Up until now Telltale actually handled Season 3: A New Frontier very well, developing a new protagonist while simultaneously giving us a continuation of Clem’s story. But while Telltale may have delivered mostly solid episodes this season, it seems they couldn’t keep up the quality and decided to deliver the most underdeveloped villain I’ve seen since Malekith the Accursed from Thor: The Dark World. I’d like to say the villain was the only thing wrong with this episode, but I guess if you’re going to crash, you might as well burn too.
Thicker Than Water begins with a flashback that follows the conventions of Episode 4’s title. The flashback between Javi and David feels right on the nose, asking the player whether they feel that family is important to them. Now this would be fine if it weren’t for Telltale already spending 3 episodes showing us, without a doubt, that Javi is totally in it for his family. All this flashback succeeds at is overstaying its welcome and making David look more like a bipolar coward, with him literally blowing up and losing his mind with everything Javi says and revealing he wants to ditch out on his family.
After the mostly useless flashback we then get another clear example of Telltale not caring about earlier decisions. At the end of Episode 3 we saw Javi and David up against Joan and the screen goes dark after Javi gets knocked out and ultimately captured. After being thrown in a cell, captured by Joan, a familiar face shows up. Remember the driver in Episode 1 that you get to decide to let live or shoot as he tries to get away? Well I decided to let him live, hoping this would lead to something more meaningful later on, so when I saw him come back after I was captured I thought my decision was going to pay off for me. Well, Telltale decided it didn’t matter at all, the situation before got me 2 extra completely useless lines of dialogue, and then the outcome stayed the same with them taking David. This just left me wondering what was the point of focusing on that decision at all? What was the point of backing David or keeping his daughter’s killing under wraps for him to try and handle things? None of that mattered at all now.
After a simple jail break and a regrouping of our family and friends, what we get for the next 2 chapters has to be the weakest story telling and pacing I’ve ever experienced in a Telltale game. We see our group create an action plan to stop Joan, save David, and escape, but first they have to get guns. I decided to take Gabe with me since he’s not wanted by Joan and knows how to get into the armory. The next couple of scenes are very welcome, because before now Gabe has been one of the most unlikable characters, but now he’s co-operating, learning and helping Javi, and seems to want to create a father and son bond. Finally. Unfortunately this is followed up by a very awkward attitude change where Gabe has an outburst and throws Javi under the bus for killing Conrad (if you chose to kill Conrad) and saving him, all because we weren’t letting him do his plan. Tripp, obviously furious about this news, kicks the Garcias out and we continue our plan to find a vehicle to escape in. As if Gabe couldn’t be anymore unlikable he goes and pulls that crap, to only 180 again in the next scene to apologize to Javi, acknowledging he messed up and trying to be a friend again. Sorry champ, but Telltale seems bent on making you the most hated character this season.
Going back to the armory break in, Ava makes an appearance as we are stealing the weapons. After a brief dialogue she is convinced that what Joan is doing is wrong and decides to join Javi in taking her down, but needs to go grab something and will meet back up later. Telltale then gives us one of the most lifeless and pathetic fight scenes to date, with the attacker not having a single line of dialogue, and lacking even a grunt or a facial animation. This guy was only here to harm Javi and segue us to the next scene in the medical wing to meet up with Clem, where they showcase her suturing skills, and to have an awkward discussion about periods. There’s a Clem flashback that happens which features Ava, but this scene is so superfluous that there’s really nothing to comment on.
So lets dive into the final chapter, where Telltale delivers one of the best examples of a rushed villain and story to date. Now I don’t want to ruin anything because there are a couple of important decisions to be had here that should affect the final episode, but it’s not going to stop me from ripping Joan’s character, or lack thereof, apart. At this point we don’t know Joan, we have an idea of her plan, and we obviously know she is the villain. But it has to be deeper, there has to be something else other than her just going behind David’s back and breaking rules for the greater good and to rise to the top, right? Nope! In the final chapter, Telltale mistakenly tries to rush us to think of Joan as this force to be reckoned with when all we’ve seen from her were a couple scenes revealing her cliched story. And what’s even more frustrating is Joan basically only exists to reveal a couple of past decisions we’ve made, as if Telltale just scrambled to try and find a way to shove in the fact that the game adapts to your decisions.
We do at least get some action with a gunfight, but funnily enough this gunfight shines another light on the careless structuring of Episode 4. Remember how I mentioned there was an armory heist so we can fight our way out and save David? Well apparently all of that didn’t matter because when Tripp kicks us out, Javi and crew seem to forget all about what they just did and what Javi just got stabbed for, because they don’t even bring the guns with them to the gun fight. Those 4 AK-47s and ammo we stocked up on would come in handy right about now. What was the point of having this whole plot element of stealing guns if they were just going to ignore it? It seems to me they should have focused on developing Joan as a character instead of wasting our time with a pointless mission.
The final moments of this episode offer some action and a couple important decisions that will make you think and linger. But the horrible pacing, plot holes, rushed story elements, and sloppy usage and complete lack of character development for the villain overshadow any good these couple of moments offer. Episode 4 is in just about every regard a failure compared to the rest of the season so far. Luckily Telltale hooked me with a strong beginning as I’m already invested in Javi’s life and his relationship with Kate and Clem. Otherwise, I wouldn’t care to come back to this story.
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Be sure to check out Episode 5, From The Gallows, and its review, coming soon!