‘The Walking Dead: A New Frontier — Episode 4: Thicker Than Water’ (PS4) review: Unnecessary bonds

‘Thicker Than Water’ a disappointing penultimate episode

After another 90 minutes of Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead: A New Frontier,” I find myself starkly split as to how I feel. I still want resolution for Javi and Clementine, but only for them. As to what happens to rest of this rotating cast of non-entities, I just couldn’t care less anymore.

The game’s fourth episode , “Thicker Than Water,” heavily plays on its title, highlighting relationships with families and friends. The problem, though, is that I no longer give much thought to anyone other than the protagonist, Javi, and the heroine of the previous two seasons, Clem. How the chaos unfurling in Richmond affects them matter far more to me than the relation between Javi and Kate, who happens to be the wife of David, Javi’s brother and father to Gabe, the more annoying character in this entire season.

Then there’s the crazy, crazy people of Richmond, the suddenly not-so-safe-from-zombies safe city that our ragtag crew now is stuck in. And don’t forget Joan, the new villain de jour introduced in Episode 3, who seems unnecessarily crazy and vindictive. Then there’s the people we’ve been traveling with, Tripp and Eleanor, though Javi and his family still aren’t close with them even after all the nonsense they’ve been through together.

As you can see, there’s so many people with so many agendas and almost none of them matter. “Thicker Than Water” wants the player to believe the choices made here will matter, that they will affect the game’s outcome in its fifth and final episode. It wants us to care. Rather, the episode spent 90 minutes lazily wrapping up several plot lines that I had forgotten or stopped caring about, reminding us about one particularly interesting aspect that then was shoved off (presumably) until Episode 5 and concluding with what had to be one of the most lackluster cliffhangers I’ve seen in quite some time.

Sounds like a fun time, right?

A quick recap: Javi, Clementine and company are stuck in Richmond, which now is under the command of Joan, a city leader who says she simply seeks order but runs her ship with utter impunity. Javi and brother David want none of that, so they work on a plan to escape the city. But after the episode’s start (and a surprisingly strong flashback of the brothers’ past that expands and deepens their rocky relationship), we rarely see David again, and Javi runs around either strengthening or rejecting relationships with just about every other character.

First off, Joan’s ascension to major villain status comes out of the blue and seems incongruent with the obvious tension that was building between Javi and David. In fact, I was certain David was going to become the series’ final nemesis, the one we would have to contend with in order to escape. But Joan? A woman who has almost no backstory or interesting premise? It’s random in the worst way.

And then there’s the relationships that Javi has with everyone else. We spend far too much time with his grating nephew, Gabe (who I wouldn’t mind being eaten by a zombie at this point), instead of the two more interesting people in his life: Clem and Kate. The past three episodes have created bonds between Javi and the two women, a budding romance with Kate and a growing friendship with the young Clementine. But “Thicker Than Water” doesn’t really expand on those relationships, other than one binary choice with Kate. And then’s there another Clem flashback that offers little in the way of importance; in fact, it’s place in the timeline actually made it almost useless thematically.

And in Part 97,632 of detailing Telltale’s technical failures, the PS4 version of this episode crashed twice, both times being proceeded by a massive frame rate drop, along with the now-normal visual and audio glitches. More of the sigh-inducing same.

In the end, “Thicker Than Water,” the penultimate episode in the five-part “The Walking Dead: A New Frontier” series, does little other than spend 90 minutes reminding me of relationships I don’t care about, mostly ignoring the ones I do and lazily setting up the premise for the final episode. And really, I have nothing left to say. Here’s hoping Javi and Clem survive; everyone else? Eh.

Two “Just end it already!” stars out of five.

“Episode 1: Ties That Bind Part I” review
“Episode 2: Ties That Bind Part II” review
“Episode 3: Above the Law” review

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