Reviewed on PlayStation 4
This review does contain spoilers
The perfect Telltale finale delivers on every aspect the studio is known for. A large-scale fight sequence full of typically difficult quick time events, gutwrenching decisions that end in a combination of extreme satisfaction and absolute heartbreak, and most importantly, a culmination of everything you’ve fought for all season. The Walking Dead – A New Frontier Episode Five: From the Gallows supplied me with most of that. My satisfaction is difficult to comprehend as a whole. Every character’s story came to an end in a different way, which was nice to see, but I’m not entirely satisfied by every conclusion. It certainly was an interesting finale to an interesting season of highs and lows.
The draw of A New Frontier is the addition of a brand-new protagonist, Javier Garcia. In the beginning, I found it hard to get used to a new main character, as I was so used to young Clementine and her story. Over time, however, Javi began to come into his own, and he became a much more likable character. I found myself really caring about his actions in Episode Four, and I finally felt like I was impacting his life. Javi began to feel like every other Telltale protagonist before him; he was an extension of me, and his decisions were akin to those I would make in the same scenarios.
In Episode Five, Javi found himself making the hardest decisions yet. One particular decision was so blatantly “life or death”, that Clementine stepped in to explain how difficult a choice like this can be. I liked that, because it really proved just how much Clem has stepped up as a leader. She may still be a kid, but she knows how to take control of the situation and keep a level head. Javi, on the other hand, finally got to make a decision that impacted his family as a whole, and it left him devastated (in my playthrough, anyway). While making a decision like this made me excited, it left me wanting more out of Javi’s storyline, something that I frankly don’t think we’ll see any more of going forward.
I like making decisions that impact the entirety of my group. These moments, where the game becomes a choose-your-own-adventure story, are where Telltale really shines as a company. It’s here that I make the story my own, especially when I see the statistics at the end of the episode, and compare my outcome to the three other possibilities I could have chosen. Nobody has my story. The Javi I played is unlike anyone else’s, which is what makes it so heartbreaking to see him go. I’ll miss his family drama and his awesome skills with a baseball bat.
As for Clementine herself, she’s got her own path she needs to follow going forward. Season 3 saw her grow more than she ever has in prior seasons. She’s gone from an innocent and nurturing mother to a revenge-fueled badass. All she wanted was AJ, and she’s going to continue to do whatever she can to get him back. I found it unfortunate, though, that From the Gallows didn’t have a whole lot of Clementine in it until the end. I’ve always appreciated the fairly even amount of Javi and Clementine action this season, but this episode barely had any. It didn’t even have a Clementine flashback at all, which certainly could’ve helped out with its running time. This felt like the shortest Telltale season finale I’ve ever played, clocking in at less than two hours.
Although Episode Five may have skimped on the action through Clementine’s perspective, Javi’s storyline made up for this in abundance. The episode actually started where Four left off, with Kate’s truck crashing into one of Richmond’s outer walls, causing a massive zombie ambush. Javi is forced to fight his way to the accident, and back to safety. This called for the standard quick time events, but I found there to be a lot more frantic action in this episode. New button sequences, like the one pictured above, have Javi rapidly shooting his gun and doming multiple zombies in a row. Another sequence had Javi swinging left and right, bashing in a whole line of skulls with multiple flicks of the analog stick.
Fighting never felt repetitive in The Walking Dead Season Three. It popularized a new formula to the world of Telltale; one that had been introduced in the Michonne miniseries. The battles now felt more like they were integral to the story, and not just forced “gameplay” to make up for a game full of story and difficult choices. Fighting also made Javi feel more unique as a character, always opting for the melee option, a baseball bat, in times of crisis. I just had a lot of fun killing zombies in A New Frontier, and I can’t wait to see how they further improve the combat next season, presuming it’s possible.
My last bit of praise before I go into the cons of Episode Five is this episode’s focus on family as a whole. Javi’s relationship with his brother David has always been rocky— even before the apocalypse they rarely got along, and this episode’s only flashback, which opens the episode, showed us a moment involving the brothers and their father doing what they do best: squabbling. After a divisive discussion about their father’s recent cancer diagnosis, Javi promises his father that he will always be there for David. This devotion is tested later in the episode when David and Javi get in a fist fight, and Javi can choose to either fight back, or tell him he loves him.
It’s moments like this that thrust family into the spotlight, and make me care a lot more about these characters. The Walking Dead has always been about people who come together, much like a family, and learn to survive as a team. However, since they are strangers, it’s always “every man for himself” in the end and whatever happens, happens. But in A New Frontier, Javi’s group has always been his real blood family, with the exception of Clementine and a couple of people from Prescott, so it’s harder to make decisions that impact people you’ve always cared for, than just some random people you’ve grouped up with to stay alive. Telltale did a great job of keeping tensions high when it came to emotional family moments in Season Three. It’s what makes Javi’s story even more compelling, as these moments make the story more believable and relatable.
That said, there were some flaws in Episode Five, as Season Three has never managed to be completely perfect. First of all, this was the first episode where I encountered noticeable glitches while playing. As seen above, during a conversation with Javi and Kate the camera angle not only shifted behind Javi’s head, but also caused an invisible bat to appear between both characters as they spoke. It looked goofy, and I knew something had to be going wrong. The Telltale engine is certainly a mess, but the problems I’m used to encountering are clunky animations and skips while the game loads (most notably the awful loading in Batman, not to mention the infamous eyeball glitch in the same series). This kind of glitch hasn’t plagued the other episodes I’ve played this season (to Telltale’s credit), but it’s a bummer to be reminded just how broken their tech still is.
As for other flaws and inconsistencies, the main storyline in From the Gallows certainly has some issues. Certain plot threads seem to either end abruptly, or pop up out of nowhere simply to keep the story moving— Tripp and Dr. Lingard’s threads, specifically. The former dies in this episode to basically no fanfare— we don’t even watch it happen— a zombie bumps into him, he falls off an overpass, the group looks upset, and they move on. Dr. Lingard, on the other hand, shows up in Richmond after all of the action, completely clean and sober, and tells Clementine where AJ is, no problem. It all just conveniently happens. Neither of these events feels impactful, and they seem like they’re put into the story to close a door and open a new one, in their own ways.
Awkward plot points aside, I had an absolute blast with The Walking Dead – A New Frontier overall, and From the Gallows is a mostly excellent bookend to the season. I enjoyed where most of the characters’ storylines went, and I was pleased by the outcome of Javi’s in particular. More importantly, I appreciated how Season Three made me feel, as a whole. It’s not emotionally shattering like Season Two, which made me bawl my eyes out, but it actually made me think, unlike any Telltale game has before. The decisions I made were more than just what was best for my group, it was for my family. Javi became me, and the characters became my family. I’ve never felt so invested in the choices I made, as if it were all really happening. It gave me a glimpse into how a real-life zombie apocalypse could affect a family, and for that, Telltale deserves a lot of credit.