After a rather lengthy wait, The Walking Dead returns to the Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade with the second installment - Starved for Help - in its five part series focusing on a different set of survivors from the ones made famous by the comic and TV series. Developed by Telltale Games (makers of the recent episodic hits Back to the Future and Jurassic Park: The Game) the game borrows elements from both the comic series and the TV show, arming players with conversational choices and puzzles to solve that can do just as much damage as any weapon. For those who are yet to take on the challenge of episode one, A New Day, it may be best to look away for fear of spoilers. You have been warned...
Three months after the events of the first episode, protagonist Lee Everett and his ragtag group of mismatched survivors are squatting in the motel they decided to call home at the end of the first act. When Lee is forced to make a quick decision concerning the fate of some new faces, the touchy subject of food and supplies rears its ugly head, causing the group to become as divided as theyíve ever been. As if by coincidence, two dairy farmers stumble upon the motel offering the gang supplies and shelter in exchange for gasoline. What follows is a story arc that highlights not only the paranoia that rests within Lee and the rest of the group, but shows that there are more dangers lurking in the state of Georgia than the undead. Think this sounds a bit like the second season of the TV show? Think again....
The plot is the major highlight of this episode. If A New Day set the scene by presenting the walkers as the key threat to your safety, then Starved for Help turns that notion on its head. Surprisingly, there are very little zombie attacks in this installment, but donít expect the game to be any less scary or intense. Bandits are introduced showing Lee Everett what human nature has mutated into in the face of the rapture. One scene shows two of these bandits going toe to toe as they argue over rations and weapons, with the outcome demonstrating survival of the fittest in action. As the game reaches its spine-chilling conclusion, the idea of the human race turning against itself becomes even stranger as some startling truths reveal just how far some members of society will go in order to survive.
The game introduces a whole host of new characters, opting not to rely on bringing in more familiar faces of the comic/TV series for this particular episode. The last act had the likes of Glen and Herschel making cameo appearances, and Lilly Caul even joining the ranks, perhaps in an attempt to ease fans of the comics/ TV show into this new chapter of the Walking Dead universe. This canít be said for Starved for Help, which relies on putting huge pressure on your own paranoia in order to enhance the experience. Some new characters are even designed to look rather shifty or intimidating in order to play upon the the fears of the player. To make matters worse, some of your pals from the last game could end up turning on you as quite often they take note of your reactions and decisions in the face of adversity. My scenario had me buddying up with one of my fellow survivors at the beginning of the episode, only for them to turn against me in the closing moments.
Much like the first game, the game could be seen as more of an interactive comic book than a straight up video game. Action takes a back seat in favour of conversational decisions and quick time events. Warm your fingers up before powering on your console, as pounding the X button is a major part of the game, usually reserved for the few high octane moments such as escaping the clutches of a zombie or escaping a group of crossbow wielding bandits. Other games involving moral decisions, such as Mass Effect, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic or Fable usually give players three options that will determine whether your character is good, evil, or sitting on the fence.The Walking Dead goes much deeper than that, with each reaction not quite as clean cut as expected. Decisions that may seem good at the time can lead to dire consequences, whilst some tough choices that seem dark, twisted and downright horrible at the time can ultimately lead your group to safety. More than ever relying on your instincts is a crucial factor when playing this game. However, still at the heart of the game is the relationship between Lee and Clementine, the little girl he rescued in the first episode. Despite making some gut-wrenching decisions for the good of the group, Clementine acts as a moral compass, perhaps not reacting in the ways youíd expect. Scenes between the two can be either heart-warming or heartbreaking, depending on how you play.
Starting Starved for Help fresh, without any influence from the previous episode sees the game randomly make those decisions from A New Day for you. Itís an easy way to quickly get a glimpse at a parallel version of your storyline, where a completely different set of decisions have been made. However, chances are that anyone downloading this episode will have already survived the horrors of the A New Day. You may suspect there isnít a big difference in replay value but there is. Considering that Starved For Help draws upon your choices and decisions from the first episode, players will have invested a lot of time and energy in their storylines to start from scratch for the sake of seeing how the story pans out from a different perspective. Thankfully, with three game save slots available, some of the more hardcore fans may wish to accept that challenge and craft a few different pathways through the state of Georgia. You might be surprised as to how one simple decision in the first game can have shattering consequences in the second. As the series progresses in the next three episodes, it will be interesting to see how some of these plot threads will continue.
The Walking Dead: Starved For Help may not rely on zombie hordes as much as the first title, but it doesnít make it any less brutal. The themes of starvation and paranoia that lie at the core of the game could arguably make this the more well-rounded of two available installments. As I eagerly await part three, The Long Road Ahead, one thing's for certain - if Starved for Help has taught me anything, itís to not always rely on the kindness of strangers.