Posted on 18 Jan 2017 by L Coulsen

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Ties That Bind – Part I

The Defence

Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Platform: Consoles, Mac, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: Ep1/2 20 Dec 2016

The Prosecution

Minimum
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 450
AMD equivalent
RAM: 3 GB
HDD: 8 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: Unknown

The Case

And lo, the time did come to pass, when Clementine would return. Hardened by her travails, tempered by fire and reforged into the one who will lead us all to salvation. In other words, there’s a third (full) season of The Walking Dead by Telltale, and Clemetine is more badass than ever. Despite being only thirteen years old, she’s now falling into the mentor role…to a guy about twice her age. So let’s do this.

The Trial

The first thing to notice is the significant improvement in the visual department. Though it still has that comic book, cel shaded thang going on, the level of detail and, particularly, lighting effects are vastly improved. It’s not something that may be immediately apparent, but it is most certainly there. Though people looking for the next graphical benchmark won’t be at all wowed, it’s still good to see things pushing forward. Not least because it’s a clear indication of how successful Telltale have become.

The decaying world of The Walking Dead never looked so good.

Actually, from a technical perspective, there are improvements all around. The music is especially impressive, not just in composition, but also improved in quality. Something which persists across the voice work as well. Sounds are really sharp, crisp and most decidedly not recorded in an apartment with cars faintly audible in the distance. Not that there was really anything wrong with the recording quality before, to be fair. But it’s still a notable upgrade nonetheless.

Complexity of animations is yet another improvement. Though some of them are still a tiny bit on the wooden side, most are notably smoother and more intricate. A scene right at the beginning of the episode, with new protagonist Javier’s family all walking along a corridor together, demonstrates this perfectly. Everything from the number of moving character models, to the degree of interaction between them and even the simulated camera angles are a technical step up from every game Telltale have made to date.

Hell, even the writing has taken a step up this time around. Though the first episode flounders a little with its emphasis on introducing almost a completely new cast, the dialogue is extremely natural. This allows the new cast, powered by their vocal talents, to come to life almost immediately. A deliberate move no doubt, as one of our new arrivals, and arguably the most likeable at that, is killed off at the climax of the first episode. A move that could have fallen really flat and come across as really, really terrible contrived manipulation, but is handled just right, making it sudden and jarring.

Though admittedly a little bittersweet given the seemingly significant decision immediately before it has absolutely no bearing on the outcome. It would have actually been, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, an even more effective plot device if the binary choice before it lead to two different deaths. Leaving the player feeling all the more powerless as they come to realise that they are directly choosing between one life and another. Even if that realisation would require a second playthrough to fully appreciate.

Clem’s not a helpless little girl anymore.

The true stand out here though, is Melissa Hutchinson, the voice actress for Clementine. This marks not only her third portrayal of the character, but also her third rendition. With some flashback scenes going back to when she was closer to her season 2 age, and dear Gods is she good! All three versions are clearly the same voice, but Hutchinson’s ability to portray such a wide range makes each version really sound like a child growing into a young adult. It really cannot be understated just how good she is.

The Verdict

Having said all of this, oddly, I’d say that Ties That Bind part 1 is actually the weakest opening episode of any Telltale game to date. However, that is not to say, in any way, that this is a poor episode. It most certainly is not, it simply struggles with a little too much of a rush introducing the new cast. Which is entirely new, so far, apart from Clementine. It most certainly got me invested in the story again.

Case Review

  • Audio: Whether it’s new filtering techniques, new hardware, or a mixture of both, the sound quality here is absolutely superb.

  • Melissa Hutchinson: Seriously, someone give this woman a frikkin’ Oscar already.

  • Technical Upgrades: Pretty much everything has been improved, though perhaps not enough for everyone to care.

  • Length: Only a little more than an hour, the standard for a Telltale game really.

  • Custom Key Bindings: Yeah, you know the deal by now.

4.5 Score: 4.5/5
Pretty much exactly what we've come to expect from Telltale.

Evidence

  • Graphics: There are a few minor options, but nothing overly advanced. However, considering Telltale have their games running smooth as you like on even old smartphones these days, there isn't much need for them either. Even the notable graphical improvements have had little impact on overall performance.
  • Audio: The usual, master and music volumes and an option to choose your language. The sound balance is so well done however that you'll never likely have any need to turn anything up or down.
  • Controls: What you see is what you get mate, a couple of unbindable keys and basic mouse control.
  • Gameplay: Like some previous Telltale games, there's an option to have points of interest in the environment all show up by default, or have them hidden until your cursor rolls over them. So as to make the screen less cluttered and the game more (but not really) difficult. A really cool, brand new feature, is the Crowd Play setting, which allows other people to be a part of your playthrough via streaming when active. With a sub option which allows dialogue choices to be voted on by the crowd if you, for whatever reason, can't bring yourself to ruin everyone's life on your own.

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