The Walking Dead Episode 2: Starved for Help Review (PC)

Well now, that was a pretty impressive debut for Telltale’s The Walking Dead series wasn’t it? After heaps of unanimous praise for the first episode from critics and gamers alike (we gave it a well-deserved 9.0) all eyes are on Telltale to deliver the difficult second album – or rather, second song. A New Day was the first part of a larger story arc for player character Lee and the group he’s found himself in, and everyone’s hoping it’ll be just as satisfying as the first.

Let me answer that right away: it is. I have reservations and it’s certainly not as good as the epic first episode, but as the next part of a story where your choices define the events Telltale have done a fine job. Of course it’s one that instantly makes my job as ridiculously hard as possible, seeing as all the player’s choices from the last episode carry on into this one and just one single choice in A New Day totally altered the events. Outside of Mass Effect or The Witcher these types of Choose Your Own Adventure stories are too rare in gaming, so when they turn up and are done well then it makes me very happy to be a gamer. The Walking Dead Episode 2: Starved For Help is done well… but not perfectly.

Our jolly group assesses who’s most doomed

First a recap, well, at least of my version of the game. Lee is an escaped criminal, but that hardly matters to the police now since the zombie apocalypse has begun. He meets up with orphaned girl Clementine, and in turn they team up with a group of other survivors. While Rick Grimes and his lot struggle to survive in the comics and TV show Lee and his own group are finding things just as difficult. At the end of the first episode they found themselves taking cover at an abandoned motor lodge, which they have since fortified.

However, as we open Starved For Help several months later the situation is getting increasingly bleak. Food is getting scarce, tensions are getting strained, and the group are considering breaking up. As the episode opens Lee and new character Mark (who was only allowed to join because he had food) are off hunting, and things are about to turn from bad to worse. A chance encounter with a few ex-college students in the forest ends with a number of rather sordid twists, especially when a couple of brothers from a local dairy show up scavenging for gasoline and promising food in exchange.

My first problem is with one of these twists, in fact the main twist of the story. I’m not going to spoil it but, well, I guessed what it would be the second the St. John brothers turned up. I strongly suspect you will too. The episode also consequently takes far, far too long to make this “shocking” reveal, so once it happens there’s very little of the episode left – I was hoping they’d get the revelation over and done with and move on to stuff that might actually surprise me, but no, it’s milked for all its worth. This is Walking Dead Telltale, whether comic or TV the thing fans are most certain to do is see the utter worst in people.

What is it about Walking Dead and farms?!

Thankfully apart from that obvious twist everything else that happens is great and occasionally massively shocking. The point of this episode and the lesson to learn for both the player and Lee is that no matter what choices you make or how hard you try bad things are going to happen which will be totally out of your control. This isn’t unheard of in gaming, but it’s so rare that it’s wonderful when a developer tries to teach this lesson.

Yes, once again it’s the choices that make up the bulk of The Walking Dead’s gameplay. One early difficult decision this episode sees Lee having to decide who out of the ten hungry people around him get one of the four food items. You can wander around and talk to all of them, but sooner or later you have to make decisions – and deal with the consequences. This isn’t difficult in the traditional sense, it’s not a puzzle or anything, but it is a tough choice because no matter who you choose someone will end up hungry and resentful, and that someone may not help you later on. It may not be a challenge, but it’s more satisfying than most games on the market.

Nonetheless though, Starved For Help has less in terms of actual challenge or gameplay than episode one. A New Day had several puzzles and a number of tricky zombie attack moments, but episode two has only a couple of the latter and none of the former. Well, nothing beyond picking up a screwdriver and using it on screws anyway. There are plenty of choices and a lot of surprising moments, but there’s no real challenge in the gameplay this time around.

As an aside, I don’t know if this was intentional but there is a distinct correlation between episode two and the TV show’s season two – it mostly takes place on a farm, there are barely any zombies, the barn hides a secret, and it’s not as good as the first one. This is also interesting because we actually went to the TV show’s farm in episode one, so frankly I’m all farmed out. Oh well, the rest of the episode more than made up for it.

He’s not going to… ah yes, he is

Nevertheless, Starved For Help continues the season in fine form. There are plenty of genuine shocks (my expectations in certain areas were seriously blown away, to my utter delight), the ongoing story gets all the more twisty and interesting, and I became genuinely invested in all the characters. Voice acting, incidentally, is fantastic, and while the animation isn’t up to Rockstar standards or anything Telltale still manage to convey emotions perfectly. The comic book cel-shaded look is just wonderful, although I accept that it won’t be for everyone.

It’s rather redundant to say so since everyone who bought the first episode already has Starved For Help, but in case you held off thinking Telltale couldn’t keep up the momentum – there’s no need to hold off any further. Yes the second episode isn’t anywhere near as much as a challenge as the first, featuring puzzles that you’ll solve by just walking around and clicking on things, but all the choices you’ll be deciding and seeing how they turn out still make The Walking Dead a delight to play – and those choices are well-implemented, causing massive changes to the group and how they react to Lee. Score’s lower for sure this time round, but it’s just as satisfying. Now then, who’s hungry?

Top Game Moment: Easily a scream-inducing moment early on that had me jumping out of my chair. I won’t spoil it, but let me just say… best conversation in an adventure game ever.

Platform Played: PC

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