entirety of the second episode.
So many of the plotlines and themes of Ties That Bind can be traced back to previous seasons of The Walking Dead. A widowed lover who blames you for the loss of their significant other? Check. A mysterious loner that the game asks you to trust? Of course. An unpredictable character that the entire crew thinks might snap at any moment? You bet. These are elements that have been used many times before, and A New Frontier isn’t putting a very interesting twist on them.
Despite some portions of the story feeling a bit too familiar, there’s still a lot to like in episode two. Most importantly, A New Frontier continues to deliver tension-filled action sequences. Unlike Lee in the original and Clementine in season two, Javier is a zombie-killing badass who uses his baseball skills to knock the heads off of zombies. This makes the quick-time event action scenes a lot more fun to participate in, and Telltale is doing a good job of displaying prompts in a more stylish manner than they did in their early titles.
One memorable sequence has Javi mowing down a handful of zombies with a pistol, and the screen just displays one small ‘B’ button prompt after another. Tapping the button and seeing those prompts get crossed off while zombie heads were exploding is an awesome slice of power in a game that rarely feels like an ego trip.
The other area where the episode really shines is how it continues to use flashback sequences. Both Javier and Clementine received the treatment this time around, and it answered some important questions I had about the both of them. I now have a much better idea of what Clem’s been up to since I last saw her, and it was a pretty surprising revelation.
One thing that isn’t very shocking was how episode two ended. The whole episode is focused on a group called the New Frontier (now the title of the season should make sense), a group of survivors that originally had good intentions but eventually started doing whatever they felt like. Power hungry groups of humans aren’t anything new for the series (think Crawford and Carver’s camp), but they’re built up well here and seem like the most fearsome foe yet.
The story all builds to the big reveal of who the leader is, and while all of the characters are shocked when they find out, it’s almost a boring reveal for the player. Sometimes the most shocking twist (from the character’s perspective) can be the most obvious for the person watching everything unveiled, and that was the case here. Despite the sort of obvious twist though, I’m still quite interested in seeing how future episodes will handle it.
One thing that continued to disappoint in episode two was the lack of solid puzzle solving. There’s one extremely short sequence where the player has to figure out how to move a tireless car out of the way, but it’s as simple as using the one item you can pick up in the environment. It seems like Telltale has lost a bit of its adventure game roots, and it’s a bit strange to see these games regress in that regard.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier‘s second episode has some stronger moments than the debut, but also treads too much familiar ground by reusing story beats that Telltale has already explored. While all of these rehashed plot elements wrapped up in episode two, I’m worried that there might not be enough fresh storytelling to sustain an entire season. Hopefully it isn’t a sign of things to come, as there’s still a lot of potential for this to be a true return to form for the series.
This review is based on the Xbox One version, which we were provided with.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier's second episode has stronger moments than the debut, but also treads too much familiar ground by reusing story beats that Telltale has already explored.