Telltale Games' flagship adaption of The Walking Dead has returned with a doubled-sized premiere that is as gripping and emotionally charged as its timeless predecessors. A revamped game engine plays host to some of the best visuals we've seen from the series to date, and a well-rounded cast of characters, both new and familiar, provide enough depth for a solid first entry. Telltale may not have attempted anything too daring with their third venture into the apocalypse, but its bracing narrative provides proof yet again that they are the kings of storytelling.
Instead of a direct continuation following the aftermath of Season 2, we're taken back just prior to the outbreak and introduced to our new lead, Javier Garcia. A former baseball star, Javier was dismissed from his dream career and publicly shunned after being outed for gambling on his own games. His professional life wasn't the only thing that he carelessly neglected, as missing precious time with his late father also worked to drive a wedge between him and his family.
The opening scene sees Javier abandoning his car and helplessly dashing down the street to join his family by his father's side. He's hurried actions are soon revealed to have not been enough, however, as he arrives to the news of his father's passing. After being knocked to the ground by his enraged brother, attention is then turned to the bedroom as his seemingly deceased father appears to be in motion. Things soon spiral out of control and Javier is forced to put his father out of his misery, after watching him tear up the house and bite chunks out of those desperately trying to restrain him. We are then brought to the present day and see a noticeably more mature and haggard Javier, who has likely been aged by the horrors that surround him.
With companion series Fear the Walking Dead failing to provide much of a glimpse of the world before the outbreak, it's a pleasant surprise that we got another opportunity to explore the era. The opening flashback sequence we also felt was a bold start as it provided a powerful contrast of how Javier has developed as a character and also conjured up many unresolved questions concerning his family and his first few years within the apocalypse.
Without deviating too far into spoiler territory, we can reveal that your path does eventually cross with Clementine's, who's now in her teens and a shadow of the defenceless child we found cowering in a treehouse in Season 1. Clementine serves mainly as an ally throughout your journey, taking a backseat from her lead role in Season 2, but there a few sequences in the second episode where her backstory is explored. Through the use of flashbacks we finally get answers to many of the questions that have plagued us since the end of last season, with them of course differing based on your choice of ending.
Core gameplay resembles that of previous entries, as you'll be tasked with scouting for supplies, massacring hordes of zombies and making difficult all-important choices. Exploration and puzzle segments feel especially shallow here, as they result in nothing more than clicking onto each highlighted object until you've found the correct solution. These segments would have likely been enhanced through the introduction of multiples solutions or hidden collectables such additional snippets of information, to flesh out the story. QTE sections are also pretty similar, besides one scene, where you must frantically mash the B button (on Xbox) to lay waste to a crowd of steadily advancing walkers.
Telltales has finally got around to upgrading their ageing engine and as a result, they've crafted one of their best-looking titles to date. Facial animations look especially detailed and its scope is expansive, showcasing what appears to be a thriving zombie-infested wasteland. It isn't free of any technical difficulties however, as frame-rate stutters frequently occur during the more intense moments of action and loading screens, at times, do overstay their welcome.
With Telltale axing last generation versions of the series its admirable that they've provided a way for those that have upgraded to pick up where they left off. There's the option to reassemble the story by selecting the key choices you made over the previous seasons and you can also upload your previous save file to your Telltale account. What's equally as impressive is the fact that the decisions you made way back in Season 1 still have resonance within the story, outlining how pivotal your choices actually are.
While we don't want to delve into too much detail for obvious reasons, the concluding twist managed to catch us off guard and left us hungry for the arrival of the next episode. The cleverly scripted narrative meant that nothing felt predictable and each pivotal point within the plot felt equally as impactful. The only real negative we could draw within the writing was with the new group of villains The New Frontier, who felt rather bland and lacked a real sense of personality when compared to groups like The Saviours and The Whispers that we've seen previously in the comics.
Both episodes round up to roughly an hour-and-a-half, feeling noticeably shorter than entries from previous seasons. While there's plenty of action and heart-wrenching moments packed into both, they still would have perhaps benefited from giving us a little more time to get acquainted with the new cast. Having two episodes upfront did feel like a treat at first, but it's a little unsettling to think that there are only three episodes remaining, especially after things had just started to heat up.
Defying expectations, The Walking Dead's third season brought with it a dynamic new cast of characters, flashier visuals and more than a few unexpected twists and turns. New protagonist Javier is instantly likeable and although his introduction was relatively short, he still shows much promise for leading the future of the series. Occasional technical blemishes and shallow puzzle sections may endure throughout, but they struggle to leave a mark on what is one of the series' most impactful openings to date.
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