Telltale Games did the unthinkable in 2012 and brought adventure games back to the forefront, picking up GOTY of the year awards from everyone for their adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s comic series The Walking Dead. We learned that, in this post-apocalyptic world full of the undead, the living were the true beasts (and that some ex-cons are a-okay). Years later and the well has run dry, though — Telltale’s formula has remained the same throughout five other series, including eight additional episodes of the zombie romp. Tales from the Borderlands was a specific highlight in amongst the dregs, but it’s safe to say that The Walking Dead has lost its legs… its arms, its heart and its braaaaaiiiiiins, but mainly just its legs.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is the series’ third full season, and the first two episodes were released just before Christmas to remind you that Roy Wood’s admirable wish is a futile one and all hope you have for a brighter future is normally snuffed out by looming despair. While Telltale only has the source material to work from, it’s been getting old since season two, with Michael Madsen’s maybe-he’s-ok-but-probably-not-OH-GOD-HE’S-KILLED-THAT-FELLA-YEAH-HE’S-PROBABLY-NOT-OKAY portrayal of Carver.
In order to overcome we need to be presented with adverse situations. In The Walking Dead we need tough decisions and despicable bad guys, so that when we do overcome those aforementioned adverse situations we can slap some Rihanna on Spotify and get the Prosecco flowing. The problem is there’s never any respite from the horror — it’s unforgiving and nonstop. As Javi Garcia (a dashing former professional baseball player that we’re led to believe has been embroiled in some sort of Serie A-esque gambling disgrace) you must ensure your family are fed, watered and generally kept safe. Obviously enough, because of the constant barrage of walkers and dodgy humans around every corner, it’s pretty tough. His family isn’t exactly a traditional one, so exploring that in the first two episodes is mildly intriguing, at least — the big cliffhanger at the end of episode two hopefully means this thread will only grow in subsequent episodes.
A New Frontier is an apt suffix for this season of The Walking Dead because, bar one character, it’s an entirely different set of survivors. This is the problem with The Walking Dead across all mediums, to be honest — it’s grounded in sorrow and loss, so whenever there’s a sliver of happiness it’s swiftly taken away for more anguish, as every character you get attached to becomes grub for the zombies. While I say that Javi’s dysfunctional family could be interesting in future episodes, there’s the fear that one or more will be offed before they get a chance to grow, making their death a non-event — a practice we’ve seen countless times before in the series, and it even rears its ugly head once or twice in the first two episodes of season three.
Clementine has been the one constant to the cavalcade of variables, though — the little girl we first saw hiding in her treehouse has grown up to be wise beyond her teenage years. Yet, ever since her introduction, and even moreso from the beginning of season two, Clem has been treated like one of Jigsaw’s pawns in the Saw movies. One of the first things you see of The Walking Dead stalwart here is her losing a finger in a car door in a particularly vicious way. It’s not fun to see her go through endless torment, knowing there’s worse right around the corner.
Many, I’m sure, would say that this is what The Walking Dead is — a never-ending lesson on why they’re as fucked as the AVN Hall of Fame, no matter what they do. But there needs to be more than that. Peril is a much-needed element of storytelling that I would never question, especially in a game that revolves around a zombie apocalypse. I, as an active participant in this story, want a chance to get to know these people before they get a bullet through their heart, or a zombie’s teeth around their brain. I’ve learned over time that I don’t have much say in how the narrative pans out in one of these titles, but at least give me a chance to care about someone before they get brutally murdered like a council tax-paying resident of Albert Square on Christmas Day.
The strength of season one and some of Telltale’s other efforts is what makes me hope A New Frontier gets stronger as it progresses, but I can’t help but feel like I can already tell where this is headed because we’ve seen it many times before.