Video Game Review: The Walking Dead: A New Frontier – Above the Law (PS4, 2017)

Above the Law goes to great lengths to answer a litany of questions we’ve all been harbouring since episode 1. In that sense, it displays perfect pacing and timing, drawing out mysteries and cashing in on them at the right time. However, the third episode puts into perspective just how out of control you can be in Telltale’s niche brand of games.

As per the norm, it opens by fleshing out some more of Kate and Javi’s relationship at the beginning but also fills in some gaps about the families departure from the house. Turns out David left with his mother and never came back. Of course we now know that he is with The New Frontier and the rest of the episode explores Richmond and its politics.

Telltale certainly made David’s absence feel like a huge part of this story and two episodes in and no answers drilled home how anxious we were to see what he’s been up to.  In a simple case of storytelling 101, it was a fantastic build, capitalised brilliantly. With that, they assured themselves an episode full of reactions, questions and incredulousness as trust issues radiates off of characters. Above the Law played out like a mexican standoff and really cemented how this narrative doesn’t operate in black & whites. Previous relationships and smiles account for nothing in this world and occasionally the game puts you in the difficult position of choosing who to trust or who to do right by.

I enjoyed watching David and Javi’s reunion. Everything that mattered before is irrelevant now and Telltale are aware that the player might feel that way too. David is a lot more understanding and compassionate now and I found myself letting Javi reconnect with him. It’s almost abundantly clear which side he sits on by the end but Above the Law still puts the burden on you. There are always some soul crushing choices to make in this series but I feel as though the ones I made here are a slow burn, that might bite me in the ass later on. There is one at the end in particular that will basically tell you more about who you are as a person that you ever wanted to.

The highlight here is what happened to Clementine and AJ. It’s heartbreaking and trying to contain your rage may prove to be the biggest emotion you feel in this episode. It also presents another tough choice to make in an episode filled with them. Above the Law deserves points for being able to raise your blood pressure.

Telling you anymore would be to enter spoiler-ville but much like it’s TV and comic book counterparts, A New Frontier has begun to put a lot of emphasis on the ‘evil that men do’ and straying away from the decaying bodies lurking outide. Rather than rehashing though, it takes a natural turn than is all the more fresh due to to David’s involvement.

All the fantastic voice acting, twisting narratives and harsh choices come with a big ol’ but though. After a decade of developing games, it’s become clear that Telltale aren’t really in the business of making ‘point & click adventures’. I don’t care what category they’re sorted into on Steam, these games are more like interactive movies, and over time the interactivity has begun to dwindle. You’ll find no bigger testament to this than the first 40 minutes or so of Above the Law. To say your contribution to the game is limited would be an understatement because at this point, The Walking Dead games are glorified movies. There are moments where the game will break from a cut scene just so you can tap a button to pick up an object, then immediately launch back into a cut scene. Multiple times this happened, at one point giving me control just so I could point to a place on a map. It picks up up a bit, eventually giving you some QTE fights to get through but it’s honestly the first time I wondered what the purpose of telling this story in this medium was.

After praising the overhaul in how the game runs last time, I’m a little saddened that this time those technical hiccups reared their ugly heads. They weren’t game breakers but there were definitely frame rate drops that tarnished what seemed liked it was fixed once and for all.

Above the Law is such a frustrating episode because it exemplifies the best and the worst of its traits. It offered up tough choice after tough choice and really puts you on edge. It unveiled a lot and gave us some confrontations we have been hankering for.
Unfortunately it was stymied by a lack of agency that brought the first word in ‘interactive media’ into disrepute. There is something really insulting about being asked to pick up a propane canister and trying to pass it off as gameplay.
Despite this, Above the Law pushed forward a fantastic story and for that, it gets its due. How long that mentality lasts, is up to Telltale.

Score: 7 out of 10
Highlights: Some of the toughest choices yet and in abundance; Answers; Javi and Dave;
Lowlights: Least interactive episode in all three seasons; frame rate drops
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release date: Out now
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, iOS, Android, PC

Reviewed on PlayStation 4.