Warning: There will be mild spoilers.
Good lord…just…if you’re squeamish or don’t have a taste for heavy morality, then episode two of Telltale’s The Walking Dead is going to shake you hard. However, if that’s the kind of mature content that appeals to you, Starved for Help should be a welcome addition to your collection.
Set three months after episode one, Starved for Help sees our band of survivors continuing life on a thread, forced to barricade themselves into the motel and scraping together what rations they have left. As such, tensions between the more vocal members of the group – most notably Kenny and Lilly – are rising quickly, requiring our hero Lee to make truly gruelling and, at times, unfair decisions to ensure the group’s survival.
There’s a lot more to the story, if you can believe it, but the overall themes of survival by any means and complicated moral codes are clearly the focus. Each character, new and old, plays a role in fleshing out the desperate series of events that ultimately unfold by episode’s end, as well as representing a wide range of personalities and ideals that are well-developed.
Of course, the strength of this series most evidently lies in its dynamic choice-and-consequence mechanic. Assuming that you are keeping up with each episode, your actions in episode 1 affect how Lee is viewed by the group, and may even play into their own actions in specific scenarios. Not to say that decisions in this episode aren’t also important, but there is a definite sense of build-up with each consecutive episode; at some point, the player should have both a sense of remorse at their chosen path and a feeling of inevitability given what they have done.
Like I said, this series is almost notoriously heavy in not only its themes, but in its actual visible content. Periodically, various degrees of injury, pain and death come about – be it at the hands of walkers or other survivors – that are quite visceral and difficult to watch. In that respect, it’s possible that this particular episode may be the most intense yet.
Gameplay is fairly standard here: move with arrows or by clicking on the direction, interact with objects and characters to advance. The key to this episode’s approach being so successful is that its interactive scenes feel both player-oriented and cinematic, as though the player is both watching and taking part in events.
Pacing-wise, the episode takes its time more in the first half before it gets to the heavy action in the climax. This means that for the majority of the episode, you will take part in a number of interesting, if occasionally frustrating, adventure game scenarios that do vary in location and task. Some are as simple as scouting a fence for any defects, or deciding which of the group’s 10 people gets the remaining four rations, but others can be overly subtle and require the player to tune into what I call “adventure game logic” – that is, picking out a key detail in any given environment and using that to determine a solution for the current issue. If that doesn’t appeal to you, there are more intense moments later on, but you may not be invested long enough to find them.
As with the previous episode, the graphics engine is not so much the star of the series, but rather a supplement to support the story and the experience. Barring some occasional glitches and some simplistic textures, Telltale’s patented game engine continues to do its job well. However, it’s the art design that will really sell you on the experience: characters seem both real and comic-book like, environments have a respectable amount of detail and depth, and the little touches like blood stains and dirt add to immersion.
Sound is solid as always, with the main haunting theme and more impactful aspects of the soundtrack hitting home where they count and being reserved for key moments later on. Voice work is also top-notch and really sells you on the characters being portrayed here. Nothing more needs to be said except that the overall quality is very high.
If asked if I can instantly recommend this episode to anyone, my answer would be, “No, not quite.” While everything is in order to make this a must-buy game, I feel that I must add a disclaimer that anyone seeking to buy this episode should buy the previous episode. The impact of what occurs here – specifically in the climax, one of the most haunting in gaming yet – will have more meaning to those who have gone through A New Day. That said, this is a more-than-solid purchase on its own, and it will last in your memories for a long time.