The Walking Dead: Episode 2 : Starved for Help – Review

Platform | Release Date
XBLA | June 27, 2012
PSN, PC | June 29, 2012
Developed by Telltale Games
Published by Telltale Games

The Pitch:

Lee Everett, a man convicted of a crime of passion, has been given the chance for redemption in a world devastated by the undead. Players will experience life changing events, meet new characters and familiar ones from the original comic, and also visit locations that foreshadow the story of Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes. The Walking Dead offers a tailored game experience – player actions, choices and decisions affect how the story plays out across the entire series.

The primary element in any magician’s act is distraction. Move the coin with the right hand while they’re watching your left. Wait to switch decks until your underdressed assistant is sashaying across the stage. It’s as much psychology as it is sleight of hand; if you know what the audience is looking for, you can show them enough of it to let them convince themselves they know what’s coming. Then, while they’re trying to spot the mirrors under the table, you can walk an elephant out the front door and no one will notice.

I closed my review of The Walking Dead: Episode 1 by claiming:

”..if they continue to up the ante, stave off the creeping advance of heightened expectations, and somehow manage to shock us again when we are looking for it, Telltale Games may just provide us with the greatest episodic experience in gaming history.

In the afterglow of completing Starved for Help it’s clear that my measurement for this series’ success was a little off. I was under the impression that the only way Telltale could build upon the triumphs of A New Day was to keep what was working and somehow go bigger. Keep amplifying the suspense, make the choices mean more, raise the stakes at every turn. How could any developer sustain such an approach over the course of a series that is now planned to stretch into a second season?

Now, it feels like the entirety of Episode 1 was the wave of a magician’s hand. I went into Episode 2 expecting the weighty decisions to be more of the same “Save character A or B” choices, but it became readily apparent that my sights were set too narrowly. Beginning in Starved for Help, The Walking Dead begins to pose the question “What are you prepared to do to survive?” Though it’s just a game, I felt inseparable from the moral weight of the choices I was making. This speaks volumes of the characters Telltale has scattered around Lee; it’s impossible to feel guilt over your treatment of a sheet of cardboard.

Everything the characters of The Walking Dead do aligns with their own individual wants and needs. I found myself opposed or betrayed by characters I loved and sided with in the first episode, and their motivations hadn’t budged an inch. These were the same characters, just the circumstances had shifted in a way to put their interests and mine in conflict. This cuts both ways, as people I cared little for in Episode 1 were suddenly my closest allies. Because of the time-sensitive dialogue system and some truly stellar writing, almost every moment of intense distress and panic happens during conversation.

If you’ve heard others talk of Starved for Help, you’ve no doubt heard mention of the main “twist”. Palpable, dreadful, but predictable, many would claim. Could it be that these people are simply not looking at the right hand? While drawing away the gamer’s attention with the horrors we pray we’re not going to find, yet know deep down we will, Telltale is able to catch us totally distracted when the episode’s weightiest decision must be made.

To this point, I’ve largely resisted temptation to dive back in for a second playthrough. All acts of illusion rely on the relative naïveté of the audience; if you see the same tricks repeatedly you will eventually start watching the other hand. Maybe my choices didn’t actually shape the story in meaningful ways, but isn’t it more important that I feel like they did? For now, I’m satisfied to allow myself the thrill that comes from believing magic is real.

About Adam Bash

Adam Bash was the host of the Fall Damage podcast and is currently a contributor to Splitkick. He helps make the site do things.
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