After two seasons of Telltale Games’ brilliant interpretation of The Walking Dead, many players have figured out its real game: It’s in guessing which choices really do alter the story, and which ones are optional conversations or decisions that still funnel into the narrative the game had in mind all along.
The first two episodes of The Walking Dead: Season Three — also known by the mouthful of a name The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series – A New Frontier — hew to that model. Players are given a new protagonist and can pour their rage into scenarios where a measured response would still end badly. Clementine, the only permanence in The Walking Dead’s fickle and constantly reversible world, returns and is playable, but only in flashbacks. Most of the player’s time will be spent with Javier Garcia, a former professional baseball player accompanying his brother’s second wife and her distrustful stepchildren.
This review will follow the series as it develops, with updates as each chapter arrives detailing the current state of the game.
CLEMENTINE’S RETROSPECTIVES ARE HARROWING
Walking Dead fans looking to jump back into Clementine’s story with this new game should temper their expectations. The player only takes control of her in flashback chapters that do not affect the overall arc of the story or any relationship with a character in it. Her retrospectives are nonetheless harrowing. A flashback with Jane, the Season Two heroine who leads Clementine through a quavering puberty into her steely young adulthood, was legitimately sorrowful, and emblematic of The Walking Dead’s remorseless prosecution of its story, allowing only the perfunctory objection from the player.
Episodes 1 and 2: Ties that bind part 1 and part 2 – December 2016
In the present day, the story is told through Javier, alienated from his family by his athletic celebrity and some vague, implied disgrace. The establishing sequence quickly connects Javier to the zombie apocalypse, and then puts him on the run with Kate, his sister-in-law, and her two tweenage kids.
Although this covers a lot of ground expediently, it plops the user into a new story without much context to shape Javier’s character or help him respond to the conflicts in the story. In Season One, the player was a convicted murderer; saying nothing or safeguarding his past was a legitimate role-playing option. Season Two involved Clementine and some understanding of her history from the first season. Season Three strands us in the form of a new character with unknown relationships, making the dialogue choices a seat-of-the-pants affair.
Ultimately, Javier and his cohort reach a station rich with resources, and of course that is where the trouble begins. The first big choice presented to the user underlines Kate’s status as the resented stepmother to her children. Inevitably, the player crosses paths with Clementine, in a luminously acted reunion that consolidates her as the central authority of this franchise, even if the player doesn’t control her.
The story proceeds rotely from there, through a shootout with other survivors and then a visit to another settlement and an encounter with the faction that figures to be Season Three‘s ultimate antagonist. There is an unavoidable complication involving Clementine and a former associate of hers, which ends … badly. This story conflict introduces Eleanor, a camp doctor, to conspicuously move things along. Both she and Tripp, the camp leader, are likable and honest enough, which makes the decision to side with either a question of which character appeals more on a gut level.
Nonetheless, nothing ever lasts in The Walking Dead, and Javier and his friends are soon on the move, separated from their loved ones. It’s in this portion where I realized that the most violent and emotional choice the game offers still delivers the same story path as the most rational and measured decision. No matter how I negotiated the conflict, a major death and a near-fatal wound pushed everyone toward Richmond, Virginia, and their arrival delivered a cliffhanger leading into the third episode.
Two chapters in, Season Three of The Walking Dead feels almost like a reboot, gathering together all the concepts that gave the video game series its emotional force in the first two years and slamming them into two episodes. There is spontaneous violence and unexpected death, but no sense that the player truly could have avoided either. There’s an urgency to reach another place, and the false sense of stability it promises.
Since I switched platforms from the Xbox 360 for this new season, my playthrough of the first two seasons was rebuilt with a kind of vague questionnaire of the choices, such that I could remember the ones I made. This placed Clementine’s story into roughly the same form as it had existed for me previously.
Clementine, however, is not the main character. Not yet. This is Javier’s show, which is fine, but I found it impossible to connect with a woman who is not his wife and children who are not his kids. It was hard to find any kind of emotional navigation point for Javier as I role-played him. Then, as Clementine, it was disappointing to know that any choice I made for her was little more than embroidery around her hard-edged backstory.
Don’t get me wrong; it is wonderful to hear Clementine’s voice and see the young woman she has become. But at the end of Season Two there was someone with her who is mentioned in these flashbacks but has yet to appear here. I very much fear what happened to take him away. Without a doubt, it is what made Clementine grow up so quickly since we last saw her.
Tech Domes Rating : 7,5