I maintain that Telltale’s Interactive Stories (they’re not exactly games) are best with new characters. Sure, it’s okay to play in a sandbox that we’re all familiar with, but by using a character we know, like Fables’ Bigby Wolf or Batman, we tend to play out the same narrative beats we have experienced in books, comics, or movies. In comparison, Telltales’ Tales from the Borderlands or Game of Thrones allowed us to breathe our own life into the character. It’s the difference between watching Star Wars’ Episodes 4 through 6 for the hundredth time, as opposed to watching Rogue One with fresh eyes. The Walking Dead: A New Frontier falls into the second category. Yes, we may have familiar characters, but the people that carry the third season of The Walking Dead are almost entirely new, and the story is better for it.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier kind of hits the rewind button with Javier Garcia and his family. We relive the first few weeks of the zombie outbreak to get a sense of his background, before rejoining him in the present. This quick flashback seems to be more than sufficient to get the general idea of who Javier is; I was able to hit the ground running as Javi, and it feels like we will be able to flesh him out further in future flashbacks.
Clementine’s flashbacks are just as important, since she is much more hard-bitten and cynical than we remember her in Seasons One and Two. The flashbacks have partly explained her change, but there is one major plot thread between Seasons 2 and 3 that has yet to be resolved, and I am not looking forward to watching the other shoe drop.
I do love the fact that A New Frontier released with two episodes. Even with the twice the usual playtime, A New Frontier has almost no slow moments. Every bit of Episodes 1 and 2 is packed. There is no slow buildup of tension, which makes sense because anyone who has survived this long knows how to handle themselves with a bunch of zombies. The problems that Javier deals with are much more human, and much more volatile. It only makes sense since Walking Dead: A New Frontier roughly follows the timeline of the comics and TV series; large communities (good AND bad) are now a relatively common occurrence, and the main focus of the plot shifts from basic survival, to dealing with the kinds of people who exist in a world where the walking dead is an everyday occurrence.
While this is a welcome respite from the slower pace of Season 2, the speed of the plot predisposes us against any emotional attachment with many of the new characters. This, coupled with Telltale veterancy syndrome (the knowledge that MOST of the plot is on rails and there is not much you can do to deviate from it) and the natural cynicism of having watched beloved characters being offed throughout The Walking Dead means that some of the deaths in Episodes 1 and 2 might not have hit as hard as the deaths in earlier seasons.
That’s not to say that I don’t care for the new characters. It is a testament to the writers and the voice actors that I still care for just about all of the Telltale Walking Dead characters more than any of the stupid-ball-carrying cardboard cutouts in the TV series. I maintain that the Telltales’ stories are much better spinoffs of the comic book as opposed to the TV series, and so far A New Frontier has shown me that my faith has not been misplaced.