The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, Episode 3 – Above the Law Review (PC)
Telltale Games has always excelled at showcasing the humanity at the heart of crisis. Whether it's in The Walking Dead, Batman, Tales from the Borderlands, or any of the developer's other fine adventure games, there's no disputing that character and interpersonal relationships are the core of what makes a Telltale game tick. With this latest season of The Walking Dead, that's never been more true. The Walking Dead: A New Frontier brings a whole range of emotions to bare, and "Above the Law" examines what family means to each and every one of its primary players so deftly, it's hard not to be in awe of what Telltale's writers have accomplished.
As "Above the Law" begins, Javier and his newfound friends had just made it to Richmond, where the New Frontier was holding down a large portion of the city as its home. Desperate and in need of medical attention, Javier had pleaded with those in charge to open the gates, only to find that his brother David was not only inside the city, but a founding member of New Frontier. Both brothers had thought each other long dead, and the reunion seemed like it might be fortune finally smiling on the once-separated family. Unfortunately for Javier, David's allegiances are questionable at best.
That's about all the spoiler territory you'll find in this review, but needless to say, you'll find that "Above the Law" puts Javier through the wringer when testing his loyalty as he tries to figure out the next move for his little band of survivors. That includes Clementine, who does thankfully return. We'll admit to being a bit concerned she left the group so early in the latest season, and hoped that she'd continue to be a part of Javier's journey though this desperate world. As the one person we've all grown up with though the apocalypse, Clementine has always been the foundational rock supporting our desires to carry on, even in the bleakest of situations. By caring for her, gently guiding her along adolescence and the most dire of circumstances, Clementine has become part of our family.
While we no longer have direct control over how Clementine feels or acts for the majority of The Walking Dead, having Javier around to be inspired and motivated by Clementine feels right. She's the person we instilled our hopes and dreams onto, and even if we have a larger say in what Javier chooses to do, who he chooses to kill, and how he chooses to protect those he loves, we can't help but feel as if Clementine's sage advice isn't in someway informing those decisions.
Telltale's writing this episode hit home for us in a number of ways beyond that relationship, too. Everyone has "family stuff," though it may not be quite as serious as what Javier, David and Kate have going on. You can't craft a dynamic like Javier and David have without having been in an estranged relationship yourself. You can't express the pain and elation of having to "bury" someone, only to find out they're not as lost as you thought without having been down that road. It would otherwise feel insincere, and The Walking Dead has always put honesty in its characters above all else, even when they're lying.
"Above the Law" tests you not just in how Javier should react, but in how you might feel about your own relationships in the real world. Can Javier be as forgiving as you might have been, or do you project your anger into how he'll engage with David or the others in the New Frontier? Telltale's decisions this episode felt particularly challenging. Figuring out how to live is much more gutwrenching than trying to figure out who should die. Being undead is easy, it's living with yourself that's the hardest thing to do.
It's easy to dismiss video games as escapism, and often they provide just enough of that to forget about the troubles and trials we all encounter in our days among the living. When a game has more to say about the world and our place in it, it can often be a frightening prospect to have to confront those topics when just trying to forget about world beyond the walls for a few hours. Telltale's The Walking Dead: A New Frontier has been much more of the former, but we wouldn't have it any other way. Sometimes you have to be hurt to know what it's like to be alive.
This review is based on a digital copy of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, Episode 3 - "Above the Law" provided by the publisher for PC.