[Editor’s note: Since I doubt that you’re jumping into the series with Episode 2, you should probably read our review of Episode 1 for reference. In it, I give a broader look at the game’s design and charm, as well as how it actually plays. Now that you know what this game is, I’ll just be telling you how good/bad each episode is.]
I said it before and I’ll say it again: Telltale’s The Walking Dead is episodic gaming done right. Episode 2—Starved for Help—is a fitting title, seeing as fans of the first episode were extremely vocal about their hunger for the second game. I can tell you right now that this episode is better than the first. It would’ve got a higher score, too, if the first one wasn’t such a great introduction to the world. It’s far more brutal, better paced, and thrilling. The best part? It has almost nothing to do with zombies.
Fast-forwarding three months ahead of where we left off in episode 1, episode 2 starts off with Lee and Kenny hunting for food in the woods. As always, I’ll steer clear of spoilers, but something may or may not happen within the first minute that leads to an absolutely brutal start to the episode. Telltale sets a darker, grimmer tone for episode 2 almost immediately by virtually saying: “Oh, you thought you had to make hard decisions last time? Get a load of this…”
You’ll see the choices you made in A New Day carry over to Starved for Help nicely, and after being reintroduced to your posse of survivors, again, you’ll be tasked with making a heart-aching decision. This time, it’s about whom in your crew gets the final rations (more like scraps) of food. You don’t have enough for everyone, so you have to make the call on who gets fed, and who continues on hungry.
This was such a grueling decision for me to make. Due to the realism and human-like personalities of each character, I actually cared and felt bad for those that wouldn’t get to eat. I spoke to every co-survivor, and actually used logic, emotion, and diplomacy to make my decisions. When it was all said and done, I zoned out and said to myself: “holy crap, I legitimately care about some of these virtual on-screen characters.” The game immediately gives you feedback on your decisions by having members of your group react to your choices. And just when you think you’re in the clear, boom: action sequence.
That actually brings me to my next point about the game, its pacing. Whether it was a tense conversation or a downright disturbing scene, Starved for Help always hit the right beats at the right times—I wasn’t bored for a second.
Even without many zombies, episode 2 was still gruesome. It’s all about the cruelty of humans trying to survive alongside other humans, all the while showing you just how many shades of grey (more than 50) there can be in your moral choices. That’s right; you don’t need a best-selling book to teach you this, just The Walking Dead game.
Gameplay remains the same in episode 2, but with even less action sequences. If you’ve played episode 1, you know how to play Starved for Help. The left analog stick is used to walk Lee around, you aim over interactive objects or people with the right analog stick, and choose your actions with the face buttons.
In terms of presentation, Starved for Help is pretty much the same, save for even more noticeable frame rate hitches and choppy animations. The audio was at times a little out of sync, but not so much that it detracted from my enjoyment. It’s not such a big issue when the frame rate does take a hit, but in a game like this where presentation is crucial, it’ll be a very bad thing if this gets worse in coming episodes.
Even with less action sequences, Starved for Help ends up being more entertaining than A New Day just by continuing to evolve your story and characters, which have been tailored to your decisions. Most of the episode is spent investigating and building up a mystery. Sure, the build-up is at times a little hokey, often almost being too obvious, but the payoff is worth it, if only for the two un-related plot twists at the end alone.
I had just as much fun discussing my unique adventure—and the plot twists—with friends, co-workers, and even Twitter followers, as I did playing the game. Just like episode 1, Starved for Help is about 2-3 hours long, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Priced at $4.99, it’s pretty much impossible to not recommend, especially if you enjoyed the first episode.
There is, however, one thing I absolutely hate about this series: the wait for the next episode.