The fourth episode in A New Frontier is the weakest entry this season.
With Richmond’s takeover underway and a looming horde of walkers at the gates, time is of the essence for Javi, Kate, Clementine and the rest of the group, but it’s hard to feel like TellTale isn’t going through the motions in the penultimate episode of A New Frontier.
In my episode three review, I said it seemed like episode four and five were set up to be all rising action and climax, but for the most part, that’s fallen through. There’s a lot of dialogue in this episode, and there are plenty of decisions to make. In these moments, I made choices that would lead away from conflict and the game still shoehorned me into single events. While it’s understandable that the narrative will feature moments that happen regardless of player choice, the lack of real ramifications from my decisions made the illusion of choice all too obvious.
Since the first episodes of TellTale’s Walking Dead premiered at the end of 2016, a key pillar of the seasons’ design philosophy has been defining and protecting what’s family. Through that, the developer pushed the player to take sides and question their loyalty. In the fourth episode, “Thicker Than Water,” it’s hard to argue that TellTale has ever made it easier to take sides. The overarching story is almost entirely beside the point in Thicker Than Water, and Clementine has moved from a lead to a secondary character that only has short gameplay sections. The bulk of the episode is spent as Javier getting his group together as Richmond crumbles. His relationship with his brother, David, is also central to the plot development, but the two can’t help but destroy any semblance of a plan at every turn.
There’s one scene between Clementine and Javier that’s touching and shows the human side of the series that’s been mostly absent this season. Despite the A New Frontier being about the dysfunctional Garcia family, there’s a much better dynamic between Clem and Javi than there is with anyone else in the cast.
Performance and visuals in this episode are pretty consistent with previous New Frontier episodes. Character graphics are detailed, but lip-sync issues, aliasing and fuzzy shadows show the aging TellTale engine. Thicker Than Water gets the message across, but it’s not the level of polish you’d expect from a season nearing its end and an engine that’s been in use for years.
In previous A New Frontier reviews, I talked about the promise the season held based on its first installments. TellTale asked fans to wait years for this season, and instead of telling a story that evolves Clementine and brings in fresh perspectives, this feels like a mid-series slump that TellTale just can’t set straight. There’s still one more installment in A New Frontier, so there’s a chance the season can stick a landing. For now, though, it seems like the developers are heading towards a belly flop.
Thicker Than Water has plenty of character and relationship development, but the overarching narrative is underwhelming. Before, people in A New Frontier felt multifaceted and real, but as secondary characters like Gabe and David make increasingly irrational decisions to stir up drama, the less engaging the story feels.
I’m looking forward to the season finale; just not for any of the reasons TellTale wants me to be. What should have been a series refresh feels uninspired and dull. I’m still hoping A New Frontier can turn around, but if Thicker Than Water is any indication, maybe it’s time TellTale puts the series to rest permanently.
The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series – A New Frontier was reviewed on a Xbox One press copy courtesy of TellTale.
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