OK, in the spirit of 2016 the final post for the year - which is why this is up now rather than Sunday - will be a review of zombie apocalypse title Telltale Games' The Walking Dead Season 3, aka A New Frontier. This title is available on current generation consoles and PC as well as iPad; I played the iPad version of episodes one and two. Spoilers, especially for The Walking Dead Season Two, so bear that in mind in three, two, one ...
Telltale creates brilliant plots. You forgive its on-rails story beats because the characters and situations are interesting and the story's good. However Telltale has gone to the well once too often with Season Three, and no matter how good the story is veterans of the title will feel cheated.
Bear in mind: I loved Telltale's previous efforts. Like everyone else I fell in a big way for Clementine and Lee in Season One. When Clementine became the main character in Season Two I was on board, and enjoyed it from start to finish. However that was because in Season Two the story branched off; your decisions really mattered, because your decisions determined where Clementine would end up.
At the end of the last Season I went with Jane and ended up in Carver's old base. I could have gone to Wellington to live with other survivors, or gone with Kenny, or struck out on my own. This was a huge difference from Season One, where no matter what I did everyone's fates were set in stone and my decisions changed nothing.
Except my decisions in Season Two really changed nothing, because at the beginning of Season Three no matter what I decided Clementine's story is reset to zero again. No Kenny, no Jane, and no matter where I thought I left Clementine she's not there any more. Moreover there's no chance of either Kenny or Jane coming back in future episodes. All the work I put into Clementine's story counts for nothing.
Now she's second fiddle again, this time to series newcomer Javier, or Javi, a former pro baseball player who got booted for cheating and has deep-seated family issues. The story starts with Javi guiding part of his extended family away from the developing zombie madness, while his older brother David takes their bitten mother to the hospital. So far so Walking Dead, and to the game's credit Javi and his family are interesting, developed characters with distinct voices and personalities.
Frankly, if the game had concentrated on them and left Clementine out of it, I'd have enjoyed it more than I did. But Clementine's become an icon of the series now, not unlike Rick in The Walking Dead comic book and TV show, so nothing in Telltale's drama can happen unless Clementine is involved.
Her plot role is blurry. In the first Season, as Lee, you guided and protected Clementine, and she became the moral center of the story. In the second Season Clementine grew up and began taking charge of her own life, assuming a leadership role. In the third Season you don't really know if she's some kind of mentor to Javi, a millstone around his neck, or something else. Is Javi supposed to be another Lee? Is this a partnership of equals? Is she just here because Telltale couldn't write this thing without her?
Season Three reminds me, now I think on it, of 400 Days, the filler episode between Season One and Season Two. I wasn't expecting much from 400 Days, and I didn't get much. It was bite sized entertainment. Great storytelling - again, telling the tale is not Telltale's problem - but zero impact on the ongoing plot. You might or might not rescue X, Y or Z, and that means X, Y or Z might or might not show up for a very brief cameo moment in Season Two. In that cameo moment the character delivers one or two lines. Then the character vanishes, never to be seen again. Presumably they get eaten. Who knows? Who cares?
Mechanically this is the Telltale you remember, with the usual screen pokes and swipes to get you from A to B. If you've never played one of these before the system is so simple anyone can pick it up. If you're a series regular there's nothing new here.
Graphically I think iPad users were cheated. The resolution's not nearly as good as other platforms. Example: early on in the first episode Jane gives Clementine a small tattoo on her hand. I had no idea what that thing was. At first I thought Clem'd been bitten. It was only after I saw the same sequence in a YouTube video that I realized it was a tattoo. This isn't a huge problem, but it is annoying.
Sound effects are sparse. Big moments have their big bangs and zombie groans, but frequently the protagonists are moving through areas where there ought to be background noises - birds, wind in the trees - and it's just silent. The music's decent, but no standout moments so far.
Will I keep playing?
I'm not buying into the season pack deal, that's for certain. I might pick up the other episodes if they go on sale in a year's time. But I can't help thinking that no matter what I do, what I decide, this video game doesn't want me involved. My decisions don't matter. My input's irrelevant.
It's like a work meeting. You're expected to attend, perhaps even encouraged to contribute. But this is the kind of workplace that doesn't want to hear your ideas. Management has already decided what's going to happen. You're just window dressing in someone else's pretty picture.