Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Walking Dead: Starved For Help Review

The second episode of The Walking Dead has a lot to live up to with the high standard set by the premiere episode. It does manage to live up to most expectations, and creates a solid game that is a worthy successor.

This game takes place months after the events of the first episode.  The future is not looking as bright as it once was.  In the time that lapsed, the group has taken in another survivor in trade for material needed for survival, and the supply is running out.  Tensions are high, and there is unrest among the group in regards to what is best for their survival.

In contrast to the previous game, which set up the story at the beginning, this episode opens right into the action even before the opening credits roll.  You are once again given a choice, and that choice leads to a slightly different scenario that plays out after the opening.  Unlike the last episode, your choice doesn't lead to a radically different version of events, although there are subtle changes between the two scenarios.  The last episode's tough choice also plays out rather tamely in this episode.  The character you chose isn't given a large part to play in the episode either way until the end, and both end up doing essentially the same thing, albeit using their vastly different abilities.

There are new choices to be made in this episode, although the consequences of your choices aren't shown by the episode's end.  Instead, this episode's strengths come from the great writing and excellent voice performances supporting the dialog.  The Walking Dead has always been about examining about what real life human beings will do when they are put in a situation of almost certain death.  This episode really shines in that area.  Some people handle things well, some people have outbursts of anger, and others just snap.

In this episode, a new area is explored, as are a host of new characters.  The group meets a group of dairy farmers and are invited to replenish their strength at the farm in exchange for some materials the farm needs.  The interactions between the group and the outsiders are at the core of the story, as is an outside group that is introduced early on and comes to play at the end of the episode (and, presumably in a future episode as well).

It is nice to have a new area to explore.  The first episode felt a little confined, although understandably so, given the circumstances.  There still isn't a lot of roaming to do here, as the areas of the farm that are safe enough for exploration are still small, but there is a lot of optional things to do here.  Like last episode, there is a completely optional adventure puzzle and optional dialog to be had with both your group and the newcomers.  Since the adventure puzzles are still light here in favor of the action and the brief QTE's, it's nice that there are few optional things to do that will both satisfy adventure game veterans and give more insight into the characters' personalities if the player puts forth the extra effort.  I'm not sure about the optional puzzle in this episode at this point, but last episode's optional puzzle does pay off in dialog in one branching path at the end of this episode.

The art direction once again is impressive.  It continues to capture the spirit of the art of the comics, and looks great in motion.  The backgrounds of the new location and the slight change to previous locations looks very nice, and really sets the mood of the game well.  I don't think I mentioned this last episode, but it's certainly worth saying: the animation is vastly improved over Back to the Future and Jurassic Park. The characters have much less stiff movements, and their vocal expressions are much more believable and convey the mood of the characters in this grim world very well.

Like last episode. the voice over work and music shines.  The returning characters are voiced very well, handling all the emotion of the situation as well as the actors in AMC's live-action The Walking Dead televison series.  The new characters are given very memorable personalities and dialog, and their vocal performances are a large part of that memorable quality.  Bay Area Sound and Jared-Emerson Johnson once again do a great job with the soundtrack, setting the mood for the game's setting through the sound.

The second episode of The Walking Dead continues Telltale on a path towards making this season one of the best games they have ever made.  The choices don't have as much effect here as in the first episode (although the choices you make here are likely to matter in a future episode).  But, Telltale makes up for it with a very memorable story, great music and excellent voice overs.  There aren't very many adventure puzzles, but like last episode, the puzzles that are there are interesting, and the characters and art style are interesting as well.  Starved For Help is just as good as it's predecessor.  It truly is one of the best games Telltale has made, not just in recent memory, but to date.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

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