Reviewed on PlayStation 4
This review does contain spoilers
TellTale took a gamble with The Walking Dead Season 3 by “splitting” Episode 1 into two parts. I say “splitting” tentatively because it feels more like they released two full episodes at once, and I don’t know how I feel about that. Part of this is due to the fact that a lot is happening too soon in the season. I’d prefer revelations and decisions like those in Episode 2 appear later in the season. But the other part is because it’s too hard to wait possibly two months for the next episode. After Ties That Bind – Part 2, I’m more captivated than ever before.
Episode 2 picks up exactly where the premiere left off and allows you to tie up some loose ends before moving on. After the encounter with the walkers at the junkyard, Javi either goes with his family, or stays behind with Clem, and just like that your first major decision is made. Ties That Bind – Part 2, which I’ll shorten to simply Episode 2, gets straight into the action pretty quickly. Decisions in this episode feel more impactful, and it really feels like you’ve begun to shape Javi’s story as a whole.
In turn, this made me like Javi a lot more. He quickly became a guy whose story I could rally behind. A real conflict has begun within him – that being; his sister-in-law’s injury, and his commitment to her as one of his last family members. You can really feel the struggle he’s facing as he realizes it is hard to move on from the family you’ve had before. He’s begun to see that in an apocalyptic world, where everyone shares the same loneliness, it’s more important than ever to stick together.
Clementine plays a big role in Javi’s new “family”. Whereas the two of them were at each other’s throats for the majority of Episode 1, this time around they grow a lot closer. A true friendship sparks between Clem and Javi, and things get a bit romantic between her and his nephew, Gabe (although this may have just been the way I played my Javi). As I said with the last episode, I’m still finding it hard to move away from Clem. All of my decisions impact her in some way, and I want that to be for the better. I’ve lived in her shoes for so long, that there’s always a part of me that wants to help her out over Javi.
Unfortunately, I can’t figure out if that’s a testament to TellTale’s narrative work in previous seasons, or their lackluster character building in Season 3. Part of me wishes Clementine didn’t even show up until the third episode, maybe. I want to care about the new protagonist and make choices that pertain to him. Luckily, with the cliffhanger we’re dangling from until the next installment, his story is becoming more intriguing to me. However, Clementine’s presence still makes me wish she was the main character, and my choices tend to reflect that opinion, as do other players’ choices, according to the post-credits statistics.
As I said before, Clementine is a bigger part of the story now, which is satisfying. We got another flashback sequence involving her and AJ’s interaction with a member of the New Frontier. We later find out that Clem’s “capture” was more voluntary, and she was once a member of the enemy faction. This threw me for a loop and really made me question my morality. I was shocked to find out my perfect little girl had done something so terrible. Then I was forced to make decisions AGAINST her for once.
This aspect of the storytelling was so fascinating to me, as I truly felt betrayed for the first time in a TellTale game. Not just from a narrative standpoint, but this complete blindside by Clementine personally hurt me. It was fantastic, and a really cool perspective to make such a beloved character have such a dark past all of a sudden. The surprise reveal of it threw my Javi, as well as myself for a loop so kudos for that shocking turn of events, which sent my mind reeling.
The New Frontier itself is a new enemy in Walking Dead lore. They remind me a lot of Negan’s Saviors from both the comic and the show, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what TellTale was going for. As we all know by now, The Saviors are extremely no-nonsense, and they take what they want, whether it be supplies, hostages, or lives altogether. In the final act, we find out who exactly is leading this band of scoundrels, and it provided an amazingly tense moment that literally left my mouth wide open. It’s here we learn that Javi’s greatest threat in this world is now his own brother, David. This betrayal cut even deeper than Clementine’s did, for me personally. Throughout the last two episodes, I had been making decisions in both flashbacks and present day, regarding Javi’s life pre-apocalypse. I never thought these decisions would come back to haunt me. But now that I’m face-to-face with a character I imagined was dead, and tailored my story accordingly, I’m both excited and terrified by what the future holds. Javi is in for a wild ride come Episode 3.
While I’ve heard the David reveal may seem predictable, I personally was not expecting it. Nor was I expecting the introduction of a fan-favorite character from Walking Dead culture, who shows up mid-episode. He’s instantly recognizable, so I caught it right away. But I was still incredibly surprised to encounter Paul Monroe himself, “Jesus”, on my journey. Fortunately TellTale’s Jesus acts exactly like his comic and television counterpart, being both a thoughtful tactician and a wisecracking schemer all at the same time. Javi and the gang meet him on the way to the New Frontier’s base, and he already feels like a great addition to the crew. I’ve always appreciated these nods to the source material, as they do a great job of tying the new stories into the old. Characters like Glenn and Hershel made the first season feel even more like a necessary part of The Walking Dead as a whole because they fleshed out the backstory of these characters we know and love. I was glad to see this aspect of storytelling return for Season 3.
Episode 2’s narrative is enjoyable and fun to experience, but sadly the gameplay is not. This episode relied heavily on choices (including some throwaway choices that come back to haunt you) and progressing the narrative. There really weren’t a whole lot of action sequences or puzzle-solving. The junkyard scene in Episode 1 was very similar to previous seasons, in which you had to walk around and do a certain job, all the while talking to people, gathering their opinions on certain subjects, and finding items to use later on. This is a staple of TellTale games, helping to keep the spirit of point-and-click adventure games alive, and I was disappointed to see that Episode 2 omitted these enjoyable sequences. Unfortunately, with Ties That Bind – Part 2, there wasn’t enough of this problem-solving mechanic. I felt like I was wandering through a pre-conceived story, albeit an extremely engaging one, but rather than shaping my own path. Yes, I was shocked to find out what happened to Clem while I was away, but there wasn’t enough “Javi time”.
Again, this is a big problem I’m having with Season 3. He’s more of a conduit to progress the story; an audience member going along for the ride. Javi is basically me, just watching from the sidelines as people around him die, and hearing the problems of his newfound friends. Yet for some reason, people still come to him to make decisions, and at the end of it all, his word is final. It’s a weird and downright unrealistic dynamic, as I just don’t feel a guy as impartial as Javi would have such an impact on a group like this. Especially not with the Javi I’m creating; especially not with the Clem I’ve created.
Aside from that lack of puzzle-solving, the action sequences seemed a little dead this time around, no pun intended. Going from something like Batman, which had such creative quick time events, to The Walking Dead – which seemed to step it up with the Michonne miniseries – only to stop taking risks and go back to single-shot gunfights seems like a letdown. I wish there was more variety in the action, especially in a world full of undead corpses, and now an enormous human threat. I hope that as the season goes on, we’ll get into some pretty heated fistfights and gunfights with The New Frontier, which will get to show off the improved QTE’s TellTale is so good at.
Overall I’m finding The New Frontier to be a bit of a step back for TellTale. With Part 1 of Ties That Bind, I ended by saying I wanted more Clementine in the plot. Now with Part 2 I find myself wanting more Javi integration. It just doesn’t feel like there’s a good balance of old and new yet, whether it be the narrative or the gameplay. I love what TellTale has done with this series in the past, and I’m looking forward to how things go in Episode 3. I think the cliffhanger provides hope for a great new conflict for both Javi and Clementine. My only wish is that this will provide new opportunities for them to work together, and I can finally feel like my contributions to both of their stories have been worth it. It’s still lacking in some areas, but Season 3 just might find its sweet spot next time around. It’s certainly lined up for a home run with the next episode, but I’m cautious as to whether or not it will truly deliver.