Tag Archives: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier review

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So much of episodic graphic adventure The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is right on the money. Following a group of mostly engaging characters, it tells an enjoyable story of family and loyalty brought to life by the striking, cel shaded art style that’s become synonymous with developer Telltale Games. It’s even got one hell of an ace up its sleeve in the form of everyone’s second favourite teen survivalist (after The Last of Us’ Ellie, of course), Clementine.

In fact, notwithstanding a couple of minor problems here and there, it’s difficult to pinpoint any truly glaring flaws with the finished article. Rather, like The Walking Dead: Season 2 and The Walking Dead: Michonne mini-series before it, A New Frontier’s biggest problem is an inescapable sense déjà vu.

Simply put, you can’t help but feel you’ve experienced many of these scenarios before.

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Clem, like any self-respecting American teen, armed with a deadly weapon

Set roughly 4 years after the undead apocalypse ravaged the planet, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier chronicles the journey of protagonist Javier Garcia, who, along with sister-in-law Kate, nephew Gabe and niece Mariana, lives a peripatetic existence rather than settling in a single, potentially vulnerable location. That is, until a misunderstanding in episode one embroils them in a feud with the New Frontier; a community of not entirely unscrupulous survivors inhabiting the ruins of Richmond, Virginia, led by a tetrarchy which includes Javi’s estranged, hot-headed older brother David.

Over the course of the next 5 episodes, the narrative focuses on the Garcia family’s attempts to extricate themselves from the ministrations of this insidious and fractured society, and Javi’s desperation to keep his adopted family together.

When reduced in this way to its most basic form, the main premise hardly exudes originality, but when you factor in the various sub-plots – the most intriguing of which being the Javi-Kate-David love triangle – A New Frontier possesses enough to keep the average player invested in the tale. This is despite the odd misstep here and there, such as the actions of amiable EMT Elanor at the conclusion of episode 4 which, bizarrely, don’t appear to be affected by your previous behaviour towards her, Gabe’s unconvincing transition to adulthood or the presence of overtly ruthless thug Badger in a peaceful settlement like Richmond.

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Clearly, the undead are also susceptible to teen angst

The absorbing if inconsistent narrative is mirrored in the cast of characters. Javi, Kate and David are welcome additions to the series, each bringing something a little bit different to proceedings. Revealed to have been a rather self-centred and irresponsible ex-baseball professional prior to Armageddon via regular flashback sequences, Javi doesn’t exactly fit the mould of a typical Walking Dead protagonist (not once does he utter “this is who we are now”), yet he still manages to shield his loved ones from the horrors that surround them. Kinder and more prudent, though similarly unprepared for parenthood, Kate resonates with the player in the same way as Sasha and Snow White from Tales from the Borderlands and The Wolf Among Us respectively, in that you’re rooting for her from start to finish and acutely aware of the perils she faces on a daily basis. Lastly, despite his fiercely protective nature which at times manifests itself in brutal fashion, David ultimately comes across as a decent man who’ll do whatever it takes to keep his family and friends safe.

However, aside from diminutive amazon Ava and enigmatic drifter Jesus (a familiar face to anyone who’s read the comic books or watched the most recent television series), the rest of the supporting cast don’t cut such distinctive figures, feeling rather like generic, updated versions of previous characters. That being said, the closest thing to a poorly designed character in the entire season is only really the stereotypically argumentative, pissy teen Gabe; a young man who’s seemingly oblivious to humanity’s plight and totally unappreciative of Javi and Kate’s efforts to defend him against the undead plague.

I’m aware I’ve only mentioned fan-favourite Clem in passing up to this point. Unfortunately, this represents her relegation to a supporting role in the events of A New Frontier – much to the chagrin of some players. It’s true there’re a handful of flashbacks that provide you with the opportunity to guide her actions directly and discover what she’s been doing since Season 2; the problem is these sections are as infrequent as they are brief. It’s a real shame Telltale Games’ decided not to explore her character arc in greater depth during these segments; watching her evolution from philanthropic adolescent to the jaded and pragmatic survivor Javi encounters in the first episode would undoubtedly have been a fascinating tale.

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Farage as he would appear to Shallow Hal

Conversely, if Telltale’s failure to create a truly original story is a little disappointing, the lack of anything other than minor refinements to the tried and tested gameplay mechanics that so perfectly suit this style of game is extremely pleasing.

The ability to cultivate your own (relatively) unique story remains the biggest draw and, from that perspective, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier matches the very best Telltale titles; even Tales from the Borderlands. The signature dialogue wheels allow you to develop Javi and, to a lesser extent, Clementine’s character’s in vastly different ways from one playthrough to another, consequently changing the course of the narrative, their personal relationships etc. etc. Meanwhile, whether a result of the studio’s years of experience or the improved processing power of current gen hardware, the momentous binary choices that are the fulcrum of each episode likewise have the potential to generate fundamental adjustments to the wider story. For instance, one character (I won’t say who) died towards the end of episode 2 on my first playthrough, but survived the entire season on my second leading to completely new exchanges and situations, vastly increasing the replayability of this otherwise linear title.

Semi-regular quick time events – press X to crush this zombie’s head, press Y to shoot an approaching bandit, that kind of thing – affords some semblance of action amidst a torrent of conversations, though certainly not enough to impress anyone who prefers more bombastic fair. Other than that, you’re restricted to walking around specific, claustrophobically small locations here and there that, aside from the odd bit of expository dialogue, merely delay the start of the next big event.

That’s not to say A New Frontier doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Although I didn’t try it myself, crowd play (making its Walking Dead debut) is a thoroughly interesting concept that does exactly what it says on the tin: it enables let’s players to cede control of decision making to the audience in one of two ways. Firstly, the host can either reserve the right to have final say on all decisions if they don’t trust their viewers; secondly, a majority vote determines how events will unfold. Whichever option you select, crowd play’s greatest attribute is its ability to provide the kind of community experience that’s such an integral part of all Telltale titles.

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Jesus and his disciples

Elsewhere, though not quite as captivating as Firewatch or Life is Strange, the familiar cel shaded style and vibrant colour palette brilliantly convey the desolation of human civilisation. Cities lay in ruins; the rusted shells of cars litter the landscape and nature has already begun to reassert its dominance over the earth. Besides, given The Walking Dead’s comic book roots, it’s a particularly appropriate aesthetic choice.

Appealing as the visuals are, it does limit the quality of the character animations. Javi’s gait is comically unnatural, his movements incongruously jaunty, whilst the combat animations are pretty inelegant and feeble in execution. Fortunately, the largely impressive voice acting and excellent sound design helps to compensate for the problem. I’m especially fond of the bleeding effect at the edge of screen and the swell of the orchestra whenever you find yourself in a jam, a feature that never fails to ramp up the tension.

There are a few minor, almost trivial glitches worth mentioning. For one thing, the game struggles to render zombies en mass every once in a while, causing a touch of rubber banding. Additionally,  don’t be surprised if you see a recently deceased character appear suddenly in the background of a transitional scene at certain points although, if I’m honest, the latter is actually quite amusing, if immersion-breaking.

Episode length, on the other hand, is a slightly bigger issue. Whereas the component parts of Tales from the Borderlands and Game of Thrones: Season One would take a diligent player approximately 2 hours to complete, each of A New Frontier’s 5 episodes can be finished in a leisurely 90-minutes; hardly a reasonable return for your £25 season pass. It’s so frustrating when you think how straightforward it would’ve been for the developer to add an extra 30+ minutes with expanded Clementine sections or a couple of additional sequences.

I know they say you should always leave them wanting more in the entertainment business, but this is just ridiculous.

At the conclusion of episode 5, fans are reassured that Clementine’s story will be continued in an upcoming, as yet unannounced sequel. And, while I’m reasonably excited for this next chapter, I personally think the series would benefit from an extended break. Much as I enjoy all things Walking Dead, like the long-running television programme, things are beginning to feel somewhat stale and predictable.

Let’s be honest, chances are Season 4 (as I hereby dub it) will revolve around Clementine and a new group of more or less good people battling to fend off a rival gang of unscrupulous individuals, culminating in the death of at least one close companion.

For this more than any other reason, Telltale’s latest foray into the zombie apocalypse just about scrapes an 8/10.

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Boyhood (2014)

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Boyhood – IMDB 224/250

6 Academy Award nominations was the prize for Richard Linklater’s brave and ambitious coming of age drama Boyhood, starring Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke as divorced parents of two children, Mason Jnr (Ellar Coltrane) and Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). The film was shot over twelve years, depicting Mason’s and Samantha’s childhood and adolescence growing up in Alabama, Texas.

Mason Jnr is the main focus as he ages from ages 6 to 18, along with the actor that plays him, Ellar Coltrane, and we get to invest in the life of this young boy as he moves from childish disobedience to liking girls to teenage rebellion and finally into university, where he will discover even more about himself and his place in the world, possibly, I just learnt what my drinking limit was and how to muddle through exams.

Although Linklater’s decision to film over twelve years may just sound like a marketing tool and gimmick, it works to perfection in helping us invest in each and every character in the film, as we see the children and in essence the young actors naturally grow up on screen.  Linklater reportedly had this idea and vision for some time before it came to fruition, and he must be very proud how this was brought to life on screen, using the actors own experiences in those twelve years to make the story even more real and natural.

Boyhood was one of the best portrayals of real life I have seen, particularly in its representation of childhood, family life and growing up in the modern world. Essentially Mason Jnr is brought up in a time that I myself was growing up in and this gave the film even more poignancy for me, even if my character traits and household situation is vastly different. (I couldn’t really relate to his success with women… or successful haircut for that matter).

What really helped the film and Linklater’s vision was the strong, accomplished performances of the two young stars Coltrane and Linklater’s daugther Lorelei, who were brilliant when they were younger and kept that confidence throughout the film, and were just as good as the two Hollywood stars Hawke and Arquette whom both received Oscar nominations, with Arquette winning.

Linklater really stood out for me, with clearly no nepotism on the part of the director when he gave his daughter the role, as she was the funniest character when she was younger and grew into her performance as a young woman as she got older. They didn’t need to replace the young stars as they grew up for more prolific actors, Linklater and Coltrane were terrific throughout, which sadly can’t be said for The Walking Dead’s Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), who comes close to ruining such an amazing show. I needed an excuse to throw the utter awfulness of his performance in somehow to my blog.

As I said earlier I felt Boyhood’s presentation of real life was so realistic, almost to the extent I couldn’t see the film ending, just like life itself it was going to keep going on and on. There was no natural end to the story as it is someone’s life happening before you, and ultimately our final scene is a rather non memorable moment, and like many great films it leaves you wanting to know what happen to these characters after the screen goes dark.

Patricia Arquette received a deserved Oscar for her incredible portrayal as single mother Olivia Evans

Patricia Arquette received a deserved Oscar for her incredible portrayal as single mother Olivia Evans

Boyhood is a very underplayed and underacted film, which is a style that works really well when it is as well directed and written as Boyhood is. There is an improvisational tone to the film which worked with its attempt at recreating real life, with every actor in the film clearly believing in the idea Linklater wanted to get across.

The film just perfectly highlights the fleeting quality of life, how quickly it moves and changes. As I grow older this is something I notice more and more, each year moving quicker than the last. This is shown in one of the end scenes when Particia Arquette, (Olivia Evans), cries when her son leaves for university. She speaks about the importance of milestones, and has a bleak realisation that her own life and experiences are growing thinner on the ground. Although the film is a slow burner, really we have witnessed by the end a young boy grow up into a college student in just under 4 hours, working as a kind of microcosm of our own lives.

The only issue Boyhood faces is it may not have mass appeal, as it does require a lot of patience, and you really have to like or at least empathise with the main characters to appreciate it. (Mason Jnr does get rather pretentious as he gets older).It goes on for a long, long time, (at near 4 hours) and really in that time very little happens outside of the dialogue and story of these children growing up in modern USA.  And although I related to them growing up in a time of technological advancement in the 90s and 00s, there is some displacement as it is set in Alabama, which is such a different setting to my own life. I related in the end to their emotions rather than their actions or lifestyle. But for anyone wanting to get lost in a magic piece of cinema and settle in for the night, Boyhood would be one of my top recommendations.

BEST ACTOR: Patricia Arquette

BEST MOMENT: When Olivia prepares Mason Jnr for University, expressing her sadness about life’s fleetingness is very poignant.

BREAKTHROUGH PERFORMANCE: Both Ellar Coltrane and Lorelei Linklater really shine, keep an eye out for them, big futures potentially ahead.

Boyhood: 9/10

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