Review: The Walking Dead, Episode 2 – Starved for Help

The Zombie Apocalypse is a pretty popular topic at parties. The experts seem to know exactly what they’d do when the planet lines up just right, or a test-tube falls out of a researcher’s hand and turns the world’s population into cannibalistic monsters. In fact, who hasn’t thought about what they’d do to stave off the inevitable for a few days? But what about after that? How do you go on living, how do you go on surviving when everything that you’ve ever known to be true about the world is suddenly not?

If The Walking Dead series as a whole, the comics, the AMC television adaptation, or even the first episode of the critically acclaimed game has shown us anything, it’s that the living pose just as big of a threat as the dead. Also, that being a father figure in a post-apocalyptic world is not a task for the feint of heart.

The second episode of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead released this week. Starved for Help released on the Xbox 360 earlier, while PC and PS3 owners had to wait a few more days. Telltale had originally forecast that the wait between episodes would be short; about a month. Well Starved for Help was a little behind schedule.

Late, but worth the wait.

Editor’s Note: due to the nature of episodic DLC, there may be minor spoilers regarding the first episode of The Walking Dead.

Starved for Help picks up three months after the first episode ended. A new survivor has joined the gang in the time between episodes. Mark, an Air Force veteran, may have already been at the motel when the group arrived, but it’s not made immediately clear. Lee and Mark are out hunting game to help with the severe food shortage when they come upon a rather gruesome discovery.

After a blood curdling scream, the two arrive on scene to find a man who has been snared in a bear trap. The trap has been rigged and the release mechanism is broken. The noise has alerted some walkers to your location. Time to make a decision.

Much like the first episode, Starved for Help is all about making decisions. These decisions range from choosing whether or not to tell someone the truth, to rather difficult and decidedly disturbing ones, much like the one at hand.

When I play games, I’m usually the good guy. I play Paragon in Mass Effect, I go for the karma in Fallout. These are relatively easy choices to make (except for punching people and stealing stuff). But in The Walking Dead, the right thing to do isn’t always black and white. The Paragon in me says I need to save this guy. I can’t just leave him and his companions to such a cruel fate! Come on, think!

Check the release mechanism – something’s gotta give! Try prying it open, how hard can it be?! Nothing’s working and those walkers are coming in close! Come, on! Come on! I’m running out of time, I’ve got to do something! There’s only one option left…

And it’s terrible.

Here I thought I was doing the right thing – I walked back to camp and expected a hero’s welcome. Instead I get chewed out for not leaving the poor sap for dead. Great. Just great. These are how the decisions work in The Walking Dead. You think you’re doing the right thing, you try to be impartial, you try to do what’s right, only to find out that you should have done something else. You know that what you do and say are going to have an impact on the group as a whole. So you try to be a good person, but it seems that you just can’t please everyone. Sometimes, you can’t even please most of them.

Particularly those people who took an issue with you before. Those issues or grievances they might have had with you before are still present. For instance, Larry (the old guy) still hates your guts, and isn’t shy about letting you know that. You can do no right by this man. He is your mother-in-law. Whoever has your back – they still have your back. Unless of course, you were a jerk to everyone in the first episode.

But even if you were a benevolent(ish) leader, things are still looking about as low as they can possibly get. People want to leave and you question whether or not that’s such a bad idea. What’s there left for them? Food shortages, power struggles and other infighting?  It all seems to be boiling up to one major blow out. Until suddenly, a ray of hope appears over the boarded up defenses at the motel.

They come with an offer, and pardon the pun, it’s an offer that’s hard to refuse.

The gameplay is pretty much the same in the second episode as it was in the first. The only major complaint about the gameplay that I had was that that there weren’t as many exploration options available – the episode was pretty straightforward. You weren’t able to move as freely around, but you weren’t able to move around that freely in the first episode either, so I came to expect a bit of that. Not a major issue, but an issue nonetheless.

And incidentally, anyone looking to blast through hoardes of the undead is in for major disappointment. But that wasn’t a game element in the first episode, so why would anyone expect it this time around?

There were also few graphical issues that I experienced, on the PC version unfortunately and there are known issues on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions. These are bigger problems than not being able to move around as free as you’d like. They really mar an otherwise extraordinary experience.

While the gore you’ll encounter in this episode isn’t anything new to horror gaming enthusiasts, it’s still refreshing to know that Telltale isn’t afraid to use it. The riveting narrative and frantic decision-making will keep you on the edge of your seat until the episode is finished, at which point you’ll want to play through it again to see how your choices would have changed things.

I’m really hoping that Telltale is on the ball with the release schedule for the remaining episodes. Episode 3: Long Road Ahead is the next episode, and the wait is already killing me.


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