The first episode in this new series lays some really solid foundation for our upcoming story, though there are some curious design choices along the way that I can see rubbing fans of the long-running series wrong at the same time.
By now The Walking Dead likely needs no introduction. It's been a popular comic, television show and video game franchise for quite some time. This is likely the most popular series that Telltale Games has had the chance to work on, and it shows as they have done a great job with the game itself. The decision to leave the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 behind is a good one - the engine behind these titles has been getting creaky for a while now and that desire to support the legacy consoles has created some performance issues on the more powerful PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Of course, the dicier prospect was how to bring the data over from your prior two seasons. Telltale Games approaches this from a few different angles. You can simply choose a new game with some default choices having been made along the way, or you can log into your prior games and import your data to their website from your old systems to import into the new game, or you can do a somewhat Choose Your Own Adventure-like comic introduction where you make some of those tough choices. All three are perfectly viable, but I went with the data transfer method simply because I wanted to keep all of my initial choices. However, I did walk through the pick-a-scenario method as well once, just so I could test drive it. Here is where I had my first moment of concern - but for a series with a lot of decisions having been made so far, there were surprisingly few to be made here. I found myself quietly wondering: Is this how little my prior decisions have impacted the story, that two full seasons can be distilled in under a dozen quick decisions?
Of course, that is selling the overall process short, but it put this little cloud out doubt in the back of my mind when I started to fire up this first episode. The first game in the series saw us focused on the character Lee, an incredibly likeable protagonist who was doing the best he could with a series of lousy circumstances. This is of course a central theme to The Walking Dead, and the second season saw us take on the role of Clementine, a young girl that Lee did everything in his power to protect. Clementine made for a very different kind of protagonist than Lee, because she is smaller and weaker and often has to use her wits and personality to get by. The transition between those seasons was a fairly smooth one because we were moving right to a character who was already established in the prior season.
Things are a little less smooth here in this first episode as we meet Javi and his family. The story here is somewhat predictable, where they are introduced to the walkers the hard way as a family member turns when they don't expect it. Society begins to come off of the rails here as we are introduced to them during the initial zombie apocalypse and we later catch up to Javi and his companions after they have been on the road and surviving for a while. This allows them to catch up to current events rather nicely, while giving us some time with Javi and his loved ones before everything goes to hell. While we don't have the familiarity of prior characters during any of this process, the way the narrative is rolled out is really effective. I suppose one could argue that too much time is spent covering familiar themes from the prior games, but I think it's important if we're to invest ourselves into these new characters, so I am good with that particular design choice.
The title here is an apt one, as the focus is on family. In the past two seasons there was some emphasis on family in the loosest, non-literal sense as what we usually had were people who had lost a great number of loved ones and had come together with other survivors to form surrogate families. This is a perfectly good theme in and of itself, but it is one where fractures and distrust are more easily formed than with 'real family'. Javi's companions have managed to keep their humanity in check more effectively than many survivors, in part due to their family dynamic and it flavors things a little differently than the prior two seasons. You have teenagers who pout and act like brats because - well, they're teenagers. They occupy a terrible world but by and large they haven't had to fully grow up yet because they are part of an actual family.
Of course, this would not be The Walking Dead without some shocking deaths (some of which seemed more for shock value than actual narrative support) and some tough choices to make. However, there is this nagging voice at the back of my mind that says that the tough choices are really not all that important in the end - a theory I have had with some other prior Telltale Games titles that the Choose Your Own Adventure introduction here has somewhat brought back to the surface. I decided to go back and try things radically differently on a second playthrough and... so far at least, the choices I made didn't seem to have much of an impact on the storyline, which is a little disappointing. I am curious to see if we will see more deviation in future chapters or not.
All in all The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series - A New Frontier Episode 1: Ties That Bind Part One is a perfectly good episode that helps us establish some new characters while rolling us into a familiar setting. It's a good, polished title that benefits from leaving the older consoles behind as I saw fewer issues with audio/video sync and jittery framerates than I have in the past as well.
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Article by Nick