By Marty Mulrooney
The Walking Dead: Starved for Help is the second episode of a five part episodic video game based upon Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series of comic books. Taking place three months after Episode 1 – A New Day, Episode 2 sees players once again taking control of convicted felon Lee Everett as he struggles to protect the little girl in his care from monsters both dead and very much alive…
Starved for Help takes the decision-making mechanic of the previous episode and raises the stakes to often unbearable levels. Less than five minutes into Episode 2 the player must quickly decide whether to cut off a stranger’s leg or leave him for the zombies. Thereafter, the decisions only get harder. The Motor Inn that Lee and his group of fellow survivors are using as a safe haven is well-fortified, but food is running out fast. Hungry people can quickly become desperate and characters from the first episode who were once level-headed are now far more irate and irrational.
The main power struggle is between family man Kenny and the hot-headed Lilly. Pushed to breaking point by the difficult task of dealing out rations, Lilly decides to let Lee give them out instead. The player is yet again faced with a difficult choice – you have four items of food and nine mouths to feed. The people you decide to feed or not to feed will change their opinion of you based on your decisions and alliances will slowly start to form as a result. This makes deciding whether to feed yourself – after feeding the kids, of course (you did that too, right?) – even more difficult. Lee has to take care of himself to take care of Clementine after all.
The majority of Episode 2 takes place at the St. John’s Dairy Farm after two brothers, Andrew and Danny St. John, come across the group at the Motor Inn and offer a trade – food for gas. The group are invited along to the farm to seal the deal. The gas is needed for the generators powering the electric fences that protect the property from zombies and bandits and a great meal is promised for one and all by the brothers and their mother Brenda St. John.
However, this is a new world with new rules. The kindness of strangers can no longer be blindly trusted – Lee needs to be 100% sure that the farm is safe before moving the group there permanently and this is where the core mystery of the episode stems from. Who are the bandits in the woods and why do they keep attacking the dairy farm? Why did previous visitors end up leaving rather than staying? And what is behind the locked door in the barn?
Telltale Games has taken a solid first episode and built upon it substantially. The cast of characters, both old and new, are fantastic. Lee Everett (Dave Fennoy) and Clementine Marsh (Melissa Hutchison) are still at the very heart of the experience – their interactions are always emotionally charged and real – but there is now also a far greater pull on Lee between the various other adult characters.
The decisions that Lee – and therefore the player – has to make are truly difficult and will undoubtedly reflect the type of person holding the controller (or tapping and clicking the keyboard and mouse). If you put yourself into the situation and react accordingly, you’ll have an absolute blast – it’s impressive how the narrative bends to accommodate your decisions. There isn’t complete freedom of course, but that is understandable and forgivable when presented with one of the best narratives of 2012, in a video game or otherwise.
The Walking Dead: Episode 2 – Starved for Help is undeniably brilliant, but it does have some small shortcomings. The voice acting is superb, although the character of Brenda St. John stands out as being a little bit stereotypical. Also, many players – this reviewer included – will need to lower their shadow setting to low or off to avoid stuttering when scenes transition during cutscenes. Such technical glitches are a shame – there is also a problem with text overlapping on the main menu when loading a save – as otherwise, The Walking Dead genuinely does look and sound like a comic book brought to life. Ultimately, Starved for Help is a stomach-churning, heart-pounding experience that manages to make something as mundane as dinner time truly scary – it may just be one of Telltale’s best games yet and was more than worth the prolonged wait. Now… who’s hungry for more?
9 OUT OF 10