‘The Walking Dead: A New Frontier — Episode 2: Ties That Bind Part II’ (PS4) review: Past meets present

Second part of opening episode loses some of the luster

After the jaw-dropping cliffhanger at the end the first episode in Telltale Games’ third season of “The Walking Dead,” it was a bit disorienting to find myself in a flashback at the beginning of “Episode 2: Ties That Bind Part II.” The situation is tense, but in a more familiar way: Family drama is something everyone can relate to.

But if you’re expecting to spend any length of time in a world where undead aren’t trying to tear your face off, you’re in for a rude awakening. Back in present time, we have to contend with the chaos that was unleashed at the end of “Part I,” where Javi and Clementine are suddenly in mortal danger (well, more so than normal) and the consequences of previous decisions begin to take hold.

But while “Part I” was phenomenal in both tone and character development, “Part II” comes across a bit more muted, almost domestic in the events that transpire. In fact, you may end this episode feeling a strong sense of déjà vu. Our primary characters are left wounded (both physically and emotionally) and are seeking to find a safe haven from a world that would rather seem to have them dead. On their way to safety, they once again run into danger. Familiar, no?

Still, watching how the events that changed the entire tenor of the first episode played out in the second was fascinating, if for no other reason than to see how Javi came to terms with tragedy. Though you have some control over how he views the dire situation, it’s clear some of the unexpected normalcy that flowed through “Part I” won’t be found again.

On that note, choices you make during flashbacks start to make their outcomes known in this episode, which is something I wasn’t expecting. Telltale’s games tend to offer the choice of illusion in pretty obvious terms. So to be surprised by seeing how my interactions with family before the world became “Zombieland” was a nice treat. It adds some depth to Javi and certain other characters that builds on the tremendous work the first episode did.

The episode also explores pieces of Clementine’s recent past (between the end of the second season and the start of this one). Choices made in previous seasons influence how you experience her memories. Who did you end up with at the tragic end of season two? How did you interact with other characters? Those decisions and revelations, large and small, open the door to help better understand what Clem has been up to since we last saw her. It’s a nice combo of having decisions we made years ago matter to some extent while adding some emotional connectivity to a character who, while a fan favorite, is much more distant than before.

I’m not sure how much sway her past will have on the future of this season, though. Don’t get me wrong: I want to know what happened to her, why she’s on her own and what role she will play as “New Frontier” plays out, but it’s clear that this is Javi’s story first and foremost. Whatever role Clem has will be secondary to whatever it is that Javi needs to accomplish.

Speaking of, notwithstanding the twist at the end of this episode, I’m at a bit of a loss at what exactly is the goal here. Javi, Clem and the others are trying to find shelter, sure, but isn’t that always the goal? In the first two seasons, destinations were in mind with tangible results one way or the other. This time around, however, I’m not seeing that.

And not to harp on the subject, but after the surprisingly short first episode, which clocked in at just longer than an hour, I was expecting a bit more game in this episode. Why, you ask? Because Telltale made a big huzzah about having so much content for the first episode that it had to split the episode up into two parts. This episode also spans just longer than a hour. So, in total, we have a touch more than two hours’ worth of content that had no reason to be divided (even if the effect was an excellent cliffhanger at the end of the first episode). It seems that each subsequent series Telltale puts out is shorter than the last. At some point, it’s not going to be worth playing the episodes individually; why not just wait for the full season if it’s only going to take you five hours to beat it?

And while the game handled well for the most part, there still were a few frame-rate issues and some actually freezing in certain frames. One scene in particular came to a screeching halt for about 20 seconds (but thankfully didn’t crash). Again, better than the nonsense that happened in “Batman,” but it’s a shame to see the issues pop up after the first episode ran so smoothly.

In the end, “The Walking Dead: A New Frontier — Episode 2: Ties That Bind Part II” is a bit of a letdown from “Part I,” but only because the first episode in this five-part season was so stellar. I’m still walking on air that Clem is back in the fray, and seeing Javi mature and come to terms that bad things sometimes happen to good people is a case study in excellent character development. A few hiccups appear along the way both plot-wise and technically, but at this point in “The Walking Dead’s” long history, would you expect anything else?

Three “Clem will always save the day, right?” stars out of five.

“Episode 1: Ties That Bind Part I” review

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