Xbox 360
4.5 stars
List Price
$5.00
Microsoft Points
Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Game Itself
4.5 Stars
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
3.5 Stars
The Audio: Rating the Sound
4 Stars
Replay Factor
4.5 Stars

The Walking Dead: Episode 2 - Starved For Help

Street Date:
June 27th, 2012
Reviewed by:
Chad Goodmurphy
Review Date:1
July 5th, 2012
Game Release Year:
2012
Platform:
Xbox 360
Publisher:
Telltale Games
Developer:
Telltale Games
ESRB Rating:
M (Mature)

Editor's Notes

Those who read this review should have already played The Walking Dead: Episode 1 - A New Day.

Introduction

After beginning its life in print, Robert Kirkman’s zombie epic, The Walking Dead, has become a pop culture success over three mediums. First came its grotesque television adaptation, and then an interactive video game followed, providing us gamers with a window into the zombie apocalypse that only Telltale Games could have ever created.

Mixing intense dramatic moments with cringe worthy and incredibly difficult moral choices, The Walking Dead: Episode 1 – A New Day wowed the gaming community when it debuted on our favourite digitally enabled platforms in April. Though, as impressive as it was, it became obvious that the inaugural episode’s elements were just a tease of what would follow. After all, this is a five part series that promises to blow fans of the franchise away with a progressive storyline that is designed to build upon the choices players make.

Enter The Walking Dead: Episode 2 – Starved For Help, which recently shambled its way towards Xbox LIVE Arcade, the PlayStation Network and Steam.

The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

With The Walking Dead: Episode 1, Telltale Games’ talented members were able to build upon one of the company’s strongest suits: the development of point and click adventure games. By choosing to take a stroll down a digital route that had not been travelled much, if at all, by digital flesh-eaters, the company created something unique. That is, an experience which doesn’t have to throw hordes of zombies at players in order to create tension. Not to mention one which is able to succeed without employing first-person shooter mechanics. For that, they deserve applause.

Now that the game’s much-anticipated second episode has launched, those of us who’ve been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to jump back into its survivors’ perilous situation now have a chance to do so. However, the group that we’re introduced to during the opening segments of Starved For Help is slightly different from the one that we left at the end of A New Day. Three months have passed since the aforementioned conclusion, and a new member has joined the fold, having traded food for a chance to stay at the group’s makeshift motel haven.

From the get-go, the new member becomes a major player. He’s shown on an excursion with the more dominant male survivors, including our assumed playable character, Lee. Out patrolling the nearby woods, the group comes across a teacher and two youthful students who need their help. That event and the choices it brings with it kick start the game’s best episode thus far.

Since The Walking Dead is such a story-driven experience, it’s important that spoilers are kept out of this synopsis. After all, there’s nothing worse than ruining a fictional work of art for someone else. With that being said, it’s still important to note that, while not much has changed at the old motel, dwindling food supplies have made suppressed emotions come to the forefront. Arguments have become a common occurrence, as some of the digital protagonists are running on fumes.

After forcing gamers to make yet another incredibly difficult decision related to the noted food shortage crisis, an opportunity presents itself. Two backwoods brothers appear outside of the group’s stopgap barriers, sending alarm throughout the parking lot. Though, as it turns out, the two apparent farmers have some sustenance to offer Lee and his hungry peers, as long as they receive something in return. It’s that chance meeting that kick starts Starved For Help, sending the group on a trip to the duo’s secluded and well-protected farm. However, looks can sometimes be deceiving, and paranoia quickly sets in. Though, whether it’s a justifiable feeling or simply a symptom of the times is something one must find out on his or her own. Spoilers be damned.

While we spent most of A New Day learning about Lee, Starved For Help is a much more group-centric episode. Its aptly titled narrative is still heavy on the relationships shared between each of the survivors, but its choices predominantly centre upon what’s best for everyone, forcing players to put common good ahead of the wishes of just one character. And, since Lee is the apparent leader of the group, whether everyone likes it or not, he’s more responsible for their safety than anyone else.

On the gameplay side of things, not much has changed in-between the two acts. Going in, one must still expect a heavy dose of dialogue-based content, where selected questions and/or responses can significantly impact the way that the game’s storyline will play out. If you make someone mad, there will be repercussions, and the same goes for some of the more dire choices that must be made. Chances to revisit choices are nonexistent, and some dialogue trees are only available for a limited time, creating realism out of tension. Plus, intrigue is also added by each episode’s final screen where players’ choices are compared to those made by the community at large.

Even though it focuses heavily upon its four-pronged dialogue tree, the amount of tension that this game delivers is almost unprecedented. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever played a game with more mature decisions than this one, which is a true testament to the quality of the experience. That’s especially true considering just how unforgettable some of the available outcomes are, with Episode 2 containing choices that significantly increase the underlying tension created by its predecessor. This is powerful stuff, folks, and it’s something that most dramatic games only aspire to.

Now, the mention of dialogue heavy gameplay may scare some gamers off, but it really shouldn’t. Though it creates a slower-paced experience than what a lot of folks are used to, that is far from a bad thing. However, that’s not to say that there’s a lack of action to be found within this second act, as that’s truly not the case. Puzzles must be solved and time-sensitive actions must be completed in order to survive, with some of those featuring physical contact. Most of the latter part of that detailed equation relies upon quick-time events and those which task players with repeatedly pressing a button. Those quick-time segments tend to make seasoned gamers groan, these ones work quite well within the design that Telltale has lovingly created.

Overall, The Walking Dead: Episode 2 – Starved For Help is an incredibly impressive achievement, which features approximately two and a half to three hours of gameplay. There’s a ton to like about the episode, as it improves upon everything that its predecessor introduced just a few months ago. There’s something for everyone, and even those who normally dislike point and click games will find themselves enthralled by what this experience offers at an affordable price point of five dollars per episode.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Instead of striving to create a realistic-looking experience, this download-only release presents the opposite, employing stylized visuals that look as if they were taken out of a graphic novel. That decision to forego realism adds a lot to the game, and has given Telltale added creative opportunities. However, though most of what’s presented here looks great, there’s something wrong under the game’s hood.

Unfortunately, technical issues currently plague this experience, making it somewhat frustrating to play. There are surprisingly frequent frame rate dips, as well as times where the game seems like it wants to freeze. It wouldn’t be as bad if the problems popped up during the storyline’s low points, but that isn’t the case. Instead, they appear when the tension is at its highest points, and affect the presentation of important scenes. Add in times where certain characters’ lip-synching animations are noticeably off, and you have a game that should have spent more time in the proverbial oven.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Being that it’s a story driven experience, The Walking Dead places a lot of emphasis on its dialogue, as well as the voice actors who deliver those written lines. Thankfully, Telltale was able to get a quality voice cast to sign up, and almost all of them deliver good performances. There are one or two characters whose lines feature noticeable overacting, but those performances don’t come anywhere close to marring the episode. With that being said, almost all of the characters still feel realistic, which is incredibly important when it comes to this type of interactive experience.

Out of the other audible ingredients that help make up this zombified cocktail, none stand out as being anywhere close to poor quality. Though, with that being said, they’re not always given a chance to shine, due to the aforementioned technical issues and their prevalence. Certain sound effects momentarily cut out whenever the game would skip a beat or lock up for a second, affecting the title’s immersion factor.

Replay Factor

As a whole, The Walking Dead will offer a high level of replay value to those who give it a chance. That’s because of the incredible amount of important choices it forces players to make. For that reason alone, most folks will be interested in going through it a second or third time in order to test out different paths by choosing dialogue options that they previously avoided. Some games try to offer this type of replay value, but few end up being of high enough quality to make players actually want to return. Though, now that we’re two incredibly strong episodes into this experience, it seems safe to confirm that this game won’t fall into that forgotten heap.

Those who hope to play through this episode more than once before Episode 3 launches will not be able to do so while using their completed save files. The progressive design elements that Telltale implemented into this project require players to keep their saves intact. That’s why the only way for one to actually replay Starved For Help would be to start from scratch with a brand new save file.

Final Thoughts

Those who crave a unique, narrative driven game, should have already purchased the first episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. That’s because it introduced one of the most memorable experiences the video game medium has ever been treated to, incorporating elements, which this second episode builds upon in impressive fashion. Frankly, if you’re a fan of dramatic fiction, horror movies and/or zombies, then this is a must buy, even if it suffers from some frustrating technical problems.

Tech Specs:

  • Digital

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 720p

Audio Formats

  • Dolby Digital 5.1

Motion Controls

  • No

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List Price
$5.00
Microsoft Points