Telltale Games continues with its polished, solid introduction to its new season by offering up both episodes right off of the bat. This second half of Ties that Bind again focuses on family, but at the heart of the conflict is not one but two families as the stakes get raised from the first episode.
One of the biggest surprises to me was that we were using someone other than Clementine. I initially thought that perhaps we were only going to use Javi long enough for Clementine to make her reappearance to the series and then we would take her over, but Telltale Games decided to do something a little different here and likely divisive with some fans of the series. We have been Javi, we've become invested in Javi and we spend our early going doing what we can to make sure he and his family survive at any cost.
So what happens when a familiar face is introduced to the mix? Clementine has been the emotional heart of the series since it kicked off, so having moments that square the needs of her and her family against Javi and his is both at times brilliant and frustrating. Because children and family are at the heart of all of this, and in a way we helped to raise Clementine into the character she is now, the conflict here carries a good deal of emotion with it.
The biggest issue is that again choices seem to matter very little to this point. The decisions I made from my prior games? They seem to have a slight impact on how Clementine plays out. She's a sharp, charming girl when she wants to be, but she knows how to survive and while we don't have direct control over here, I suspect that the decisions brought in from the prior seasons are used to give her some variance in her performance here in season three. It's actually a nice design choice, but I know there were a few times where I wanted to control her again and the inability to do so led to some conflicts or dialog that seemed just a little 'off' from what I would have come to expect from Clementine. That being said, some of the flashbacks are pretty cool and a nice nod to the prior seasons.
Of course, there is no right or wrong answer - this kind of moral dilemma is at the heart of all Telltale Games titles, but perhaps none more so than The Walking Dead (although I would argue that Game of Thrones gives this series a run for the money in the 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' department). Characters are flawed and they are more human for it - it's just that some are more damaged than others and you never quite know who to trust when you encounter them or what their motivations are.
This has remained true in season three so far, and to that end fans of The Walking Dead games should feel right at home here, even if an autonomous Clementine takes a little getting used to. It is a little strange the way that Telltale Games released this as a part opened, but each episode is rather short so far, ringing in at a little more than an hour is all if you streamline things. If you take the time to poke around nooks and crannies like I tend to, you're looking at closer to ninety minutes to two hours per episode. This brevity makes the two episodes feel like one, leaving me to wonder if the rest of the episodes this season will feel so short as well.
That being said, it is worth noting that in terms of character and story development, Telltale Games is still on the mark. There were fewer of those slowly paced / boring sections to note in either of these two first chapters, and perhaps that lack of padding is what makes up for the shorter run time here. That they have managed to create enough interest in Javi in two episodes that I was conflicted at all is a testament to how effective the story being told was.
I still have some lingering doubts and concerns about just how much my choices impact the story, but the first two installments of season three are really quite good. I know I touched on this in my prior review as well, but kudos for making the tough decision to update the engine and ditch the legacy consoles. It's never fun to potentially leave fans behind who might not have the latest and greatest hardware, but this is the best that any of the Telltale Games titles have hummed along and I for one appreciate the smoother experience that doesn't break my sense of immersion due to technical issues.
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Article by Nick