Release Date: December 20, 2016
Developer: TellTale Games
Publisher: TellTale Games
Genre: Third Person Perspective, Platformer, Action-Adventure
System: Xbox One (Reviewed), Playstation 4, PC, Mac, Android, iPhone
*As with any review copy, I want to thank TellTale for providing the review copy for TellTale The Walking Dead: Season 3: Brave New Frontier to Last Token Gaming.
Episode 2: Ties That Bind Pt. 2
In The Walking Dead, no rescue can ever come easy or straightforward. Almost every time, it’s always guaranteed that there’ll be a body count, even if there’s a meticulous plan. For Javi, what seemed like a simple search and rescue turns into a new form of hell on earth for him and those around him.
After spending the night in Prescott, Javi and Clementine are joined by either Eleanor or Tripp (members of the Prescott community) to rescue Javi’s family. They arrive to a battlefield full of dead muertos across the junkyard. Bullet holes everywhere, the fences broken in various spots, it looked as if there were no survivors from the skirmish. It seems as if luck had been with Kate, Gabe and Marianna, as they’re found safe from the bloody battle. However, when everything seemed ok with the world, Marianna is shot and killed. Kate scrambles to get to Marianna while Javi remains frozen in shock. Ties That Bind Pt. 1 ends with Javi having to make a choice; help get Kate back to Prescott to be treated for her wound, and fend off the adversary in hopes of picking them off.
Episode 2: Ties That Bind Pt. 2 continues the trend of starting off an episode with a flashback. In this particular flashback, Kate and Javi are having a conversation in the kitchen about fresh starts. Javi talks about taking time to himself to figure out what to do with his life now that baseball is over. For Kate, it’s about her marriage and the pressures of being a “good stepmom”. Eventually, Javi begins talking about travel plans, prompting Kate to “jokingly” tell him they should run away together.
While trying to brush it off as a joke, Kate accidentally breaks one of David’s favorite glasses and cuts herself. Javi quickly grabs a towel and places it over the wound. As he tries to pull his hand away, Kate holds onto it and smiles at him. This is where players can make a choice; keep Javi’s hand in hers, or pull away. Regardless of the choice, David and Kate will begin to have an argument. Javi will try to defend Kate, and will either warn David that Kate will leave him if he keeps this up or let David continue to verbally abuse him.
The game violently comes back to the current situation. With Marianna killed, and Kate wounded, Javi has to decide to either stay and fight or help get Kate back to Prescott.
If the player chose to stay with Clementine: Javier wakes up, asking what happened. Clementine then explains to him who The New Frontier are and that they managed to get away. She also tells him that while he was asleep she had dug grave for Mariana. Javier takes Mari’s body to the grave and emotionally buries her, saying she was like a daughter to him. Javier and Clementine then make their way to Prescott, seeing that Kate has already had surgery for her bullet wound.
If the player chose to go with their family: After the flashback, the game cuts to Kate screaming in the Prescott infirmary, as Eleanor performs surgery on her. Eleanor finds out that the bullet has not passed through Kate’s body and must be pulled out. Gabriel can either be allowed to help, or turned away by Javier. Eleanor then successfully gets the bullets out of Kate’s body, and allows Kate to rest.
After being told about Kate’s condition, Javi goes looking for Gabe.
No matter what, the situation seems dire for Javi’s group. Even worse, it seems like the three men whose camp he had broken into were part of a much bigger group. Would they come for him again? Do they know about Prescott, and has he put them in danger? The answer is, they’re not done yet. Not too long after arriving in Prescott, two of the three original men arrive with a couple vehicles full of muertos demanding for Javi. As the discussions continue, and questions arise of “who shot first” at the shootout, the situation turns bloody.
With Kate’s condition getting worse, Javi’s group turn their eyes to Richmond, a nearby community that could have the resources to heal Kate. Secrets will be revealed, and another familiar face will make an appearance on their journey. The question is, can they survive not only the walkers along their path, but the turmoil amongst themselves?
If Ties That Bind, Pt. 1 is a slow, methodical ride, Ties That Bind Pt. 2 revs up the engine significantly. There’s little time to take in any of the significant character building moments due to the shift of focus on survival. Instead, Ties That Bind Pt. 2 is asking players to take in as much as possible in order to focus on propelling the story forward. If anything, it was an episode that focused more on action, less on narrative structure, but had enough beats placed throughout to keep the story moving.
This narrative structure allows for pivotal moments like the opening flashback between Kate and Javi to remain poignant. In this particular moment, we’re given a moment to see two people who are at completely different ends but arriving at the same idea. For Javi, a fresh start means getting his life together again by determining what comes after baseball. He doesn’t have a purpose or character beyond that of Javi the baseball player, and getting away for a fresh start let’s him figure out the remaining Javi.
For Kate, even if she’s joking, it’s a chance to get away from a marriage that’s been cracking for some time now. Her marriage to David was more than she bargained for: kids from a previous marriage and a hot-tempered husband. Javi is the complete opposite of her husband, which makes him all the more attractive in light of her circumstances. Javi’s fresh start is a chance to get away from her marriage with someone that offers her everything her husband doesn’t. Moments like these give a new color for players while controlling Javi’s decisions.
In contrast, the present day storyline leaves little time to absorb the information being thrown at you. Take, for instance, the discovery of the group the original three antagonist are part of. They call themselves the New Frontier, and from what Clementine and company tell Javi, they’re a ruthless, evil group known for the extreme. This is backed up by Clementine when it’s revealed that she too was once part of the New Frontier. Not because she wanted to be, but out of necessity.
Ties That Bind Pt. 2 also falls prey to a common problem within the Walking Dead universe; a high body count to enforce character development. While Ties That Bind, Pt. 2 doesn’t have a high count in comparison to episodes like Michonne’s Mini-Series Finale, it does nearly push for the top. Inevitably, a few of the side characters (as well as the whole community of Prescott) end up dying before players get to know the characters. That’s another problem with Ties That Bind, Pt. 2: each side character not part of Javi’s core group lacks character development.
A lot of the events feel contrived and forced to happen, which leaves little weighted impact from Ties That Bind Pt. 2. Take, for example, the Fall of Prescott and how quickly it fell from the time Javi returns. If players went with Kate back to Prescott, Clementine shows up minutes later and all hell breaks loose. For those who chose to stay with Clementine, players were able to fend off the New Frontier and seemingly successfully sneak back to Prescott. However, it seems like Javi and Clementine were unable to get back stealthily as the New Frontier show up at their doorstep moments later. Maybe it’s because of the limited perspective players are given by being stuck with Javi, but it felt forced in order to create a significant event.
Or, as another example, take the inclusion of Jesús (Paul Rovia) into the Walking Dead: Season 3. His entry into the series feels forced and equally contrived; he’s found by Javi and their group while trying to survive another muertos wave on the trek to Richmond. Although Jesús might play a significant part of the story (if the thumbnail for Episode 3 is an indicator, he will), his entry into the game feels out of place and odd.
Yet, when all is said and done, Ties That Bind Pt. 2 comes off as a strong, solid entry into the current season. The pacing and tension feel consistent and fluid, providing enough moments of respite to balance the action-packed sequences. Where a lot of the characters feel uninspired and one-dimensional, the central unit around Javi feel fleshed out and real. Even if there are a few frame dips here are there, they’re incredibly minor and not as problematic as other TellTale experiences. Overall, Ties That Bind Pt. 2 has me slightly cautious, but excited, for what’s to come ahead.
A Solid Premiere for TellTale’s Flagship Title
Overall, Ties That Bind Pt. 1 and 2 are a fine example of TellTale being at the top and worst at their writing. All of the dialogue exchanges between Javi and his family feel natural and organic, enough to make them feel like a genuine family. The side characters that pop up, however, leave a little more to be desired as they come off as uninspired or one-dimensional. The inclusion of characters like Clementine and Jesús feel out of place and unnecessary, but blend in really well. However, where Ties That Bind Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 shine are in the character-defining flashbacks. Each one offers a lot of insight into each character’s perspective, providing a new shade to either Javi’s dialogue decisions or what’s being discussed.
TellTale is able to do what many other iterations of Walking Dead fails to do; effectively build a story that doesn’t feel contrived or forced. It’s bolstered by characters who feel natural and alive, people we’d meet in our everyday lives. Most importantly, they’re able to take the parts that would be “boring” and make them one of the strongest components of the game. Ties That Bind Pt. 1 and Pt. 2 is a solid premiere to build upon for TellTale’s The Walking Dead: Season 3: A New Frontier.