Most series, be it television, movies, or even video games, have fantastic beginnings but tend to fall off a bit with each subsequent outing. Developer and publisher Telltale Games has taken a very popular TV and comic book series The Walking Dead to new heights as a video game series. The latest chapter, Episode 2: Starved for Help, is a great next segment. While the names are all similar, the game has more to do with the comic books then the TV series and the subject matter is the main common thread. In this second installment, Telltale not only manages to maintain the very engaging and gripping standard of the first episode, but some may say that Starved for Help surpasses it.
Starved for Help opens up three months after the last episode ended. Lee, the main character, is out hunting with Mark who is a new face to the series. They are part of a rag tag group of survivors who are living out of a small strip motel and things are looking grim on the supplies front. Once again you are plunged into a very realistic and sometimes macabre world of survival. Should you fail you will inevitably turn into one the ‘walkers’ that have plagued the land for months. No one has any answers to how, why, or when this began. No one even knows if it will ever end. The opening 10 minutes is enough to make your hair stand on end, and the gore factor is high. (Editor’s Note: Small Spoiler) I found myself immediately immersed in the struggle to make a decision between running away to save myself or to cut a man’s leg off.
As with the previous installment, gameplay is often focused on dialogue decisions, letting you decide the path the story will take. This in turn forms the opinions others will have of you as you make your way through the timed multiple-choice selections. You have around 5 seconds to make your choice by simply pressing the corresponding button. If you run out of time the game will choose for you. This system is also used to interact with other characters and items throughout the game. One thing of note, I was always under the impression that each button elicited a different response, but this is not always the case. For example, I found if I was to question someone rather than agreeing with him or her, I would still get a suspicious reaction. I also came across a point in the game where I died numerous times near the beginning of one chapter and I decided to press each button to find out what the outcome would be. It ultimately did not matter which path I choose as they all had the same doomed outcome. This took some of the luster off the game for me, as I wondered how many other paths there really are, which in turn affects the game’s replay value.
Despite some of my minor gripes, Starved for Help is such a wonderfully told story and the dialogue sucks you right in. It is a game you really want to play when you are free from any distractions as the interactions between the characters is fascinating and has you hanging on every word. Starved for Help takes many twists and turns. Not to mention a few jaw dropping moments as the story alone makes Starved for Help a solid purchase.
You can blow through the game in about 3 hours, faster if you are a good problem solver. There are some traditional puzzle solving sequences throughout the game, but it rarely requires much thought. Most of the solutions have clearly laid paths for you to follow and eventually solve. The point and click variety of control is sometimes annoying as you may repeatedly pick the item you do not want. It almost feels like a collision detection error, but the real culprit is depth perception. Since the game is fairly linear and restricted, objects in the distance can be mistaken for objects of interest much closer. The issue is nothing to gripe about, but it can get annoying if you are looking for something specific.
The Walking Dead games utilize the often-dreaded quick time events (QTE) for the intense action sequences. I say dreaded because in other games QTEs can be a tough go. Here, they never require too much dexterity, or cause one too much anxiety over pressing the right button. The game raises tension in the action sequences very well, while not making life too difficult. As always, you have limited time to save yourself from certain zombie danger, such as pushing them away or running between points of cover. Sometimes dying a few times will help you learn the proper sequence.
The game’s graphics remains very solid throughout the episode aside from a few technical issues. There is the odd frame rate issue and clipping does appear, but you would have to really be looking for it to catch it. I also found the game froze a bit at time. This said, overall the game looks fantastic. Telltale Games has found the sweet spot in terms of graphics and lighting, making brilliant use of night to add tension and drama. There is one area of the game set at night, with lightning flashing everywhere. The lightning creates some very memorable silhouettes, not only standing your hair on end, but also heightening the very sense of danger. The tension is palpable.
The visual presentation is a perfect translation of The Walking Dead’s comic book inspiration. The beautiful hand drawn art is splashed with vivid watercolours; outside the lines goodness. The game does look very much like a moving cartoon, although the cartoon style never detracts from the gruesome subject matter. One thing I noticed right away was how each and every character expression complemented the extremely well done voice acting. They sound and look every bit as believable as any real-life situation. The music and sounds of the game are also extremely well done. Both add to the pacing and inject an element of danger. The background noises keep you on edge and the subtle background music helps maintain the dark mood.
Episode 2 was so engaging that I completed it in a single sitting and I was left wanting more. I always figure that a game of this nature should leave you like this. Even with a few short comings every now and then, Episode 2: Starved for Help manages to maintain the same qualities that made the first episode so brilliant as well as drive the story onward into other areas of not only survival; but human nature as well. Telltale Games certainly has a hit on its hands, and The Walking Dead series is by far one of the sleeper video game hits of this year. I am eagerly anticipating the next installment of the series and cannot wait to see where the story takes the group next.