Telltale’s The Walking Dead episodic game series got off to a great start with A New Day, showcasing what I thought was the pinnacle of Telltale’s ‘interactive movie’ experience they’ve been aiming for over the past couple of years. It combined an appealing comic book style with an intense story, and promised choices with real consequences that would carry over into future games. The second episode has now arrived to put that notion to the test, as we find out what state our group of survivors is in, following the zombie apocalypse.
Starved for Help picks up three months later, immediately presenting you with a new, never-before-mentioned character who has joined your group. I wonder what’s going to happen to him. Besides Red Shirt, all of the other survivors are back, including Lee as the game’s protagonist, and Carley or Doug, depending on who you chose to save last episode. The group is running dangerously low on food, and tensions are high between de-facto leader Lilly and family man Kenny. So, when two men from a nearby dairy farm offer to trade gasoline for food, and invite them back to their well-protected home, it seems like the survivors have finally caught a break. They obviously haven’t realised they’re in a Walking Dead story.
The best thing about Starved for Help are some of the gut-wrenching decisions it forces you to make, which range from the practical to the gruesome. A simple example occurs early in the game – Lilly puts you in charge of food rations back at the group’s motel stronghold. You have four meager pieces of food to satisfy ten hungry mouths, and you simply have to choose who gets to eat. Do you feed the kids? What about the men who protect the camp? What about your friend you saved last episode? What about yourself? There’s no time limit for this choice, but later decisions are on the clock, and require you to go with your gut instinct, rather than having a lengthy internal dialogue about the morality of the situation.
What slightly hurts this episode is that the consequences of these decisions are not always obvious. The ration hand-out is gut-wrenching, but it didn’t appear to noticeably affect the outcome of any events, aside from a line of dialogue here or there about people being hungry. An early decision regarding saving a life also doesn’t appear to have any lasting repercussions. Your choice to save Carley or Doug from last episode plays out a little more this time, with a lot of what I assume to be exclusive dialogue as you spend a decent amount of time with them.
However, the system for remembering which decisions you made last episode isn’t perfect. In particular, despite the fact I had supported Kenny back in Episode 1, he had a bug up his ass for the entirety of Episode 2 about a single time I apparently didn’t support him. Things like this really upset the feeling that my choices matter, when the game effectively doesn’t remember what choices I made. There are also several visual glitches, as objects block your view or flicker in and out of existence.
There’s also the matter of how much of the experience this time around is an actual ‘game’. The puzzles feel significantly easier – as you’ll often have a character around who can flat out explain to you what you have to do in order to proceed. In addition, a couple of puzzles can seemingly be skipped over entirely, such a building a swing, with little or no consequence. It’s much more obvious that you’re being railroaded in a particular direction this time around, despite how well made and affecting the story can get.
Starved for Help looks and sounds great as the last episode did, at least. The comic-book cel-shading really is appealing, at times making the game look like it’s lifted straight from those inked pages. They hide the lack of detail and size of some areas really well, and the game isn’t afraid to get gory when it needs to. Voice acting is pretty great all around, with Lee especially managing to be extremely sympathetic.
The Walking Dead continues to be a very interesting gaming experience, although not necessarily a ‘game’. The choices and events this time around are a lot harsher than the first episode, and this works well to push the player into uncomfortable territory. There are some problems with just how much impact your choices actually have on the game though, and there are glitches in the system, but I’ll have to withhold judgment on how these consequences play out until we reach the final chapter. For now, Starved for Help is still tense, disturbing and extremely memorable.