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The Walking Dead is known for highly dramatic scenes in whatever format it has come to pass. The second episode of the game season is called “Starved for Help” and almost catches up to the other media, with some grueling decisions and terrible depictions of humanity’s insanity in times of need. When social control is no longer a weighty presence, man and monster are not far from each other.
In the second episode of what is mostly a visual novel, the time for interludes has passed and mankind is knee-deep in the zombie apocalypse. With the food chain shifted, humans are now ironically pushed down a peg on the scale by dead humans. Man compromising man; this is a tale that will work on multiple layers in The Walking Dead. The survivors are left starving, as food sources for the lively are scarce. This leads to even more tensions in the group that will eventually spiral out of control in some true grindhouse horror. Starved for Help is serious business and no matter what the choices of the past have been, the future will hold some truly jarring scenes.
The thick layered cel-shading theme retains an excellent cinematic feel thanks to elaborately emoting characters, well shot scenes and stellar voice acting amidst the decay. Some of the more gruesome moments have a high goose bumps factor thanks to the grating sound of misery within some of the speech. Unfortunately, technical difficulties are even worse than previous time. The screen often freezes and frame rates fall behind frequently to detract from the gripping story. An eerie soundtrack holds the mold together, but even that can only offer so much cohesion. This is The Walking Dead’s biggest issue so far. All other aspects have at least been addressed, but it seems that the high standards in story execution do put a tremendous strain on the game engine and that requires a new balance.
Fortunately for the gameplay standards, this means that there’s some improvement afoot. While the previous episode had more sleuthing and back and forth puzzling, Starved for Help streamlines everything into one nicely linear whole. In doing so, this episode takes away all the dull and empty moments that slowed down the pace in the previous episode and replaces those with more tough decisions. Even just the most mundane tasks will become psychological warfare, with everyone keeping an agenda. More so, playable character Lee Everett will need to be a lot more hands-on than before and that comes at the price of some decisions that might end up dividing the entire social mechanic the group had. Starved for Help keeps the player locked in with timed conversation options filled with moral dilemmas that will rack the brain and end up badly no matter what the choice. Having to weigh off what really would be the lesser evil is in itself a compelling pastime.
More so, new episodes work with the unique decisions made in prior efforts and will remain in doing so for future events. That means that if one character died in a previous episode, the remaining squad will reminisce on what went down before and new decisions will be remembered for future reference. If Lee speaks out of turn on a particular person and they hear about it, there will be hell to pay. Naturally, this will only apply to those that survive, as once more there will be unavoidable fatalities. In fact, this episode is filled with more consequential deaths than before. It’s made clear with the very first action in the game, leading an axe down into a skull: The time for pleasantries is long gone in The Walking Dead. All that remains is death.
It’s all about story in this game and Telltale delivers that in superlative amounts. As the previous episode already created a near perfect introduction to characters, Starved for Help in turn starts scooping out the full character traits and reinforces personalities for good or worse. This overlaps the absence of social control with the remnants of other unwritten social laws that can still create awkward situations. Even if the storyline itself can go down a known path, it’s those subtleties where reactions remain unexpected that truly layer this adventure into an even better tale. It’s hard to believe it can be improved from here on out, but Starved for Help reveals a tip of the veil with more disturbing topics. The icing of the gory cake is that all these topics of social decay and humane monstrosity click within the realm and all present an added value to the realism of the situation. Even if shock value runs high in The Walking Dead, this is a matter of reality being stranger than fiction. Mankind can be a deranged creature and it takes the worst of times to bring out the worst in us all.
If it weren’t for the systematic glitches in the game dropping the immersion level down a notch, this game could pass as a prime example for visual novels everywhere. Unfortunately, presentation is a large piece of the pie when gameplay content is light. Fortunately though, this cartoony horror story packs a lot more disturbing scenes and takes away the fluff to create a captivating, streamlined story that keeps players interested and petrified at the same time. Now, if the next episode manages to even surpass that, then the gaming world is in for one mind blowing treat. It’s getting there, one step at a time.
|The Walking Dead is ramping up to become a stellar narrative in video games. Though there are still kinks, it's steadily buffing all flaws out and replacing that with more intelligent design within the visual novel spectrum. If this is a trend that will continue, than we can only imagine just how satisfying the conclusion will be. If anything, this unique adventure based on consequence piques interest for one more episode. Always leave them craving for more.|