The Walking Dead Episode 2: Starved For Help Review
(Review Copy of the Xbox Live Arcade Version Provided by TellTale Games.)
The Walking Dead video game series continues to improve and show signs of life in the adventure genre. Episode 2: Starved For Help shows progress over Episode 1 when we reviewed it months ago and tells a story that a lot of video game creators can’t hope to communicate to players.
One of the things fans of The Walking Dead comics and television show enjoy about the universe is that it emphasis how desperate the situation of surviving a zombie apocalypse is for the survivors. Starved For Help never relents on displaying how incredibly hopeless everyone’s future is.
A small amount of time has passed since the conclusion of the first game. Kenny is still a hot head who is looking out to protect his family above all else, Clementine is still adorable in a slightly annoying way, and Larry is still a dick.
At the very beginning Lee and the new character Mark attempt to save some high school students who are attempting to set free an older man who got caught in a bear trap. You have the option to attempt to pry the trap loose but walkers are approaching and this leads to a gripping decisions most people will have to make in a video game for a long time in order to free him.
Lilly gives the player the hard choice of deciding who gets to eat. This scenario took longer for me than I expected because I spoke with everyone in our group to see who deserved food the most. You’re given four pieces of food for ten people. At this point you will see a power struggle between Lilly and Kenny developing. Not only do you have to consider which of the ten people deserve food but you also have to play a little bit of politics.
If you give food to Kenny and his son, Duck, then you will gain his favor as it looks like he’s planning to abandon the group soon. Giving food to Larry will get Lilly on your side. Most players will opt to give Clementine food as she directly complains to Lee about her hunger. This is a crucial part of the game in that it helps to emphasis that you will have to choose who you side with and that that decision will have intense consequences.
After this plays out you will be invited to stay on the farm of some friendly strangers. Without spoiling anything you will come to find that these people aren’t as good as they seem. They offer protection and food for your entire group but they have an issue with bandits while hiding a terrible secret.
You’ll meet a woman who has stolen Clementine’s hat and she appears to know something about the little girl and acts as if Lee is a threat to her. She isn’t her mother but she has such a focused interest in her that she can’t just be a random crazy woman. Of course as soon as she starts to divulge secrets about the people Lee is staying with and her relationship to Clementine she dies but a certain extra scene at the very end of the game makes the player aware that her part of the story line isn’t over yet.
When the twist comes it concerns the friendly strangers I mentioned earlier and just how they manage to have a seemingly endless supply of food despite having only one cow. The serious of events that plays out after this is revealed is completely brutal. If I had to sum about Episode 2 into one word it would be just that, brutal. There is so much intense violence even when you’re trying to do the right thing.
I give credit to TellTale for being able to kill a character who I absolutely hated in a way that made me wish they hadn’t died. You will come to a scene where someone who you probably thought should die does but in one of the most graphic ways of any video game. But you don’t have a second to spare to mourn there loss which further sends home the message of how hopeless the world Lee and friends live in is.
Even when a loved one dies Lee, Lilly and Kenny have no time to waste and must leave behind those they love. This decision to kill off a major character is driven home by the revelation that the characters discovered early in the game that people need not be bitten by a zombie to become one. Everyone turns into a zombie after they die, even if it is because of something like blood loss or old age.
Every decision you make plays a role in how the story unfolds just like Episode One. Remember when I said you had to choose who got to eat earlier? Well I didn’t choose to give any food to Mark and he complained that he was beginning to become groggy as he worked on the fence around the motel. Shortly thereafter a zombie attacks Lee and Mark comes to save the day with an axe but misses the zombie entirely and the player has to fight the zombie off alone. Because I didn’t give Mark any food he didn’t connect with his swing of the axe so even small decisions like that will impact the game.
Episode Two will take most people about 2 to 3 hours to complete. The way I played it through I didn’t feel like I needed to play it through a second time to see how things would play out differently had I made the opposite decision in particular scenarios. The only time I decided to reload my game to take back a decision was when Clementine noticed I murdered somebody. I went back and spared the person of death (at least from Lee killing them) and my bond with Clementine grew stronger.
There are a few moments that the game will glitch and Lee will appear somewhere when he’s already walked out of the room and loading screens still feel like they hang a bit too much. I still wish the game was a bit longer but at the same time it feels like all the fat has been trimmed. I would fear extending the game would only add fluff that would take away from overall quality of the game. If you hate Quick-Time events you won’t like this entire series but they make perfect sense in the games since most of the times you’re performing an action it is in a tense situation where you have only moments to spare.
The Walking Dead Episode 2: Starved For Help is well worth the $5 price tag on its even if it wasn’t related to the first game in any way. Thankfully this series continues to improve and I care about the characters in ways that I haven’t cared about video game characters before. Part of this is because of the expertly crafted tension that the team at TellTale inserts into seemingly unimportant decisions.
This is the first time I believe I’ve ever feared for characters in a video game because I know that outside of Lee himself everyone could die and the story would move on. I believe Lee and Clementine are the only untouchable characters but others who I’ve grown attached to like Carly and Lilly could be killed during any episode past or future. The most sobering part of this is that those characters could die and I would go on for two or three more episodes without them, not having a moment to focus on their death in game because everyone appears to be on borrowed time in The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead Episode 2: Starved For Help makes the problems with Episode 1 much less notable and the story is more gripping than anything seen in video games since Red Dead Redemption.