It doesn’t matter how good it is, it’ll still leave you hungry for more…
The cries of the insane. The groans of the dead. The shriek I emit when spilling coffee over my lap as I realise the cruel tactics zombies the undead play in Telltale’s new homage to the hottest zombie hit of the moment. As The Walking Dead: Episode 2-Starved For Helpbegins with a leisurely stroll in the woods, I was lulled into a false sense of security before being forced to make a ghastly choice to save the life of a man caught in a bear trap. Starved For help chucks you straight into the deep end from the start, reminds you that it doesn’t care for your well being and ensures you dare not pick up a beverage/itch a nose/attempt to lick your elbow during long talks from the get go. The gang have been holed up in the minimum securities of the Motel for three months now, and with supplies running low, the group are beginning to regret screwing up things on Hershel’s farm. The scarce food supplies are only fuelling the true tensions that are growing in camp. Whilst somewhere in the world Rick has emerged a true leader of the original cast, this group is struggling to decide where it stands with Kenny and Lilly calling the shots by phlemming them into each others’ faces. The group is at breaking point, until a couple of farmer boys arrive in their sights asking for a simple exchange; food for gasoline. The two lead the group to St. John’s Dairy (or Hershel’s Farm 2), a paradise unspoiled by the horrors of the new world. A pristine farm cared for by loving people…it all seems too good to be true. I had to backtrack and enter my barren wasteland of a memory I have when things began. The introduction of new character Mark forces you to assume he joined up with the group during our three month absence. A throwaway comment as to why he joined is thrown in at some point, but otherwise his presence is purely there to ponder on your death list. However, most of your activities in this two hour survival guide are done with him by your side, and although he’s not a tremendously noteworthy individual, he has enough common sense to make him likeable, and a higher IQ than the entire TV cast combined. Newcomer Ben meets you 5 minutes into the actual episode, but ironically, isn’t really dwelled upon much further. I can’t honestly say I’m at all intrigued by him, he seems to be something of a moaner, and I can’t see myself aligning with him in the near future. If some twisted Pagemaster like merging of fiction and reality occurs before next month and Ben is reading this, don’t take it to heart. Last episode me and Kenny were getting along so well I would share my last Rolo with him if I could. Now, our friendship is fast approaching hell, commuting through limbo as I await his verdict on me next month…and it’s all my ‘fault’. Despite praising the last episode for its picket fence grey “moral” choices, this time I found it much harder to knuckle down and come to rational conclusions when the guts hit the fan. With a clear divide forming amongst the group members, Lee is expected to choose sides, and this episode is sure to develop friction between one, if not all members of the group. Despite some rather cold decisions outside of the survival family (I chose not to give the gun to Irene in the last episode not as a standpoint against suicide, but because I didn’t want to waste a bullet), my plan has always been to act as peacemaker. Starved For Help doesn’t give you this luxury, and once again my conscience was forced to enter a bitter deathmatch with my survival instincts, a winner only emerging in the very final milliseconds of a debate just about to blow up in my face. Even when my heart knew something was right, I couldn’t help but see if I could push my luck in other ways to see if I could instigate some sort of power play on others. The narrative is strong in this episode, but it’s moments like these that duct tape that rabid fanboy inside me just waiting to spew immature know it all comments and make me realise that Telltale really understand just how to cater to fans of the series and the flesh tearing beasts alike. It makes any zombie game that has come before it look incredibly immature, kicking that egotistical concept of you blasting through hordes of the undead in the balls and forcing you to look upon the realities of the apocalypse. I don’t know whether to say that these decisions getting harder to make are a good or bad thing, but it shows that the cast are really beginning to grow on you.
Combat segments pretty much relied on me mashing the same button frequently, but I totally bought into the story so much that I honestly didn’t care
With things deteriorating at camp and St. John’s Dairy being a little too perfect considering the end of the world is at its doorstep, Starved For Help focuses more on the fact that your true enemies in the madness aren’t the dead, but the living. Fans of the comics will feel right at home with this twisted ideal, but those who aren’t will most likely be disappointed with the distinct lack of beheading this month, especially after A New Day showed us just how effective a hammer can be. Nevertheless, grim foreshadowing ends of undead farmhands and a good deal of gore should at least satisfy those who haven’t hit psychopathic boundaries. If you like torn ligaments, however, boy you’re in for one hell of a treat. Anyone with a brain weighing over a pound will feel suspicious about their new surroundings, and Starved For Help plays with this doubt like a diddy kitten does with a ball of string, mounting the tension till inevitable revelations start to appear. What it lacks in blood, it makes up for in cheap yet bloody effective scare tactics. The undead may be scarce, but their timing is bloody impeccable, and I’m ashamed to say I jumped in panic and unexpectedly slammed the controller in sheer bewilderment thanks to some dastardly bugger sneaking up on me. Usually this is where I insert a rather generic paragraph about how a Telltale game lacking puzzles is a negative, and Starved For Help cuts back on the brainpower even more than the first episode did. The story moves at such a tense and steady pace, however, that I actually hoped nothing vaguely mind boggling would chuck itself in my way. I really wanted to see what was waiting for me around the next corner no matter how grim it was and felt that each horrid decision I had to make was mentally exhausting enough. Even the minor combat segments pretty much relied on me mashing the same button frequently, but I totally bought into the story so much that I honestly didn’t care. It all flowed so well that I could quite happily sit back, wallow in the events and await another steaming hot beverage to grace my fragile frame. Starved For Help shoots its zombie slaughtering wad rather early but works to form a sandwich of bloody bread, a filling of slow boiled tension and a frayed limb to finally put it all together. If the opening segments don’t fill your blood lust enough, you’ll be left to go hungry like the group, but for once, the sheer lack of combat and puzzle gameplay in a Telltale game don’t hinder it. The plot moves at a steady and intriguing pace and even if you guess
just what lies ahead, nothing will prepare you for how things pan out. If the writing in future episodes is as strong as this one, I will gladly just sit through this game and watch events unfold, passing the controller like a wuss when a horrid decision comes my way. If this episode has shown us anything, it’s that The Walking Dead series is in some very safe and reliable hands. And Clementine hasn’t annoyed me to the point I want to high kick her through Saturn. Any game that’s managed to make me show compassion towards a child must have some credibility.
The Bad: Zombie deaths are minimal and sure to sadden undead pusting sickos, Gameplay doesn’t feel interwoven with plot (but helps with the pacing of the story)