There's a feeling of dread every time I ready myself for an episode of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead series. Too often likable people are taken out, with the scum of its dying earth roaming in power. The latest episode of A New Frontier, "Thicker Than Water," gave me that feeling constantly from start-to-finish. While not a perfect episode, it served as a grim reminder of why the chips are almost never in your favor.
"Thicker Than Water" has Javier escaping from confinement, as his brother David is about to be brought to the masses for Joan's sick punishment. With everyone rounded up, a game plan is made to rescue David via any means necessary. As the sun rises in Richmond, while the undead surround the fences, the odds of getting away unscathed are as unrealistic as one can imagine.
Often I found myself thinking about the consequences of what I may say or do throughout "Thicker Than Water." A good choice winds up being a rough awakening, as Javier, Clementine, and those close to them wind up getting hurt, scarred, and psychologically unsound as the day progresses. Even with the dimmest flicker of hope in the characters' sight, it often comes at a price. It makes me feel uneasy with what's occurring, with my stomach acting queasy when pushed in a corner.
Then again, perhaps this is what makes The Walking Dead the way it is. In a world where the undead are around the corner and people fight to survive, there's never a moment that'll leave every individual in your party satisfied. A New Frontier elevates that sentiment in ways that the previous two seasons and the Michonne spinoff didn't, with a plan of action resulting in the most brutal of Murphy's Law outcomes. You grieve, you fight, you lose, you get back up, only to be knocked back down until animal instincts take over and you become a bigger monster than the Walkers outside.
It's that feeling that has me acknowledge how good Telltale Games is with getting their story across. They know how to play with your emotions in the same way SEGA does with their Yakuza series, digging deep into the horrors and turmoils of survival. However I often find myself exhausted with one bad incident after another, an issue that I came across with their adaptation of Game of Thrones. Rarely is there a chance to just breathe, relax, and leave things on a note that -- while not entirely positive -- gives you just a piece of tranquility that doesn't involve bloodshed.
Also going without saying is that it's high time that Telltale Games retools its game engine. Too many times I noticed the framerate drop significantly, with characters moving about sluggishly. Even though the characters look better than their last-gen predecessors, they still react as if I'm playing an Xbox 360 title rather than something on Xbox One. I even noticed some QuickTime Events not properly working, forcing me to watch Javier get his head shot off a few times before its mechanics got back into synch.
- Great story writing
- Powerful performances from cast
- Increasingly challenging choices
- Game engine showing its age
- QTE's not working from time-to-time
- May leave some players feeling hopeless
"Thicker Than Water" will leave you feeling grim about what the outcome may be for Javier, Clementine, and the rest of the crew. The latest episode serves as a stern reminder that anything goes when the world has gone to Hell, where rhyme & reason has been lost on humanity. Only one more episode to go this season, but with the way things have gone in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, my stomach is already tangled in knots by what may be waiting in the shadows of Richmond.
Promotional consideration provided by Telltale Games. Reviewed on the Xbox One.
Background Noise: Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Last year had Nick Cave facing head-on with the death of his son, resulting in the most powerful album of his career. He's poetically grim in "Jesus Alone," breaking apart in "I Need You," and hoping whatever powers that be is looking out for those he loves in "Distant Sky." It acts as a parallel to the events that unfold in Telltale's adaptation of The Walking Dead, where optimism is almost non-existent and the roads are wet with the teardrops of the fallen.