Legs. Do you like your legs? What would you do to preserve your legs?
Good, hold that thought. If you've come for a review of the dynamics, idiosyncrasies or likewise of the episodic Walking Dead game series then you might be better off looking here. If, however, you have completed the first episode or are simply spoiling for spoilers (note: there are spoilers) then read on. You will be glad to hear that Starved For Help is, dare I say it, even more enthralling than the first episode in what is fast becoming the landmark series of the year.
As you would expect, my interpretation of Starved For Help may be different to yours. Who did I save? Who did I leave to be ravaged by the walkers? Did I feed the children, or did I search for batteries for the radio instead? The results are really immaterial (hungry children aside); what matters instead is how the developers have managed to keep the drive of the series going despite the month or so delay since the last episode. Although risky, the strength of the story-telling means that the delay is forgiven; previous affections and resentments reside as strong as ever, barely forgotten despite the respite.
The great film-maker Werner Herzog once said that only by catching the true spirit of humanity can a director make a claim for greatness. The same can certainly be said of Telltale Games' approach to the Walking Dead. Whatever difficult situations and compromises the first episode threw at you seem manifest now. Decisions have to be made on the cuff and in incredibly compromising positions, and more often than not neither outcome is satisfactory. Like the comic book, the Walking Dead game series makes a great show about effectively playing humanity to see how it will react to the most extreme of circumstances. You may be surprised by what you found out about yourself.
Whereas Episode One set the scene of the adventure, Starved for Help paints the portrait, showing the true colours of this dark and cynical world Lee and his fellow survivors are forced to contend with. What starts off as a quest for food soon becomes a tale of trust, trepidation, false pretences, and worse. By the end, you truly know what kind of adventure you have taken on. The story is well-balanced and frighteningly believable. With the scene-setting out the way in Episode One, Telltale have been able to spin out a cracking yarn of almost fableistic nature, a tale which could easily stand on its own two feet as a crunching survival yarn, but leaves enough spare material to be spread out over a few more episodes at least.
Gameplay-wise, nothing has changed since the first incarnation. A mixture of exploration, interrogation and action, the pace is more frenzied here and the calm-before-the-storm moments even more pronounced. Before you suspected something bad was going to happen; now, like your characters, you are experienced enough to suspect everything and trust no-one. This is a dangerous world, and you are very edible (and not just to the walkers). By involving the player in every action, whether speech, shooting or merely opening a gate, one is entirely engulfed by the experience. Likewise, the graphics and audio are as outstanding as ever; the actors are pitch perfect, whereas the faux-cartoon effects, akin to Waltz With Bashir, stand starkly against the striking humanity of the piece.
The Walking Dead: Episode Two – Starved For Help is a stunning example of dramatic gameplay. Distressingly human, utterly gripping and extremely playable, it takes what was great about the first episode and focuses it, producing a horrific noir that Hitchcock would be proud of. Although such episodic content is difficult to score – one must keep in mind the previous effort but also its individual credibility – I can only recommend that you take a step back and play the previous episode. To not do so would not only ruin the story but also dampen the glory of this eminently invigorating sequel. Those new to the series are in for a treat; old hands already know what fruit is offered. Either way, Starved For Help confirms The Walking Dead to be the best new IP available on download-only systems and one of the most human experiences videogaming has to offer. Need I say more?