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Walking Dead - A New Frontier 25th of February 2017

Disclaimer: We at High Rez Gaming received a free steam key for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier from TellTale Games.

When Mr Paton forwarded the Steam key from Telltale for their latest narrative adventure in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, a part of me was admittedly mixed on returning to the “walker” ridden world after enjoying Season 1 and sadly skipping Season 2 for budgetary reasons. On the one hand, I quite enjoyed the tragic tale of Lee Everett after his liberation from a life in prison leads him through something that no doubt was even worse, so perhaps a whole new story with similar trappings and themes may just have been the kick I needed to reignite a snuffed flame. Then again, on the other hand, there was the reason I left in the first place…

I believe it really started when The Wolf Among Us came out and, like a poor slob, I walked a let’s play of the first episode since up to that point, I knew nothing about it bar its title. Shucks it took me a moment to click that “Oh, it is a Telltale game!”. At this point, though, I didn’t really mind the chat sequences, the quick time sequences or the stripped adventure game mechanics that was left as the go between until a toad had his house broken into. See, from here, I was expecting the game to take an investigative approach with their typical “your decisions have consequences!” wrapper. As the fable detective and generally disliked Bigby Wolf I suspected that the game would have you making decisions that had you balancing between a community boy scout that always did his job and soft-balled with the cast, making tackling less compassionate figures a challenge, or you could act as a zero-tolerance over-reaching “Big Bad Wolf” by menacing the cast to make finding the truth a whole lot easier. Sadly, such mechanics never really arose. It didn’t matter if I proved to be a keen-eyed detective that deduced what really happened in Mr Toad’s house, royally buggered the whole investigation up with mismatched clues or just decided to beat the answers out of Mr Toad, the truth was always revealed with barely any consequence short of a moment’s resentment that can easily be completely forgiven when you do them some other thing. At that point, the game would continue much the same way, move to an interactive, do some chatter, maybe the odd quick time event, repeat. As intriguing as the murder mystery of The Wolf Among Us was, I just could not get interested in actually playing it. Short of the odd “timed response” with an interesting remark, The Wolf Among Us didn’t have any replayability or challenge that one would perhaps want to skip a let’s play for.
Booting up and playing the first episode of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier (as of the time of writing, only 2 of 5 episodes have been released) unfortunately did not relight that flame from season 1. The fact the game couldn’t open in full screen properly on my computer, prompting to go for a borderless windowed that was shifted to the bottom right likely did not help. Neither did the opening image being “hey, you want to sign up to a Telltale account?” which then led to the main menu, with a scrolling advert at the foot of the options for all the neat games in Telltale’s library and cool stuff you get with your Telltale account. At the risk of sounding like a burnt out headbanger reading the discography of an old band, when did Telltale sell out? I suppose it is ironic complaining that a development company whose greatest works have all been licensed games could ever be described as doing something for the art of it but the blatant advertising that takes more attention than the title of your game just reeks of someone going:
Telltale Games’
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE GREAT, GREAT TASTE OF HIREZ COLA!

It isn’t even like I could get away from this either, be it on episodes or trying to set up save data that I eventually gave up on, the game wanted me to set up an account or check out their store. I suppose I wouldn’t mind so much if this was some free mobile game where I could buy some “advert-B-gone” micro-transaction but, this is an £18.99 game! It’s going for $25 in Trumpland, why the cloying Telltale?

As for the actual game, wow. It honestly takes forever for anything significant to happen. Open with a talking scene, fine I can get that since even The Walking Dead season 1 did that, and then it keeps going. Then we have a cut-scene to the opening card. Cut-scene continues before a time jump to after the outbreak where you get more talking scenes, wait, am I missing something here? What about some...gameplay? Recalling back to season one of The Walking Dead, the game opened with a chat scene sure, one that honestly gave me more insight into Lee as a character from one line he didn’t say versus the many Javier is invited to say, assuming the game won’t just cut off a chunk of his dialogue, which does happen in this game a few times suggesting a QA team as bored with the game as I was. In Season one though, as soon as the “Walkers” come into the game, there is a complete shift! Suddenly, you have to puzzle your way out of the tipped car, your cuffs and try to escape incoming walkers. It wasn’t just a shift of narrative tone, it was a shift of gameplay too. It really made me feel as uneasy with the sudden appearance of walkers as Lee was. A New Frontier unfortunately never has that, as soon as Javier consoles his mother, it’s one long cut-scene to the “present day” card with more talking and the only time gameplay beyond that enters the fray is when you have to start siphoning gas for your vehicle. Even then, the gameplay doesn’t lead to much since what you do beyond talking to people has so little consequence that I accidentally skipped on siphoning gas from the ambulance with no way to backtrack. Not that it ever mattered since you lose the gas can anyway, but the fact you could easily have just walked in a straight critical path through the level and slam you face onto a laughable joke of a puzzle sort of leaves me feeling inadequate compared to the puzzles and content of Season 1’s first episode.
So, what about writing then? Perhaps the concentration on a strong story could be the reason for the weak gameplay. Well if the most interesting character thus far is a carryover from Season 1 doesn’t help clear up my opinion on A New Frontier’s writing to you, I cannot fathom what will. Perhaps this is just me, but Lee in the first episode, despite just entering the apocalypse never came off half as foolish as Javier did. I understand the argument of Javier not being Lee, but after four years in an environment, how is it possible you make so many mistakes in one scene and somehow you still survive. Abandoning a weapon beside the outside door when snooping someone’s residence? Dropping a gun when armed thugs break in? None of these were my doing and did little to have me relate to the main character, not helping when you open the scene with Javier basically getting decked for being an idiot before the zombies/walkers/muertoes attacked. Frankly, I wanted to punch Javier myself, between this and completely reinterpreting my lines (“No big deal” equals “apology accepted”?) the latter you would think should not be happening when the talking mechanic is your key game mechanic. Even the trifle elements like the “shooting incoming targets” is wrong, instead of illustrating the sheer quantity of these walkers and let you shoot any of them in the head, the game wants you to only shoot 2 or 3 in a scene before progressing to the next Q.T.E. The fact this single episode took me only 83 minutes is insulting. I wasn’t trying to speed run the game here, I desperately avoided anything I thought was going to trigger the next step and I still beat the first episode below the Steam refund margin. Considering that most Telltale games depend on episode 1 being a good hook and all I got was a shootout and a character death I guess I should care about if the death flag didn’t wave with fervour when someone opened their pie hole to say “Hey, that’s funny, usually somebody dies in this event” to paraphrase from a moron whom Javier responded to with “Don’t jinx it!”.
I suppose a title referencing food analogy should suffice as a wrap up here. A Telltale game is like a plate of spaghetti bolognese, most people remember the spaghetti and the fun of spinning the fork in the pile or slurping from one strand but the bolognese is what helped make the novelty satisfying, coating the pasta with flavour and made a fine meat to break away from the spindly noodles. With the popularity of the spaghetti, the portions of bolognese have been dropped since, everyone just wants our spaghetti, right? Unfortunately, the chef’s just going through the motions at this point, a part of them just thinks to not even bother with some steps since the waiters have sold the cafe as a spaghetti nirvana. Maybe the chef misses making bolognese with the spaghetti, maybe they miss that party pizza dish they made one or twice before or perhaps the chef is long gone and a money pinching new chef is rubbing their palms over opening up the instant noodles packet that they’ll sell off as my spaghetti. Frankly, I don’t come to this restaurant often myself, I suppose I should be lucky for seeing the portion changes when I did and shouldn’t have come back. Most of the other, more loyal patrons probably can speak more to the quality drop between dishes, but me? All I can comment is that I think there’s just too much spaghetti.
Greg Baxter
 
 
 
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