June 27, 2012
by Greg Miller
Toss the idea of slaying zombies out of your head; The Walking Dead: The Game -- Episode 2: Starved for Help is a suspense thriller. Yes, the undead lumber around, but developer Telltale Games throws us a curveball here and focuses our concern on man's inhumanity to man. That's pretty awesome.
Walking Dead Ep. 2 Video Review Coming Soon
The second of five downloadable episodes, Starved for Help picks up three months after the zombie apocalypse broke out in the original episode of The Walking Dead: The Game. We're still playing as Lee Everett, protecting Clementine, and dealing with a motely group of survivors assembled at a makeshift fortress that used to be a motel.
It's a dilemma that had me debating whose side I was on and turning my back on established relationships, and that's pretty frickin' impressive.
This time, we get to see the fruits of our labor in the first game. See, The Walking Dead: The Game is all about choice and consequence. Rather than focus on action, the majority of the game is building relationships by talking to people. You don't get a second chance to say something in this adventure game; dialogue pops up, and you have a limited amount of time to make a choice that will influence your friends and make new enemies. (For nuts and bolts of how the game controls, please check out the review of Episode 1.)
Every one of those decisions is then carried on into future episodes, so Episode 2 is the first time to see what that exactly means, and what it means is a whole lot of reasons to replay the episode. What Lilly thinks of you, how much Clementine trusts you, which lies do you have to remember -- all of the decisions you made before set the stage for Lee’s continuing story. Based on which survivor you saved in Episode 1, you have different defenses and plenty of new information in Episode 2.
And then things go to a dark place. A really dark place.
Starved for Help opens with the series' most grotesque moment so far (if you choose to play it that way, of course), but beyond that, it starts stretching your moral muscles. The group's nearly out of food, and when it's up to you to choose which few survivors get rations for the day, you have to figure out if you're playing favorites or focusing on the greater good.
It's all about the tough choices.
The greater good: that's key to the episode. While Episode 1 was a whirlwind of chaos, life's moving at a steady pace here, and it's time to decide if Lee's going to be an upstanding person or a cold-hearted survivor. It's a dilemma that had me debating whose side I was on and turning my back on established relationships, and that's pretty frickin' impressive.
For that moment, I really was Lee, and he wasn't the man I thought he was.
Choice in games is mostly black and white, but suddenly I was thinking "Why do I care what Clementine thinks of me? We need to think about surviving," when all I wanted to do was keep her happy last episode. I can't think of another game that had me establish a character I thought I knew and then be debating big decisions a few scenes later. I began wrestling with whether a Mass Effect-style Paragon or Renegade playthrough made sense here -- could I mix and match?
That tug of war over feelings comes into full view when a new group of survivors from the St. John's Dairy Farm show up and invite your group to come over and trade gas for food. The family asks Lee all sorts of probing questions about the group, but are they being creepy or protective? Do you turn your back on the strangers or hope the relationship brings salvation?
I'm not going to spoil the lynchpin moments that come later, but know that Telltale spends a lot of time setting the stage. The suspense builds like a slowly filling water balloon as you have conversations accented with just enough weirdness to unsettle you and then other characters. Then, there's the reveal, and the water balloon pops.
As the final events of Episode 2 rushed at me, there was no time for weighing decisions and pondering if I was trying to impress Clementine. I saw the response I'd personally give and picked it. For that moment, I really was Lee, and he wasn't the man I thought he was.
It's heavy stuff, but The Walking Dead is still just a game -- something some technical hiccups remind you of over and over again. Lip syncing seems to be a bit more lax this time around, music will drop out mid track, and animations (which were already a bit herky jerky) will freeze as scenes change. None of these are issues that should make you skip this title, but they pull you out of an otherwise engrossing experience. The same thing can be said for characters’ weird side comments that Lee doesn't investigate and Lee's observations that I doubt any of us would make -- just little gripes that remind you this is a game.
The Walking Dead: The Game -- Episode 2: Starved for Help wasn't what I was expecting. Rather than focus on more walkers and more headshots, the game turns everything around and made me focus on the possible threat of other survivors. It made me focus on who Lee would actually be in this world -- the guy with morals or the guy doing what it takes to get by. I dug that; it's definitely a different experience than the first episode (including its additional technical issues), but that's what I want out of episodic content.
IGN RATINGS FOR THE WALKING DEAD: THE GAME -- EPISODE 2: STARVED FOR HELP (PS3)
out of 10
Click here for ratings guide
Once again, a stellar story I want to see everything in.
The cel-shaded look is still beautiful, but the lip syncing seems off and the animations were a bit more ridged.
The voice work remains superb, but it seemed like a music track would drop out every now and then.
Creating these relationships and then having to decide what to do with them is awesome. Lots of moral dilemmas to get caught up in. Still no real puzzles, more of an interactive graphic novel.
When I beat Starved for Help (took about two hours), I didn't just want to replay it, I wanted to go back to Episode 1 and make different choices to see how different I could make Episode 2.
(out of 10, not an average)
I think I'm more p**sed off as I can't quite remember what I did and didn't lie about now. It's been around 7/8 weeks since episode 1 so I bet most have forgotten too.
Still looking forward to this though and that review makes it sound even better than episode 1!