Reviewed on PlayStation 4
This review contains some light spoilers
If you’ve kept up with my previous reviews of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 3, you’d know that I’m finding it hard to love, especially compared to the previous seasons and spin off miniseries. While I’m finding the new group of characters to be a welcome change of pace, it seems like Telltale hasn’t been very successful in fleshing out everyone’s individual story, or even explaining their purpose in this post-apocalyptic world. Fortunately, the tides have changed with Above the Law, which is without a doubt the best episode of Season 3 thus far, finally establishing an engaging plot line for every character involved. Episode 3 begins where Episode 2 left off, with the main “antagonist”, leader of the New Frontier, being revealed as Javi’s brother, David. As soon as the episode began, things shifted completely from what I’d envisioned. I had planned for David and Javi to immediately be at each other’s throats over Kate, David’s wife-turned-love-interest for Javi. However, the bond between the brothers only grows throughout Episode 3.
Speaking of Kate, I got worried after the David reveal that all of my past decisions would change the story for the worse. In Episode 2, there were a lot of flashbacks involving Kate and Javi’s relationship, which I wholeheartedly threw him into, as his brother was gone, and she needed comfort. But once David resurfaced, I feared the worst. Luckily, Episode 3 utilized some of these flashbacks as well, in which I found myself quick to push Kate away, to save us from any uncomfortable future scenarios. Obviously, this mechanic is impossibly unrealistic—you can’t change your past in real life in order to shape the future, after all— but I appreciated having the option in The Walking Dead.
Javi, our lead protagonist, continues to grow as a character in Above the Law. He establishes deeper relationships with his friends from Prescott, even having a heart-to-heart with Tripp about love and loss. Moments like this are what Telltale does best; choosing the greatest thing to say to promote meaningful development between protagonists. These discussions are what you’ll remember as you watch zombies disembowel your friends in the episodes to come. Telltale knows how to tug on your heartstrings, and that shines in Episode 3.
Combat also takes center stage in this episode; yet another aspect of Telltale games that never fails. A large majority of Above the Law is quick-time-events, whether it be fighting through the woods with a baseball bat, or fending off walkers to break into a garage. The gore is brutal in this episode; one scene in particular is so graphic, you are given the opportunity to back out at any time. It’s nice to see Telltale not shying away from the destruction of the apocalypse in Season 3. Zombies remain at the forefront, even with the new human threat bearing down on Javi and his friends. They are still the greatest enemy, and a good old-fashioned zombie ambush was a breath of fresh air.
Conflict is just as important as combat in a Telltale game, and there’s a lot of that to go around with the inclusion of new characters. In Episode 3 we finally get to experience the New Frontier hideout in Richmond for the first time. As David walks Javi through town, we encounter many new faces including Ava, the girl who saved Clementine out in the wilderness. Javi also meets the three other leaders of Richmond, alongside David. Paul the doctor, Clint the farmer, and Joan the communications expert all hold a meeting with Javi and discuss his recruitment. Unfortunately, in my story, things fell apart pretty quickly and I was thrown out on the street. Thus began the fight for survival all over again. This struggle for shelter, as well as the struggle for David’s acceptance, lies at the heart of Episode 3, and I hope this theme will continue throughout the season.
David, as an individual, has become such a more intriguing character since we saw him last. When he was just the jerky big brother yelling at Javi pre-apocalypse, there wasn’t much that had me caring about him. Respect wasn’t so easily given to this man, who wanted nothing to do with me (Javi). But when we once again confront him as the leader of a group, his entire mindset and personality has turned around. David finally sees his brother as someone fit to lead. He doesn’t look down on Javi like he once did, having now carried Kate and his children through the apocalypse, and back home to David.
Home, of course, is a loose term, as nobody really wants to stay with the New Frontier. This becomes a central conflict for Season 3 as well, amongst every protagonist. Some, like Javi and Gabe, feel like staying in the hideout is crucial to their survival. However, others such as Kate and even Clementine worry that they’re actually less safe with this mysterious group, rather than being on their own outside the walls. While the group has been known to fly off the handle at times, and take matters into their own hands, I found it important to befriend David as best as I could, and push Kate away as much as possible, to ensure our good standings with the New Frontier. Hopefully it pays off in future episodes.
Going back to Clementine, our young heroine has her own story to tell in Episode 3. Her regularly-scheduled flashback sequence explained the most about baby AJ that we’ve gotten thus far. Without spoiling anything , let’s just say we now understand why she’s on her own, and what her beef with David is all about. I’m most excited for the future of Clementine in Season 3. She’s been my favorite protagonist since the very beginning, and with every episode she comes into her own some more. Season 2 may have been the first time we got to control Clementine, and shape her accordingly. But this current season is much more of a coming-of-age tale for Clementine. At least in my playthrough, I make sure Clem always calls the shots, even though Javi is technically my main character. It’s in this way that I maintain the underlying plot line of Clementine and Lee. I prefer to watch her grow as a person, and Telltale is really starting to portray that perfectly in Season 3.
I couldn’t find much wrong with Episode 3: Above the Law. I felt like the story has begun to flesh itself out quite nicely. I’m looking forward to what the future holds in terms of conflict, especially with its abrupt ending and the cliffhanger it kept me stranded with. My biggest gripe with the episode would be the loss of Paul Monroe, better known as Jesus. Since the first Walking Dead Telltale season, I’ve appreciated the fan service in the form of well-known comic book characters’ cameos. Glenn and Hershel graced us with their presence in Season 1, and ever since I’ve longed for more friendly faces in the games. Fortunately, Jesus was an awesome addition, as he’s a valuable ally and a cool-looking badass in the series. He helped Javi out in Episode 2 with getting to Richmond, and then he stuck around for half of this one until he just left suddenly. There wasn’t much of a reason for him to go, and I hope we see him again. The combat sequences were a thrill to watch, with most of Jesus’s moves being copied right from the comic book panels and scenes in the television show. Telltale was so dedicated to the source material with Jesus, and it’s a shame to see him go.
Other than those few small complaints, I really enjoyed Episode 3. We’ve finally been given characters that have some depth to them, save for the other leaders of the New Frontier; they aren’t entirely fleshed out yet. However, with this episode’s conclusion, I feel like we haven’t seen the last of them. Hopefully they play a larger role in the latter half of the season, and we can finally understand how the New Frontier really operates. Overall, I found Javi, Clementine, and David’s stories to each hold their own this time around. This season’s issues with narrative dysfunction have fallen to the wayside, as Telltale has begun to craft a fairly excellent storyline in Episode 3. Hopefully the next two episodes will deliver an experience that brings The Walking Dead back to its (critically-acclaimed) former glory.
The fourth episode in a Telltale series is notoriously the worst, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they will continue to improve next month, rather than dropping the quality once again. Episode 3: Above the Law has certainly reassured me that Telltale knows how to make The Walking Dead fantastic. They just need to devote more time to developing relationships, and filling every character with more emotion. In the meantime, I’ll be here, waiting on them to strike the same gold they had with Seasons 1 and 2. Luckily, Javi and David’s “Lee and Kenny”-esque relationship is a good starting point already. Let’s see how it goes in the next installment.