Jul 05 2012
I approve of any game that begins like this.
Spoiler Alert: I’ll do my best to refrain from spoiling plot details, but as the gameplay and the plot are wound tightly together it will be difficult. You have been warned.
When I wrote my review of A New Day, the first episode in Telltale’s The Walking Dead series, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would write one for every episode, all I knew was that I really enjoyed it and I wanted to review it. After spending a few hours with Starved for Help however, it’s pretty clear now that I’ll most likely just review all of them. Like the first episode, Starved for Help didn’t take long to pull me into the story; I buried an axe in the skull of a walker pretty much before I did anything else. But this episode is more ominous and subtle than the first, showing the effects of borderline starvation on the group after it has taken its toll for a few months. I really liked episode one, but as far as drama and tension are concerned, episode two is more my speed.
Before I start I should mention that in my last review I inadvertently referred to Robert Kirkman’s original The Walking Dead comic as a graphic novel. I was quickly corrected, as I should have been, but in my defense I did receive my copy last Christmas in hardcover book form, leading my brain straight to “duh it’s a graphic novel.” But I was wrong, it’s a comic and I should have been more specific, just because I could use the hardcover book version as a weapon in an actual undead apocalypse doesn’t make me right.
I created my own little “last time on The Walking Dead” moment to catch myself up, playing through the end of the previous episode before beginning Starved for Help. I didn’t need to though as I was greeted with an official one already included at the beginning of the episode. Silly me, I should have known Telltale would have thought of that. Regardless, I was adequately caught-up when I began episode two.
Kenny looks psyched to be back in Episode 2.
There are two big changes for the characters in Starved for Help. The first is that it is becoming clear to them that their situation might not be temporary after all. This is a common theme in survival fiction, during the beginning of a disaster there are always those who think that waiting for help is the best option, but as days turn into months, or three in this case, waiting seems less and less like a legitimate survival method and more and more like a death sentence. Eventually some people begin to ask if they should pack-up and leave for a more adequate location.
It’s this fundamental disagreement that drives the initial group conflict. There are some that clearly wish to leave the motor inn in search of place with more food and resources, while others spend the majority of their time bulking-up the perimeter wall, preparing for an extended stay. It’s clear by the game’s dialogue that Lee, the game’s protagonist, is on the fence about it, leaving the player to try and calm the bickering and frightened group. You would think that playing hall monitor to a bunch of hysterical adults wouldn’t be entertaining gameplay, but it is. It helps that the game is consistent; you can play as a naively hopeful everyman or an emotionally vapid survivalist, the story and the characters will adapt accurately to however you decide to play.
Asking to pass the potatoes in the Apocalypse will get you killed.
The second big change for the characters is that the power is now (and has been for three months) out. Obviously this makes things vastly more unsettling for them as they can’t see at night anymore, but the lack of power has also reduced the amount of edible food they can find and keep, forcing them to hunt what they can, scavenge for the rest, and hope that no one starves.
This exacerbates the group’s problems, turning what would be simple bickering into flat out screaming matches. In my opinion the game expresses the group’s hunger in a realistic and believable fashion. Character’s don’t just say they are hungry, which would be the ham-handed way to do it, rather it’s represented by how they walk, how much they talk, what they say, their body language, everything. I’m not told about their plight, like in other games, I’m shown it, slowly and with purpose, until each character is ready to pop. I don’t need to read for two minutes to know that Larry wants to punch me, when I look at Larry I know he wants to punch me.
It’s clear that the title of this episode, Starved for Help, is more than just a clever pun. From the beginning, everyone is starving and no one has quite settled into the idea that help isn’t coming; they’re at a crossroads. These are the questions tearing at the edges of the group’s patience as they grasp with the idea of moving everyone to the recently discovered St. John’s Dairy occupied by the St. John brothers, their mother, and a cow named Maybelle.
You know what they say when things seem to good to be true, right?
Obviously a working dairy is a rare commodity in an undead apocalypse, especially one with a working electric fence owned by welcoming inhabitants. Regardless of how too-good-to-be-true it all seems the starving group can’t pass up the opportunity for a full stomach and relative safety, deciding to head on over to see what it’s all about. What better way to drive the action of a bunch of starving apocalypse survivors than by putting an oasis in the middle of hell?
The events at the dairy take-up most of what happens in episode two and to be honest the game takes its cues from the comic and the show; there’s another suspiciously locked barn for starters. There are other similarities as well, but while the game borrows some ideas, there is a distinct lack of the hours and hours of boring “searching for Sophie” that made some episodes of the TV show near unwatchable. There’s also no Laurie character to take off in a car and crash for no reason.
Even though this episode is a bit more subtle than the first doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its fair share of mouth-dropping moments as well. I won’t spoil them, because really what is the point in a review that spoils the good parts, but let’s just say that the game is at least as gruesome and shocking as the comic, maybe more so.
This is Lee’s “Hello? Is anyone there?” face.
You may find it strange that I didn’t really mention any gameplay. I didn’t really do this on purpose, I didn’t even notice until I reached the end of my review. This was the first game in a long time I didn’t nitpick gameplay issues, and I’m not sure if that means there weren’t any or that I just didn’t notice them. Thinking back now I don’t even really remember playing, I just remember watching.
Starved for Help was an engaging experience, well worth the $5 per episode I spent. If you’re not sure about picking up The Walking Dead I recommend giving it a shot. The first episode was exactly what I expected; I enjoyed it because I thought it was what I wanted. Then I played the second episode, and even though it didn’t give me what I was expecting, it turns out this was what I wanted all along.
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