Ep. 2: Starved for Help - 'Great Drama, Gameplay Gaffe'
Throwing players into terrifying, impossible situations, The Walking Dead video game came out of the gates at a full sprint. Simply put, I was cold-cocked (in a good way) by the desperate situations and decayed corpses trying to eat main character Lee Everett. Episode One set the bar pretty high, and when Telltale Games released Episode Two: Starved for Help, I couldn't wait to rejoin Lee and the other survivors to see what horrors awaited them. Disappointingly, the second episode doesn't recreate the magic of Episode One. However, it wasn't aiming for the same target, and the results still have me wondering if the game was a step back for the series or a step forward.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Starved for Help is its different tone compared to Episode One: A New Day. While Episode Two is half as shocking, it's a double-dose of creepy. After fleeing Macon, Lee and the group hold up at a Motor Inn and there's not enough food to go around. Like two dogs over a bone, infighting and animosity brew. When some hillbillies offer a solution, things get complicated in a "Hansel and Gretel" way.
Thirty minutes in, you will probably figure out the story, but inching towards this inevitability taps into a different, albeit less potent, source of tension than A New Day. As always, the undead are the catalyst; the rapier at players' backs forcing them down the plank. However, zombies take a backseat in Starved for Help, where starvation and trust are the real adversaries. Telltale focuses on peer pressure throughout the episode, and it truly becomes difficult to keep a clear focus on the right choices. Episode Two of The Walking Dead video game series goes heavy on dialogue and light on pulse-pounding zombie encounters and puzzles that helped make A New Day great.
On the bright side, Telltale's alliance system shows promise in Starved for Help. Subtle decisions from both episodes inform relationships with group members, and replaying Episode One and Two back-to-back using alternate choices from your first playthrough offer interesting insight on how Lee is perceived by the group. Leader or diplomat; gruff or sheepish; nurturing or cold; Lee's character begins to take shape in Episode Two, and watching the toll the zombie apocalypse takes on him is an addicting breadcrumb trail to follow. Still, you may wish there was more action along the way.
As an episodic game released in monthly intervals, I was interested to see how Telltale would bridge the gap between The Walking Dead episodes. An appreciated montage recaps choices and outcomes from A New Day before Episode Two kicks off. After all, it's been a long time between releases. For those jumping to Episode Two: Starved for Help, randomly generated choices and outcomes bring players up to speed. However, skipping A New Day greatly hinders the experience much like watching a movie halfway in. You'll miss the little things that make the alliance system special. It would have been nice if players could make rapid fire choices, as that would color in details of Episode One for players who jump in at Starved for Help. However, with the price so low, anybody that wants to pay half deserves half the experience.
Leaning more towards an interactive novel than a game, it's difficult to give Starved for Help high grades. Is Starved For Help worth playing? In a word, yes. Lee's hardships and character development are worth following. However, if Telltale Games can't integrate more engaging game experiences and continues to lean on dialogue, The Walking Dead video game might be better as an animated movie. In a silo, Episode Two: Starved for Help would be a shoddy game. As a follow-up to A New Day, it offers value on the character side of things, though it falls short in the action department, except for the fist-pumping crescendo.
Graphics (75) – Occasional choppy animations break immersion. Characters and environments still have a great comic book quality.
Sound (70) – Unconvincing at times, the voice acting is standard. Blood-curdling screams never get old though.
Gameplay (45) – Virtually nonexistent. This episode might be more fun to watch than play.
Play Value (79) – A great examination on what people go through in a zombie apocalypse between the ears. Lee's internal struggle unfolds nicely.
Final Score (67) – Two steps forward for player choices, alliances, and drama. Three steps back for action and gameplay.
John loves gaming and loves writing about games. He wants to become a known voice in the gaming community and a game designer one day.
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