In The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, released yesterday by Telltale Games, you explore Robert Kirkman’s comic world as a survivor of the zombie apocalypse. Horrible things happen. Awkward conversations ensue. And throughout, you’re prompted to choose what your character says and does.
You play as Javier, a young Latino man who’s struggling to survive along with his brother’s wife, his niece and his nephew. You team up with Clementine, the universally beloved supporting star of The Walking Dead: Season One and the main star of The Walking Dead: Season Two. (To be clear, those titles refer to games in the series, not seasons of the show.) You even get to play as Clementine in a series of flashbacks.
The brief moments when you get to play as Clementine are some of the strongest parts of the game. You hunt for food. You get seriously injured—more injured than you’ve ever seen her get before. And immediately, you’re sucked back into her story. That’s the power and payoff of two prior games’ worth of context.
Meanwhile, playing as Javier presents identity challenges. He’s a brand-new character who’s making his debut in the third season of this series, and you need to become invested in his struggles in a very short amount of time. Otherwise, by the time you meets Clementine, you’re going to make decisions based on her welfare rather than his.
Here’s an example. Midway through Episode One of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, Clementine commits an action that is both reckless and cold-blooded. And you, playing as Javier, have a quick, tough decision to make: Do you cover for her, follow her lie and risk being cast out by your new friends? Or do you tell the truth, expose Clementine and win the trust of the people who just took you in?
At this point, Javier barely knows Clementine. And if I was Javier, I would probably tell the truth because Javier’s primary, principal goal is to rescue and protect his family.
But here’s the problem: Javier may not know Clementine, but I do. I spent Season One protecting her as Lee, and I spent Season Two playing as her. I know her better than the new, unknown character I’ve been assigned to play.
And so I lied. Forced to choose between Javier’s family and Clem, I chose Clem. I’m playing Javier, but I’m not making decisions as Javier. The Walking Dead is famous for its no-win scenarios, where you choose between a bad choice and a worse choice. But if I’m being perfectly honest, I didn’t feel very conflicted. I simply did whatever Clementine wanted to do. I performed any action, no matter how heinous, that would protect Clementine. And as for Javier’s family? I’m sure Javier loves them, but I didn’t. I barely got to know them over the course of the two episodes I played. Could I choose them over Clementine? Impossible.
It seems as though Telltale developed A New Frontier as a soft relaunch of the series; there’s a reason it’s not called Season Three. Many people who play this game will have never played the first two seasons, and therefore, will be meeting Clementine for the first time, just like Javier. I’d be interested in knowing what their decisions were, and how difficult their choices were. I suspect they would be less forgiving in their assessment of her actions.
It’s a meta-cognitive dissonance that I struggled to reconcile. Was I playing as Javier, or was I playing as myself? Ultimately, however, I played as myself, making decisions Javier would never make, based upon knowledge that Javier was not privy to. It felt narratively wrong, but it was the only way I could be comfortable with my choices and feel like the prior games meant something.
I’ve only played the game’s first two episodes; there will be five episodes in all, and the remaining three will be released incrementally over the next several months. Based upon what I’ve seen so far, Clementine is a more conflicted, darker character than in previous games. She has secrets she’s keeping. She does morally questionable things. But despite it all I stuck by her and will continue to do so.
Is there anything she could say or do that would make me turn on her? If Telltale can manage to sway my sympathies, in a way that feels organic and true to the characters, I would be extremely impressed.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier—Episodes 1 & 2 are available on December 20 on Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Kindle Fire HDX, and Android. Visit Telltale Games to learn more.*
Wing-Man has written about video games and popular culture since 2013, and has been published in multiple online and print publications. Follow him on Twitter to learn more.