Friday, July 6, 2012

Starved For Help Review

Starved For Help is the second episode of the five part series of the Telltale Game's The Walking Dead adventure games for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. This episode is all about food and survival, but it still has a heavy focus on choices, not combat, and putting you into challenging situations that force you to decide quickly and face major consequences. You continue the story of Lee Everett, a man in Georgia who has inadvertently returned to his home town in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. The story you play is designed for mature audiences and questions you in ways you may not expect for a game about zombies, especially when lives are on the line. Just like the first game you can still expect to see characters brought to life through excellent animations and voice acting. Just like my review of the first episode, I will be keeping this one spoiler free. If you are looking for information on pricing and availability or an overview on the game check out that review.

The gameplay in The Walking Dead has barely changed since the first episode. You can still find solutions to any situation are always found by exploring your environment and interacting with everyone and everything, but they have implemented some new challenges. For instance, at one point I had to quickly react to a gun being pointed in my face and the first time I tried I failed. That failure lead to my death, which merely started that scene over for me, but the point is that they are still using the gameplay mechanics from the first game and adding a little to them to keep you on your toes. You still move from one linear closed in area to another and combat is still handled with quick time events. Combat wise you spend most of the game with melee weapons of one sort or another and they have yet to give you any kind of gun or ranged weapon at your disposal, but it will be interesting to see how they handle that.
They have done a lot to make scenes feel tense and to make you feel the pressure, especially when you have to save someone. Even with the same gameplay mechanics The Walking Dead still feels good and if you hate quick time events you might want to stay away, but you shouldn't be playing The Walking Dead for the gameplay mechanics, you should be playing it for the story and it doesn't hurt that the gameplay mechanics are pretty damn good for an adventure game. Even though you can chop off a zombies arm with a click of a button, it still feels significant. It is a bit of problem that if you mess up you merely play the scene again, but they are a bit more hardcore when it comes to choices with dialogue and story. 

If you tell a character at the beginning of the game, in the first episode, that they are a racist bastard then they will still remember that in the second episode, assuming they are alive, and you can bet on characters reacting to everything you've done or said to them. This game thrives when it comes to making the feel and characters feel interesting and impactful. It is only the second episode in the series and that makes it difficult to determine whether or not your choices will significantly impact events later on, but they did a good job in Starved For Help by showing how choices from the first episode are still relevant. Unlike most games that claim your choices really matter, The Walking Dead does deliver on that promise.

From a technical standpoint The Walking Dead: Starved For Help fixes many of the problems from the first episode. No longer is there any popping audio, specifically voices, and no longer are there any frame rate issues. The first episode had random frame rate drops for no apparent reason, but episode 2 is smooth and fluid. All of the music and voice acting is spot on, sounds great and has zero problems. Graphically I saw a few areas that had some clipping issues, but they were only there if you pushed the camera into an awkward position that you normally wouldn't attempt. Overall they really smoothed up the whole game and made the experience all the more enjoyable. Before I go any further watch this not so spoiler-y chunk of gameplay that I recorded. 

So I would like to talk about the story and how interesting it is, but I obviously can't without ruining the story.  Telltale has done a great job evolving the characters and giving the player plenty of options to see different sides of them. For instance, I hated the character Larry at the end of Episode 1, but in Episode 2 I was given the option to keep hating him or to try to see why he is such a angry old man all the time. Throughout the story there are many conflicts and many of the times you are put in the middle, but that doesn't always mean you have to pick one side or another, many of the times you can take the middle ground and try to reconcile the differences in your group. However, there are many times when you have to rely specifically on one person or another and it is really interesting to see how the characters support, or don't support you, based on how you've treated them throughout the two episodes. 

While I can't say much about the story, let me just say that it is a bit predictable, but even within that Telltale still does a good job making the game feel tense, interesting and brutal. This isn't the world of Disney, this is the world of The Walking Dead and people will die, characters will be effected and terrible things will happen, but you can try to do your best to protect those you care about and keep everyone together. I can't wait to see where they go with the third episode and it is slated to release in mid August. The Walking Dead is showing the gaming world that story can really matter and be dynamic. They are also starting to prove that is it possible to make a zombie game focused on something other than killing zombies.

Violent Score: 4 (out of 5) 

I didn't recommend the first episode because it was a bit buggy and very short, but episode 2 is a different story. They have fixed up all the bugs and delivered a more interesting experience than the first episode. The series is turning out to have a lot of promise and if you enjoy a good story and don't mind combat not being the focus then you can find a lot to enjoy here. I still would suggest waiting until the third episode comes out, so you at least have about 7 or 8 hours of gameplay available to you right off the bat, but if you don't mind the wait then jump right in. 

-Written by Sean Cargle


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