f there’s one thing that Telltale has proven as a game developer in recent years it’s that they can offer an experience that’s close to the chest for any given property and its respective fandom. Among all of the licenses they’ve tackled however, there’s one particular adaption that truly represents the pedigree of the studio more than any of the other games they’ve helmed, and that’s the Walking Dead.
The third season picks up years from where we left off from the last time we saw Clementine, and while returning players are presumably breathing a collective sigh of relief to see her face grace the screen once more, Season Three’s “A New Frontier” isn’t centered on the steadfast teenager’s struggles in the post-apocalyptic world—we have a new player on the field.
More importantly, the first two episodes are quick to build upon a theme that effectively instills a growing sense of tension in each and every turning point crossed; legacies are bullshit, and nothing is sacred to those who want to survive.
One of the more notable elements in this latest instalment of the episodic game is how much more in depth the character development is for both protagonists by means of flashbacks, with two very different timelines between Javi and Clementine.
Peering into Javi’s past gives us some choice glimpses into what his life was like before the dead walked, and much like the Lee from the very first season, is a man who has some skeletons in his closet that’re still haunting him. Clem’s flashbacks are much more unsettling, especially for fans returning to the story as we see one of the many outcomes that she could’ve been set on from the decisions of the previous season’s concluding episode.
Each sequence is painful, and will find a way to hurt both Clem, and anyone attached to her in different ways, working to break down whatever sort of spirit that you had fostered with that little girl, and crushing her into something that you’ll genuinely have trouble recognizing.
This more grizzled take on Clem is effective at creating some distance for returning players considering that you’ll primarily play as Javi this season, and while it’s a noble effort to shift focus onto the new hero, the execution of it is a little jarring.
The new dichotomy does create an interesting setup, and that’s a good thing, but it’s a setup that’s ultimately more challenging than it is interesting, and I honestly don’t know if it’s even to the game’s credit after two episodes in either.
The issues are particularly poignant in the impossible situations that you’re placed in after the paths of these two characters cross; there are times where Javi will be given choice that will benefit him at Clem’s expense, or inconvenience him while helping her as a result. Now, for those who are coming back to the series for the third time (you know, the same people who have completely invested themselves into the wellbeing of Clementine) the aforementioned scenario choice isn’t as difficult as I initially pitched out to be, and well, that’s a problem.
Fans of the Telltale Series came into this after years of fighting tooth and nail to protect Clementine, even if it meant burning down the world and everyone in it to do so. Pairing her up with a stranger like Javi who has no real reason to look out for her, especially when doing so complicates his personal agenda is a strange move that somewhat hurts any organic character development that he can have.
Running that parallel to Lee again, Lee’s reasons to after her best interests are natural, and believable, Clementine was a surrogate daughter to him at the end of his life, and he gave it up completely believing that. Javi is different in that he already has a family that he looks after, and cares deeply about, his chance encounter with Clem is boils down as a means to an end, the end being his family’s safety—why would he jeopardize that over some girl he just met. The series of events they share together until the end of episode 2 don’t really justify the sort of chemistry that would warrant that approach.
I made sure to play through the game twice before writing this to see if I would’ve felt anything different towards him, and it just got hard the moment I was forced to place him on a pedestal with Clementine, because he always lost. In the end, Javi feels more like a cipher that allowed me to check up on Clementine’s story again than ever being a distinctive character in his own right.
Maybe I’m being too hard on the Season, but as it stands, I’m having a hard time with the idea of connecting to this new character if it means that I’ll potentially have to do so over Clem’s dead body.
Still, for those who’re wanting to wrench their heart out even more, The twists and turns are just as evocative and agonizing as they were before, and even if it’s not on the terms that fan may have wanted, seeing Clementine again is almost worth the price of admission alone to The New Frontier.
Despite the near saturation of Telltale titles at this point, The Walking Dead Season 3 is an episodic experience that’s definitely worth checking out.