After the lackluster entry of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier's Episode 3, Telltale Games surprised fans by revealing that Episode 4 would release less than a month later. Thicker Than Water is now available, and returns to the formula that has worked so well for the series. The tension and consequences have risen dramatically since episode 3, with multiple characters' lives and well-being on the line. Conflict is also at an all-time high, with decisions made and secrets kept from as far back as Episode 1 coming back to haunt the player.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier's Episode 4 begins with a flashback to Javier's past, detailing more of the troubled relationship with his brother, David. After briefly revisiting the decisions David made and the trust he placed in Javier to care for his family preceding the walker apocalypse, the player is returned to present day, picking up right where Episode 3 left off. Regardless of the choices made in Episode 3, Javier and David find themselves both in a dire situation, and finding a way to resist one of the council members who has gone power-mad is the only hope for survival.
Thicker Than Water brings back a healthy dose of action, dangerous walkers, and includes more exploration of the environment around the player. During some scenes where characters work together to find supplies and weapons, there's less player involvement than prior iterations of The Walking Dead series. Rather than asking the player to control Javier to collect the items they need, the scenes primarily play out as a cutscene with dialogue options.
In addition, the episode is relatively short, only offering just over an hour of gameplay. Gamers will still need to replay the entire episode in order to change any decisions made, which adds to the episode's length somewhat, but it ultimately comes off as gimmicky when more games than ever allow players to backtrack and change their path from as far back as they'd like.
Thankfully, Telltale Games has improved upon the interactions with Clementine from the last episode, making her feel more like a member of Javier's group, rather than a random passerby that occasionally saves the day. Clementine's story expands further here, revealing more of her backstory from both before and after her encounter with The New Frontier. For anyone familiar with the first two games, these scenes are emotionally wrenching, especially with a surprise cameo appearance of a late companion.
These scenes were perhaps the most emotionally involved in the entire episode, which was welcome, but it also leads one to wonder why Telltale Games chose to turn the focus away from Clementine in A New Frontier. It seems as though Telltale Games wanted to keep things fresh with a new group, yet there's clearly still a lot to be said about Clementine's story, and the team details that story beautifully.
Thankfully, not all of Clementine's scenes are emotionally trying. Clementine and Javier are allowed a moment to share an awkward conversation that brings welcome humor to this episode. Since the story has become particularly tense for both Javier's family and Clementine, this provided some much-needed levity before diving back into the drama.
Unfortunately, Thicker Than Water wasn't completely devoid of technical issues. While the game played fairly smooth, there were occasionally odd moments where character models would freeze, becoming completely static. While it would only last for a few seconds at a time and would typically occur prior to the camera panning back to another character, it breaks some of the realism of the series, which is particularly a shame since Telltale Games' new engine provides such a vast improvement to the visuals over the first two The Walking Dead games.
After the plodding pace of Episode 3, Above the Law, Episode 4 brings back what the series so desperately needed. In a game that primarily focuses on character interaction and dialogue choices, this episode takes every character interaction that's occurred up to this point and makes them count, for better or worse. If the player has developed any kind of attachment to the characters of A New Frontier by this point, chances are they won't make it out emotionally unscathed from this episode - which is what The Walking Dead has always done best.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier Episode 4 is out now for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Game Rant was provided a PC code for this review.