The Walking Dead's Third Video Game Season Feels Too Safe

The latest season of Telltale's The Walking Dead started off strong. The newest episode attempts to up the stakes further with new characters and tough decisions. But that might not be enough to make up for a stale format.

Walking Dead Season 3: Clem With A Gun

When we last left Javier García, he and the group were desperately trying to get into the city of Richmond in order to save Kate. The city was under control of The New Frontier, a radical group of survivalists that Javier has butted heads with throughout the first two episodes. They encounter one of the groups leaders: Javier's lost brother David. It's as good a set up as any.

How's it go from there? Here's some general thoughts about this episode:

  • The series thrives on relationships and the ambiguities that come therein and this episode does that very well. Javier has to navigate Richmond's strict social rules as well as adjust to how David's return alters his family dynamics. There's a lot to manage and it affects many of your choices.
  • David's more interesting than I thought he'd be. Alex Hernandez, best know for his stellar turn as Lincoln Clay in Mafia 3, gives a strong performance here. David's struggle to come to terms with some of the more unsavoury aspects of The New Frontier are well realised.

He's an arsehole. But a realistic arsehole.

  • A major misstep bringing David back into the action is how much Kate is pushed to the side for much of the episode. The spectre of domestic abuse hangs over her relationship with David, and it is incredibly unfortunate that she is denied a greater voice for much of the episode. In a series full of strong women, this is a huge mistake.
  • Clementine isn't in this episode as much, and I actually think that's for the best. In the first two episodes, many of my decisions were not predicated on logic. I did things to impress and support Clem with little thought. Although she's one of the strongest things about this season, using her in moderation was the right choice here.

But there were only one set of footprints...?

  • Jesus is the main moral compass here, which surprised me given how little a role he played in Ties That Bind - Part 2. In fact, he provides such a guiding voice and mysterious presence that I'm half convinced that he's supposed to actually be Jesus. Yes, that Jesus.
  • I've been pretty complementary of this season, but it's starting to feel aimless. The first season was a steady progress of clear goals for Lee to tackle. The second clearly positioned itself as a character piece about Clem. This? I don't know where we are going here, and that's a problem considering we're halfway through the season.
  • In spite of the fact that the season is losing some broader focus, individual moments are good. The final choice in this episode came down to the wire for me. It's the first time a decision gave me pause in this season. I hope there's more of that down the road.

I'm trying to remain optimistic about this season of The Walking Dead, but I also think we need to acknowledge that the Telltale formula is running out of steam. Momentary flashes of inspiration are not enough to buoy gameplay that has started to feel rote and automatic.

I think Above the Law continues a tradition of strong writing. I have genuine interest in these characters, but it also feels very safe. It lacks experimentation and is too afraid of failure. There's a lot to like here, but if Telltale isn't careful, this season will end with a whimper instead of the bang it so desperately craves.


Comments

    I'm gonna be frank here, the game needs to leave Clem behind. It needs to focus on entirely new characters in entirely new situations. It's holding onto the past and it's doing itself a disservice.

      I agree, theres nothing wrong with the "Telltale Formula", just recently started Batman, and last year finished Wolf Among Us, Borderlands and Game of Thrones. Telltale still have plenty to offer, I'm rather looking forward to Guardians of the Galaxy... but this just feels like "Clem pt3". What they did with Michonne for that mini-series thing was rather good. Fresh characters to get fresh with. I had hoped Frontier was more like this, but alas, not.

        Is Batman really worth playing do you think?

          I picked it up on spesh, so far (two eps in) its not bad. A different take on the classic story. Adds some new elements to the Telltale formula like linking pieces of evidence together to solve a crime, or planning how to take down a room full of enemies before the pretty cutscene (and quicktime) takes effect. Has been one section where you could choose to interrogate someone as either Bruce Wayne or Batman. I picked the former, would be interested to see how the latter played out - something I've not felt in a Telltale game before. While I'm sure the outcome is the same (as in all Telltales), would still be interested to see the difference.

          It's not their best work for sure. Its not bad. But it's worse than anything since TWAU

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