Review: The Walking Dead: Starved for Help

The decision whether to delay a game or not is an arduous one for developers. The balance between getting a product out the door and into the hands of the public or taking extra time to ensure the quality of the product is a balancing act many companies face in the industry. This balance is even more significant in episodic games that are expected to fit a schedule that had been previously communicated to gamers.

Telltale Games faces this issue with their second episode in the Walking Dead franchise, The Walking Dead: Starved for Help. In what was going to be a monthly episodic title, the latest episode was delivered two months late, prompting many gamers to leave scornful comments on the game’s official web site, claiming that Telltale had taken their money without delivering the product.

But the second episode has now come out and is finally in gamer’s hands. Was the extra time in development used effectively or is this a sign of an episodic series that finds itself in a lot of trouble?

The Walking Dead: Starved for Help
Systems: PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac (reviewed)
Developers: Telltale Games
Publishers: Telltale Games
Release Date: June 29th, 2012
MSRP: $24.99 (full season access)

I’m not going to necessarily cover as much ground as I did in my review of the previous episode as the gameplay and the visual style have been left untouched. If I were to cover all that, I would be just rehashing my previous sentiments as this newest instalment is virtually identical to the last. So if you enjoyed the gameplay and dialogue trees of the last, they’ve been left untouched. For those who want those details, you can read my review of The Walking Dead: A New Day here. With that out of the way, I’ll be going into what’s new and different in the latest outing by Telltale.

Whilst A New Day was set right at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse, something neither the television show nor comics had previously touched on, Starved for Help is set three months after the initial episode, and the familiar time frame is more than welcome. Although it’s always interesting to see how the first few days of the apocalypse panned out, it’s after a few months have passed that the characters realize that maybe things won’t be going back to how they used to be. The people we thought we knew and had boned with are changing in the face of a dire situation, showing who they truly are for better or for worse. This is the general theme of The Walking Dead, that of how people interact and cope in a world that has gone to hell.

Following the previous episode, Lee, Clementine, and the rest of the group have set up shop at the motel inn from A New Day. Despite having what looks to be a decent setup, the group has begun to run low on food and tensions are running high. Returning from another failed expedition outside the motor inn to get food, Lee and the group are soon approached with a deal from a family at a local dairy farm: trade fuel that runs the family’s generators and in return receive food for the group.

But in traditional Walking Dead style, things aren’t all sunshine and rainbows soon take a turn for the worst. The goriness of the first episode has returned in full force and has even been upped a degree. What makes these particular scenes so powerful is the subject matter that can leave those who are squeamish running to the bathroom. I would definitely advise caution to those who can’t hold down dinner when faced with confronting gruesome images.

The biggest difference between A New Day and Starved for Help is the pacing. A New Day was very much faster paced, which fit since it was set around the first few days of the zombie apocalypse. Starved for Help has slowed down the pace considerably, but not to the point of boredom. The general feeling of unease and dread fill the player, making the setups that lead to the big events of the episode shine that much brighter. It’s worth mentioning that this particular episode has an increased focus on cinematic story telling, leading to players not controlling Lee more often than not. The moments where we do have control do come up more than enough, but it happens somewhat less frequently than in the previous episode. Whether or not you like this move is purely your own opinion. I personally found the balance between full character control, where we get to investigate the new locales and visit members of the group at camp, contrasted nicely with the times where I don’t have to control Lee and was instead able to focus purely on the story and on one of my many difficult decisions.

The visual stuttering and bugs of the previous episode are back in this one and are slightly more prevalent. It’s not game breaking in any sense, but it does serve as a jarring reminder that this is only video game, breaking immersion within the world Telltale has crafted. This was only one of my more notable criticisms of A New Day, and one would have to assume that the high pressure of having to stick to a monthly schedule leads to a product that can lack a bit of polish, which is an unfortunate side effect of this method of delivering titles. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is a reoccurring issue within the series. However, the game does look as stunning as ever, and Telltale’s engine is definitely being pushed to its limits.

The promise of decisions that carry weight and impact on the story are actually incorporated, delivering where many titles fail. I’ve had significantly different experiences in my multiple playthroughs of the game, and believe me, you will want to play through the game multiple times if you’re anything like me and want to see how tackling a particular issue in a different way may have worked out. Replayability, although not normally a trait associated with adventure games, is something Telltale has attempted to change in The Walking Dead, and with so many decisions, Telltale has definitely delivered. Speaking of decisions, the days of being upstanding citizen or pure evil are over as few decisions aren’t grey in nature. You will question yourself and what type of man Lee will be. People’s opinions of you change and they will do so often. More impressively, the supporting cast of characters around Lee have changed themselves from one episode to the next. In one particular case, I was shocked at how one character I actually liked in the previous episode behaved in this one, highlighting what living in a world like that of The Walking Dead can do to a person. Friendships and relationships will be strained, and it’s a wonder how the group has managed to stay together for so long.

Sitting at approximately two hours in length, I find the $5 asking price or $25 season pass to be an incredible value. Just go check your local cinema if you don’t believe me. The game is meant to be completed in as few sittings as possible with one being the most desirable, and the two or so hour length is perfect for that.

The longer than expected wait for episode two in The Walking Dead franchise was well worth it. Crafting a story that further entrenches itself in the themes and subject matter of its television and comic brothers, it’s a story that many will enjoy. I came away impressed from the first episode, eager to see where Telltale would take us. Now I walk away from the second episode absolutely blown away, eagerly anticipating the third episode in the five-episode series. Here’s hoping that episode three does come soon, unlike that other game franchise that shall be left unnamed.

PROS
* Great story
* Strong writing
* Decisions that matter
* Replayability

CONS
* Common graphical issues
* Subject matter and goriness may repulse some

FINAL SCORE: A-

Disclaimer: The reviewer played through the entire episode twice and made different choices each time. The first play through had the UI turned on whilst the second had it turned off.

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Nathan Wood

About Nathan Wood

When he picked up a controller on that fateful day at the age of 6, Nathan had no idea how quickly it would captivate him. Enjoying a wide range of games, he is up for anything as long as it is of good quality, interesting or laughably bad. When not playing or writing about video games, he enjoys music, film, basketball and art. He is currently completing his last year of his IB diploma before mastering the great land known only as: University.