A few survivors from my group and I are traveling with a pair of men who are living at their dairy farm near our encampment. We’re on our way to the estate in order to complete a fair exchange of gasoline for food, something we desperately need. As we walk, I begin chatting with these brothers, and despite their friendly appearance, I can’t help but shake this feeling that something is off. Choosing to go with my instincts, I decide to be discrete and vague on the details of the rest of our group. Though the words spoken are friendly, the rising tension present in the conversation can be cut with a knife. Here we are, people just trying to get by in this crazy, zombie-filled world, yet it seems our biggest concern isn’t the leagues of undead roaming the Earth; it’s each other.
This is one of the less intense moments in The Walking Dead: Episode 2 – Starved for Help. As a result, it’s a true shame that Telltale’s videogame adaptation of the popular graphic novel will only be five episodes long, because at the rate it’s going I want there to be multiple full seasons. The bar was already set high with the first episode, A New Day, but the emotional and psychological levels reached in Starved for Help have hit a fever pitch the likes of which are rivaled only by some of the big AAA titles released in recent years. With the world and most of the main cast already established, the story takes center stage and allows players to dive deep into just how bad the world can turn in the midst of apocalypse, zombies or not. In fact, the amount of wandering corpses in this episode is dramatically lower than in Episode 1, yet Episode 2 still blows its predecessor out of the water.
If the theme of Episode 1 was learning to cope with the shock and upheaval caused by a major disaster of apocalyptic proportions, then Episode 2’s theme is certainly about how other survivors can be just as big a threat, if not bigger, than the zombies trying to eat our flesh. This is demonstrated time and time again throughout the episode, through multiple characters. Players slowly learn that with society gone and survival paramount, people will resort to anything and everything – no matter how cruel, inhumane, or psychotic – in order to see tomorrow.
The slow but inevitable build toward this lesson is beautifully symbolized by the weather throughout the day during which this episode takes place. When Lee and the crew first arrive on the farm, the skies are perfectly clear and the sun shines so brightly that it demands notice, capturing the hope present in the survivors’ hearts. As the day progresses and players learn more about what people have resorted to, however, both the weather and situation become stormier. Combine this with the incredibly fitting soundtrack and the ambiance immerses the player.
The impacts of decisions made previously in Episode 1 and during Episode 2 finally start to rear their heads in the narrative. Tensions will rise and signs of division between Lee and some of the other characters will become increasingly apparent in conversations and action segments. The best part about these decisions is that they aren’t based upon changing the big picture or destination of the plot; they instead focus on character moments, instances where what the player chooses to do as Lee have a rippling effect on who he is and how other characters perceive him. It’s an intense, emotionally engaging system that will make you think twice about some of your choices. I know it makes me want to play the episode all over again – not to see how major plot points could be different, but to see how people will react and comment if I chose to side with someone else or make alternative choices.
Aside from a few technical glitches (slight lip-sync inconsistencies and twitchy animations), The Walking Dead: Episode 2 – Starved for Help is close to flawless. Some people may be upset with a diminished zombie presence, but the suspenseful drama created by the episode’s theme of man’s primal and psychotic degeneration in the face of an apocalyptic event should do more than make up for it. If there was ever any doubt that this series would be able to rival the emotional and psychological tones featured in the graphic novel, they’re certainly gone now. Anyone looking for a good story backed up by solid play should definitely pick this title up and, like me, pray Episode 3 comes quickly.
Review based on PC release.