The wait for the next entry of Telltale's "The Walking Dead" was almost unbearable. If you checked out our review of the first episode back in April, you probably noticed we were just a little smitten with the game's powerful narrative and pacing. But as the credits rolled on the freshman outing of "Walking Dead," there was just one nagging question: could Telltale keep you on the edge of your seat with each subsequent episode?
Amazingly, the next chapter in Lee Everett and company's perilous journey is even more intriguing than the first – a frequently gut-wrenching, occasionally touching walk through a world gone to hell.
Picking up the story three months after the events of episode one, "Walking Dead: Episode 2 – Starved For Help" finds the protagonists in a similar state as when you last saw them. The gang is still holed up in a – mediocre, at best – location, trying to figure out the best way to survive. You're once again forced to make difficult decisions, choosing who among your group will actually survive, and fending off the occasional walker from devouring your brains.
Much like Robert Kirkman's comic series, Telltale's "Walking Dead" doesn't bother holding back any punches. The first episode, "A New Day," certainly had its share of tense sequences, but the shock-value is ratcheted up in "Starved For Help." And that's not even entirely in reference to the twist near the end of this episode's story arc (which fans of the comics will likely see coming, anyway).
One particular moment is so brutal, so sudden, you'll probably sit there staring at the screen for a moment or two; I was taken aback. But what's far more interesting than the obvious sense of horror at the bloody, inevitable consequences of a complete societal breakdown, is what the scene will tell you about yourself, the player. As I sat there, forced to look at the carnage, I didn't feel remorse – I felt relieved. Relieved another computer-controlled character carried out what I couldn't do, that it wasn't my problem anymore. A strange set of emotions to experience through a videogame, indeed.
Violence isn't necessarily gratuitous in "Walking Dead." Beyond the gore's intent in affecting the player in direct response to previous choices, there's an underlying impact on Lee's relationship with his ward, Clementine. Maybe it's because I'm a parent myself, but as the timer slowly shrinks under the options of dialog and action, I'm stressed how the outcome will affect the little girl.
Killing off this threat may seem like the right choice for the safety of the group – but what will Clementine think if she witnesses your savagery? Will she lose trust, or is this an opportunity to teach her the realities of a harsh, new environment? Keep in mind, you'll have to make judgements like these in a matter of seconds, and there will be ramifications, despite your reasoning.
You may notice a lack of negativity in this review. Try as I might, finding faults in "The Walking Dead" is extremely difficult. Sure, it's not the most technically advanced videogame on the market (Telltale's engine is showing its age), but that's also not really the point. "Walking Dead" is all about the experience, the story, and living with the consequences of decisions for which there may not be a "right" choice. If part of what we're seeking as gamers is to escape to another universe, to immerse ourselves in drama and action, there are few better examples.
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