I don’t think this is the Walking Dead game anyone asked for. They wanted to continue telling Clementine’s story, because she’s a main focus of the prior two seasons. But at the same time, they wanted to tell a completely new story, because Clem’s story has had so many variables by this point that it would be too difficult to make her the focus again and try to account for all the possible directions she’s come from. So, instead Clem gets a really simple plot added in to the new main plot of a new main character named Javier. What we end up with Clem and her story just kind of existing awkwardly in the background of Javier, his family, his friends, and his story.
I am big proponent of season two. I thought its energy was right on track with what matters most — Clem’s loss of innocence and how she does or doesn’t change as a result of her world. But with season three, the energy is divided. The player is supposed to follow Javier’s story supposedly with the same intensity as we followed Clem’s story, even though Clem is the one with the history and Javier is a nobody to us at this point… This story makes big changes in Clem’s development, but does so in brief flashbacks amid the greater portion of the game that follows Javi. And the player is forced to make attachments to Javi’s friends and family just to experience the next stage in Clem’s journey. I was immediately put off by this, as I imagine many players would be. I’ve come to know these games as Clem’s story, and I was only interested in the few parts that focused on her. It really seems wrong that she’s all but tacked on in this installment. I rebelled against playing as Javier, at first, by giving him asshole dialogue and making sure he and Clem never saw eye to eye. I eventually stopped this method and played him with more grace — because at the end of the day, he’s not a bad character and his story is not a bad story… He’s just not Clem.
Even if the player was compelled by Javier’s story all the same, the game is still trying to tell these separate stories side-by-side, and the overlap feels a bit forced. Clem’s tidbits are essentially an interruption of Javier’s story, but Javier’s story struggles to be as compelling on its own — at least through the first two episodes. The interest throughout the season constantly feels split, which might not be a bad thing depending on your personal taste. For me, it didn’t work as well as the focused approach of season two.
Attachments to Javi’s story pays off a little here and there. But I was really disappointed by the way the climax was handled. (slight spoiler) It forces the player to lose someone, whichever decision they make. But as long as that is a variable, the storytelling regarding that one’s death won’t be done as fluidly and profoundly as it could have been if the story chose a specific person to die and focused on writing a good death for them. So whichever person it ends up being, feels anti-climactic, especially considering the history you build with them over the course of the episode… You could argue that The Walking Dead has a history of pulling the rug out from under viewers/players, but usually not with crummy storytelling. For example, in season two, Kenny was meant to bite the bullet, and the player decisions only affected small things leading up to his death, which was very well-written and conceived. But as long as the character’s death is a variable, its conception and purpose on the story is essentially lost.
(Spoiler) Clem survives. And in the end, it seemingly wraps up Javier’s story completely and sends Clem on her way with an important task ahead. It leaves us with the words, “Clementine’s story will continue”, which pretty much asserts the idea that Clem has always been and will continue to be the protagonist of this entire series… But this brings me back to my earlier argument. If Clem is the big deal here, then why introduce Javi and his whole gang?! It’s not like he’s going to begin a lasting presence in the series. It’s like when the tv series had those couple episodes that developed the Governor’s history, only to have him die and be forgotten about a season later. In my opinion, any supplementary characters who are given development should only be a part if they are going to continue alongside or at least continue influencing the main character. And right now, I can’t see how Javi is that.
Okay, I supposed you could argue that Javi represented (spoiler) a channel through which Clem learned to trust again and ease up with her cynicism. I actually like that way of thinking. But that could still have been the case if Clem served as the main character once again. And that’s what should have happened — Clem is the player character and Javi is a great supporting character whom Clem forms a bond with, such as Kenny. But the only reason I can see why that didn’t happen is Telltale didn’t want to repeat themselves. They wanted to be fresh and innovative like Walking Dead always is.
But they are shooting themselves in the foot. I don’t care about innovation at this point. A good story is a always a good story, no matter what the innovations. But innovations can impede the story, at which point you need to take a step back and reassess.
Plain and simple, I didn’t want a story about Javi. I didn’t want that. I wanted to know what was going to happen next with Clementine. Because I’ve been following her since Day 1 of the Walker apocalypse. As much as she has given to this series, episode three treats her like a background character, and it bums me out.
On other notes, the rendering style was more attractive than ever before.
My rating for 2017’s The Walking Dead: A New Frontier for PC is…