You stand over a man, his leg trapped in a tampered bear trap, an axe in your hand. The only way to save him is to chop off his leg; it’s a grim choice and this is only the beginning. From this point onwards things only get darker, and the choices harder, in the Walking Dead’s second episode, Starved for Help. Just like the last chapter, Telltale manages to capture the survival tone of a zombie apocalypse and use this setting to tell an emotional and impactful story full of interesting, well-written characters. The gameplay doesn’t match up to the incredibly high standard of storytelling, or to the hard decisions you have to make, but this doesn’t stop this latest episode from being an excellent adventure game.
Not the most imaginative way to kill a zombie, but it sure is effective.
Starved for Help is set three months after the events of the first episode, and although this time skip is important in setting the tone for this particular installment it does feel, initially, like something is missing. Ultimately, the overall quality of this episode is enough to make the time difference no bother at all, but the cliffhanger ending of the previous episode seems rather redundant now. A lot has changed in these three months; you have a new member in your crew for example, one already cemented into the group despite not being previously introduced to the player. Even though this new character is a good addition to the cast, and his backstory (including the reason he is now in your group) is adequately explained thorughout the course of the episode, it’s still hard to escape the feeling that you missed out to a certain extent.
In spite of this niggling issue, the time difference does play an important role, providing Telltale with a device that will be a major theme of the entire episode. It is immediately obvious that there is one thing the characters themselves are missing out on, and that thing is food. Three months on little sustenance is a long time, and now the situation is worse than ever. This one conceit drives all of the drama in this episode, hence the name Starved for Help. The characters are all on edge due to starvation and desperation, leading to conflict within the group that you (protagonist Lee Everett) are stuck in the middle of. This drama manifests itself into the gameplay in some interesting ways; who will you side with in the gang’s power struggle? And when you only have four rations for ten people, who will you choose to feed? Your decisions in these early stages have a large impact on the rest of the episode and their opinions of you. Although the narrative carries on more or less in the same way no matter what you choose, your judgments play a pivotal role in particular moments.
Kenny doesn't like it when you get blood on his shirt.
The same is true for the decisions carried over from "A New Day." There are some obvious large changes, due to the magnitude of your choices in the first episode, but these really only effect the group dynamic rather than the overall story. The plot has a degree of fluidity to it, and you can feel yourself shaping the outcome, but in the end how it pans out isn’t the main focus here. It has been clear from the start this is a story of survival, with the people you take with you as the center of attention. The calls made in the last chapter - and the even more impressive rulings you enact in this one - significantly impact the characters that surround you, and that is what is important here. Choice helps The Walking Dead excel. Of course this excellence is made truly possible due to the brilliance of the judgments themselves. Starved for Help does an even better job than the first episode of putting you in tough situations with no right or wrong answer. It’s never a case where you just do the good thing and everyone walks away unscathed; in fact, most of the time (due to the savage nature of a zombie apocalypse) that kind of thinking just isn’t possible. The lack of an overbearing morality system makes the choices harder and more meaningful than in most games.
The choices and characters may be the real stars of Starved for Help, but the core story is also great. The places Lee visits not only allow surprising opportunities for decisions and key character moments, but are also very interesting in their own right. Lee and his fellow survivors are shown hospitality by two young men and their mother who run a local dairy farm. The trio boast of having food aplenty and just require some fuel for their generators in return. These generators power an electric fence that surrounds the farm and effectively keeps the zombies out, providing the survivors with a safe haven to stay in where they can finally satisfy their great hunger. Of course, this being the zombie apocalypse, things don’t work out quite as well as they could; you seem to be safe from the undead, but with deadly bandits and dangerous strangers out there, the walking dead are the least of your problems. Without getting into particulars, it is important to note that Starved for Help isn’t for the fainthearted, but if you think you have the stomach for this dark tale, you will be rewarded with a worthwhile story that is truly shocking.
Not even a zombie apocalypse can stop a good dinner party.
The only real downside of Starved for Help is the relatively simple gameplay. It’s perfectly adequate and keeps the game accessible by not limiting itself to one kind of action, but typical adventure game problems do impact the overall package. This is hardly a traditional adventure game, but you are still left with some of the contrived logic inherent to the genre and pace-breaking moments of searching your environment for the interactive object that will continue the narrative. Once again the gameplay itself is very easy but can be quite excellent as well. Marvelous use of quick time events and a decent sense of urgency make for some fervid action moments. This is not always the case, however. With a noticeable technical hitch that causes the game to lock up for a split second between scene changes (which can be rather jarring), you have a release a little rough around the edges.
Don’t let these slight issues deter you, though; Starved for Help is an episode with such highs that they more than make up for the minor lows. The gameplay may be simplistic, and a few moments do feel overly contrived, but as a whole package this game holds up admirably. If you enjoyed the first installment, then you will find this latest addition to be an even better experience. The foundation laid by the "A New Day" enables the second episode to be a much more impactful experience; the greater understanding of the characters obtained from your familiarity/attachment with them makes your choices even harder and their consequences all the more meaningful. Starved for Help forces you to carry out tough decisions and live with them; you will think about the consequences, regret your actions, and make or break allegiances with survivors you care about. It’s a tough, emotional journey, but most importantly, it’s an unforgettable one well worth your time and money.
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: June 27, 2012
Number of Players: 1
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC, Mac