A strong conclusion to ‘A New Frontier’ belies the nonsense it took to get here
The problem is, I stopped caring for the most part. Another death? It happens. Another betrayal? Old hat by now.
So color me shocked when I found myself actually interested in the season finale for Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead: A New Frontier.” The fifth episode, “From the Gallows,” had all the markings of a great entry: good writing, quick pacing, a satisfying ending (one, though, that leaves no doubt that Telltale will be coming back with Season 4 at some point).
However, as I sit here contemplating how I feel about what I experienced throughout seven and a half hours I spent with Javi, Clementine and those around them, I realize just how angry I am with what would have been otherwise a strong ending. In short, this game didn’t deserve an ending that was actually good because it just shows me what could have been.
It’s not as though Telltale can’t craft a compelling choice-based story; in fact, I’ve played those games. “From the Gallows” reminds me of some of the developer’s strongest creations, such as the first season of “The Walking Dead” or “Tales From the Borderlands.” So to see that Telltale still is capable of weaving a tale that’s engaging just has me seeing red that I had to suffer through four increasingly lackluster and unstable episodes just to get to the good stuff.
If you’ve been following along with the reviews for the season (and there’s plenty of times when I wondered why anyone would), you know that the fourth episode left on quite the cliffhanger, with death and carnage and zombies galore. Javi, Clementine and the others no one cares about are stuck in the middle of all this nonsense, and the rest of the episode centers around how we handle the situation in Richmond and how our family comes to its final structure. (Spoiler: Yes, people die. Wait, I take back that spoiler warning back. This is “The Walking Dead.” Of course people die.)
Our goal as Javi is two-fold this time around: Yes, we want to survive (family and friends included), but we have to decide how we want to solve the problem we basically created in Richmond. Do we want to stay and help protect the city’s residents, or do we just want to take off, leaving the city to fend for itself? It’s a bit of a black-and-white choice, but I can appreciate the honesty behind it. Not everyone is a hero, and to acknowledge that is giving truth to a harsh reality.
Decisions made regarding how we handle Richmond matter more, however, when it comes to how it affects the family. Some want to help, some want to leave, some are stuck in the middle, and the tensions formed between the divergent viewpoints power us forward to the game’s conclusion.
But no matter what praise I have for “From the Gallows,” it just doesn’t wash away the bad taste in my mouth from the season’s previous episodes. I said it before, but I simply didn’t care what happened to the vast majority of characters in this season. Outside of Javi and Clem, the rest could have simply disappeared from existence and I’m not sure I would have noticed. Characters who grated on my every nerve continue to do, even when the the game’s final episode tried so valiantly to redeem them. Family relations that I refused to nurture because it made no sense thematically to me struggle to return, pushing hard to fall back into Telltale’s preferred design.
And I think this is what bugged me more than anything: Telltale tries so hard to make it seem as if I had a reason to care about what Kate or Gabe or Tripp. But by this point, I didn’t. And to try to force that emotion on me when I clearly stopped caring hours ago is both infuriating and disingenuous.
I will give credit when it’s due, though. I didn’t suffer any game crashes this time. I did notice a few graphical glitches, but it’s nothing you wouldn’t stumble across in most games.
In the end, “From the Gallows,” the fifth and final episode in “The Walking Dead: A New Frontier” is by far the season’s strongest episode. It actually had me excited for the coming fourth season. But it really had no right to do anything of the sort. Some may be willing to forgive, considering that this episode largely succeeded where it counts: in crafting a main character that we feel invested in, one who accurately changed based on the decisions we made along the way. But for me, it’s too little, too late. You can’t expect me to care about family and loyalty and responsibility in a world gone mad when I really didn’t care who lived or died. So some things happened, some things didn’t and zombies still rule the world. We’re right back where we started.
Four “Was I suppose to care?” 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
“Episode 4: Thicker Than Water” review