Telltale’s The Walking Dead latest season 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.
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 head 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 III, gives a strong performance here. David’s struggle to come to terms with some of the more unsavory aspects of The New Frontier are well realized.
- A major misstep bringing David back into the action is how much Kate is pushed to the side for much of the episode. The specter 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’s not 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.
- 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 progression of 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.