In my review for A New Day, the first episode of  The Walking Dead: The Game, I mentioned my desire to play a game that reflected the emotional drama of the comic books and television series.  Similarly, I approached the next installment, Starved for Help, looking for the narrative continuity for which the franchise is known.  In the comics and show, every action is coupled with a resulting consequence, even though it may not be revealed until several issues or episodes later.  Developer Telltale Games has promised that the storyline found in the game will be equally dynamic, varying depending upon the player’s decisions.  Needless to say, I’ve been waiting eagerly to see how this narrative mechanic would play out, considering some of the tough calls I was forced to make in the first installment.

Starved for Help picks up three months after the events of the first episode.  Protagonist Lee Everett and his fellow survivors have taken up shelter in a roadside motel.  While they’ve fortified their new home to keep out the zombies, a new threat has presented itself: starvation.  As food becomes scarce, the already strained relationships in the group are coming to a head.  The real meat of Episode 2 is revealed when two outsiders come to the motel looking to trade supplies.  A promise of safety, food, and shelter convinces the group to relocate to the newcomers’ farm where Lee will uncover a dark secret that could jeopardize the welfare of the group.

All of this takes place in the context of your actions and decisions from the first episode.  Lee’s place in the group dynamic and who he is allied with is directly tied back to decisions you made earlier.  It’s easy to recall a specific instance from Episode 1 when a particular choice that, while seemingly right at the time, causes problems in Starved for Help.  Oh, the benefit of hindsight…

For the second installment in the series, Telltale Games has taken all the elements from A New Day and cranked them up to 11.  This includes the story-altering decisions you’ll have to make.  While there were plenty of tough choices to be had in the first episode, some of the options you’re presented with here are absolutely heart-wrenching.  As before, there is a limited amount of time available to make these selections, so you’ll have to be decisive.  More than once, I wavered between two choices up until the last moment, only to be left spewing profanities as unforeseen events played out.

As the consequences of your actions are amplified, the storyline and inherent drama follow suit.  Like the previous installment, relationships between Lee and the other survivors take center-stage.  Alliances built during Episode 1 are strained by current circumstances.  Conversely, supposed adversaries reveal the potential for beneficial cooperation.  While wrestling with his role in the group, Lee must also consider which options ensure the well-being of his adopted child companion, Clementine.  How will his choices and action be perceived through the eyes of a frightened youth?

Beyond a focus on the volatile group dynamic, the plot of Starved for Help is absolutely stunning.  The tale has been masterfully woven to reveal slight hints as to the impending climax throughout the narrative thread.  This endures until the weight of speculation becomes almost unbearable.  Throughout this dramatic build, Telltale presents additional sub-plots that are sure to persist beyond the second episode.  One is the introduction of a new and very dangerous enemy.  The other is, quite frankly, a somewhat creepy and unsettling mystery that raises a number of questions.  These intermingling elements form a complex storyline that challenges any objections to the fact that a video game can be art.

While the plot and characters continue to be the focus of the series, Telltale hasn’t forgotten about the zombies.  As in Episode 1, you are able to dispatch them using a variety of violent, brutal methods.  Along with the various other elements of the game, the gore-factor has also been turned up to 11.  There are death scenes found here that are particularly gruesome and, this time, they are not reserved solely for the undead.

As to be expected in an episodic game of this nature, the technical aspects are largely unchanged.  The reticle-based control scheme provides the typical adventure game feel while still allowing for some tense fight-for-your-life moments.  The sound design remains a key mood-setting element and is highlighted by exceptional voice-acting.  Visually, Starved for Help is a bit more inspired than its predecessor.  While the graphics themselves still present the comic-inspired style from the first episode, Telltale seems to have taken advantage of the often fixed camera to create some genuinely brilliant compositions.  You’ll encounter scenes that are absolutely breathtaking and serve to reinforce the dramatic nature of the game.

Along with the technical elements, a number of the problematic issues with the game’s first episode persist into the second installment.  The puzzles aren’t particularly difficult to solve and often come off as contrived trial-and-error tasks.  It would be nice to see them complement the complex nature of the narrative.  The latency issue I experienced after completing an action or making a particular dialogue choice actually seemed to get worse in the second episode.  These slight hiccups in the game’s progress became increasingly apparent as they occurred at the same moment I was anticipating the result of a selection.  While neither of these is a game-breaking issue, existing in the context of a near-perfect gaming experience only serves to draw attention to them.

Telltale Games promised that The Walking Dead: The Game would provide an episodic experience in which the actions and choices in one installment would shape later events.  Thus far, they have delivered on that promise with exceptional results.  Starved for Help not only reveals the consequences of prior actions, but also builds layers upon an already intriguing plot.  After completing the first episode in the series, I was eager to see what was in store in this next installment.  Now that I have directed Lee Everett safely through yet another set of dire straits, my anticipation for the third episode is almost palpable.  As before, additional save slots allowed me to go back and toy with other dialogue choices and actions.  After feeding my curiosity a bit, I was impressed by the number of directions that this story can potentially take.  I hope that Telltale Games is able to maintain a cohesive narrative as the fragmented plotlines grow more complex with each decision set before the player.  I cannot wait to find out if they pull it off.

 

ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE

Story – 10/10

Gameplay/Design – 9.0/10

Visuals – 9.0/10

Sound – 9.0/10

Lasting Appeal – 8.5/10

_______________________

Overall – 9.0/10

 

 

Will Blackwell
I'm a new dad, gaming machine, and beard aficionado. With a little one in the house, I've come to embrace the single-player experience, as it is much less likely to send me into a profanity-laced, controller-throwing tantrum. Writing and video games are two of my greatest passions, so this is a natural fit for me. As long as it doesn't require me to perform coordinated dance moves in front of my Kinect, i'm willing to pen my thoughts on it. Aside from gaming, I love music (Smashing Pumpkins), coffee (Red-Eye), and sushi (Yellowtail). All offerings of my aforementioned favorites will be accepted with open arms and, if you're lucky, i'll let you touch my beard. Just don't pull on it. That hurts.

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