It’s always a bit weird reviewing adventure games because the I want to talk most about is the thing that I should probably also talk least about: the story. Unless some sort of genre-defining innovation comes along and becomes the main topic of discussion, adventure games usually come down to whether or not they tell a good story. Well, also if their puzzles aren’t completely bonkers, but whatever.
The problem slightly compounds when it comes to episodic video games like Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. Things can’t (or, perhaps more accurately, won’t) change too drastically episode to episode because most of the foundation is already there: the game engine, the overall story arc, and the set of developers and creatives. This also naturally points to an inclination for story analysis.
Luckily, Episode 2 – Starved for Help has a lot more going for it.
Right off the bat, you’ll notice (I mean really really notice) that this episode is a lot more violent. It is set about three months after Episode 1 – A New Day with Lee, Clementine, and co. holed up in an abandoned motel. The primary issue with holing up in abandoned areas, though, is that resources eventually run out, as it has with our survivors. This, combined with the fact that Larry and Lily are still incredible dicks and still trying to take charge of the group, has resulted in high tensions, to say the least.
And wham, you get the most macabre scene of the series to date. It involves a teacher, a bear trap, and some walking dead. Oh, and you have an axe. It gets pretty intense and pretty…gross, and the game only ramps up from there, so prepare to test the steely resolve of your stomach and the contents therein.
But unlike the television show, none of the gore ever feels forced or contrived; everything fits in context and actually helps emphasize the emotional impact of any decisions you make and the subsequent bloody consequences. And those decisions feel significantly more personal. In A New Day, I felt like things were constantly on the brink of spinning out of controls, decisions that result life or death had to be made purely on instinct with a very this-or-that dichotomy, but with things finally settled down in Starved for Help, your choices have to become more nuanced.
You decide if you must act as a leader that serves the greater good, making decisions that most benefit the group at large, or if you begin to play favorites towards yourself and Clementine, becoming a cold and calculated survivor for the sake of your ward. It comes across a bit like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, but it works. Clementine is the physical representation of many things such as hope for a new world, innocence not yet lost to a bleak and bitter life, but also your redemption.
You are still the same Lee Everett, and your choices carry over. You must remember lies you’ve told, live with choices you’ve made, and protect the one that can redeem you as a man in a society of abandoned civility. Even among the walking dead and cutthroat raiders, you must look for redemption as a murderer trying to prove himself as a moral man. That, or you become a purely practical survivor with no remorse and no regret, even if that means showing Clementine that the last remains of humanity have left both you and the world.
These two conflicting impulses come to a head when two strangers come up to our survivors, looking to make some trades and offer some hospitality at their nearby dairy farm. This sets you off on an incredibly predictable path with a twist you can see from a mile away, but wow, the tension that builds could crumble the Brooklyn Bridge. I mean, if you could fit all of your feelings from the first time you watched the end of The Silence of the Lambs or the climax of 127 Hours into a coffee mug, Starved for Help would need a Big Gulp.
But it’s not all bloody roses; there are some issues with the game. Stuttering and frame-rate drops are somewhat common, and I encountered an instance where I thought the game froze (it was actually just an extremely prolonged pause). Lip syncing also isn’t that great and music and sound effects sometimes just won’t happen at all. There are also reports of save files not carrying over, but I didn’t have a problem with it, so take that as you will.
I really wish I could talk more about the story here, but that would defeat the purpose of you ever playing the game. What I will say, though, is that this episode (and the one before it) is well worth your time and money. In the relatively short amount of time I’ve spent with Lee, Clementine, and the gang, I’m already more emotionally bonded and sympathetic with them than with anyone from the television show. The emotional range shown from the game and elicited from you is simply amazing.
But like I said, be ready to see a lot of guts.