I have a feeling that, when The Walking Dead: A New Frontier releases all of its episodes, it’s going to be one of Telltale’s most loved and most hated properties. You can already see signs of this online in basically every place where players discuss the game. I, for one, am loving the new direction the series has taken, and while the most recent episode, “Above the Law”, falls into a few of the same traps as recent games from Telltale Studios, it more than makes up for it with a lot of tense action scenes and one new addition to an already fantastic cast.
First off, this review does contain some pretty big spoilers for the previous two episodes, if for no reason other than it being impossible to talk about the plot of this episode without spoiling the big reveal at the end of the second one. While I’m not going to talk spoilers for episode three, you should be sure you’re caught up before you read this. With that in mind, “Above the Law” begins exactly where episode two ends: with Javi and the gang meeting the leader of the titular “New Frontier,” who just so happens to be Javi’s long-lost brother, David. With this, the themes of family that formed a strong undercurrent in the previous two episodes are brought to the forefront as Javi is forced to reconsider his place now that his position as “man of the house” seems to have been retaken by David.
While I was worried that David would take on a place as this season’s resident evil settlement leader, a’la the Governor from the comics or Carver from the previous Telltale game, he’s actually a more developed character than that. In fact, exactly what his role in the plot is seems to vary from scene to scene. While there’s a lot of bad blood between him and both Javi and Clementine, he comes across as a guy just trying to survive and he’s much saner than any potential counterparts in the series. In some scenes, he’s more than willing to help you out, but in others, especially when Clementine’s around, he’s much more antagonistic. Many of his scenes with Javi seem to be setting up a bigger conflict down the road, one that I’m looking forward to seeing play out in later episodes.
In terms of scope, this is the first episode that really deals with the ramifications of trying to rebuild society in a post-apocalyptic world. Rather than a scared, tiny group of survivors, when you get to the New Frontier, you’re finally given an idea of what it means to try and rebuild society, and how that can go wrong. This also means that, for the first half of the game, most of the action and puzzle solving takes a backseat to dialogue. If you’re someone who’s taken an issue with the distinct lack of puzzles in Telltale’s recent releases, you’ll be pretty disappointed here. There’s only one section that could really be called a puzzle, and while it’s a really great scene with a lot of tension as you try and solve it in a limited amount of time, it’s over far too quickly. Though the puzzles are few and far between, there are a few more combat scenes here, including one really brutal fight scene near the very end.
Of course, as the choices you make are the highlight of the series, they aren’t nearly as difficult to make here. There’s one in a flashback with Clementine that’s so unbalanced I’m surprised anyone would pick the first outcome for any reason other than just seeing what it does. On the other end of the spectrum, there are a few subtle ones in the beginning during your introduction to the New Frontier’s leaders, which I really liked, and the ending scene feels like a callback to the amazing climax of The Wolf Among Us. Also, while it does feel like your choices matter here, even though the story it still pretty linear, there’s one area that really bothered me. No matter what you do, the story presses forward with the idea that Javi has feelings for Kate, his brother’s wife, despite the fact that you can choose not to respond to her advances the entire time. While this seems to be another piece in the inevitable Javi-David conflict, it starts to feel really forced at some points in “Above the Law,” particularly in one really awkward conversation that Javi has with Tripp, the sheriff who’s been accompanying him. If it was established earlier on that there was something there, I wouldn’t mind it, but it seems awkward that I’d be allowed to ignore Kate’s advances only to be told that my character is in love with her anyway this late in the game.
However, it’s nice to know that one of the biggest complaints with the previous two episodes has been addressed: “Above the Law” is significantly longer than the earlier installments. Also, for those wondering about Clem, she gets plenty of screentime here, especially in the latter half, and we get a few more hints as to what happened to her between seasons. While her flashback scene is as short as ever, I have a feeling that, given this episode’s ending, we’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the near future.