When the Dead Walk, It’s the Living You Should Fear
A Video Game Review for The Walking Dead Game: Episode 2 ”˜Starved for Help’
By: Lawrence Napoli
As much as I enjoyed episode 1 of this digital game series, there is no question that the second installment dials up the creepy, grotesque and confrontation elements of people surviving the zombie apocalypse by a factor of 10. “Amazing,” is the one word I’d use to describe Starved for Help, but I am beginning to notice some unfortunate commonalities this game shares with others that claim “your choice really matters.” More like, “the illusion of your choice might matter” which is proven by the player’s inability to alter the outcome of major plot points as a result of choosing a different path.
[[wysiwyg_imageupload:2086:]]Before I get into the goodies of episode 2, I must share with you all more complaints over the unprofessional manner in which TellTale Games is distributing this current project of theirs. For those not in the know, the first episode of this game was released back on April 24th with the promise of new episodes to be released monthly. When it took just over two months for episode 2’s premier (it was released yesterday) the internet was set ablaze via gamer anger and resentment over a basic expectation that saw zero follow through from the developer. Fast forwarding to yesterday, after much anticipation and frustration, episode 2 was finally available to be downloaded off the Playstation Network. I downloaded the file, installed it and loaded up one of my saves to continue my adventure with Lee Everett. But then the game stopped the loading process and exited out to the PS3’s main menu as if I had quite the game, ALL BY ITSELF. I’ve owned the PS3 since day 1 of its release and this is behavior I’ve never witnessed out of the machine despite having suffered through the infamous PSN (hack-induced) outage in addition to the YLOD (Yellow Light Of Death) on my original ”˜fatty’ 60 gig system.
Perplexed, I figured to reattempt the download and reinstall the software because that’s everyone’s go-to trouble shooting technique for all technology. No luck. After my third attempt I would easily describe my negatively charged energy as (to quote Vincent Vega) “a racecar in the red!” So I jumped on the phone (who uses those anymore?) to contact customer service for PSN [1-800-345-SONY] and I sought to track down some answers. I don’t know if I was just extremely lucky, or if Sony simply knows how to properly employ their customer service phone lines, but 2 out of the 2 times I had to speak with a human representative, I got American sounding people for which communication was seamless. Their first suggestion was to go under the system settings option in the PS3 menu to disable the connection to the media servers which may have corrupted the file during download. That didn’t work. They then suggested deleting the entire game from the hard drive and re-downloading all relevant game files (that would be the demo, episode 1 and episode 2). Bingo! So for any of you out there still struggling with this game, the answer is purging and don’t worry, your save files will not be affected.
I don't remember the Bates Motel having this many technical difficulties.
The point of this lengthy intro is to communicate how TellTale has mismanaged this game thus far, despite having produced a gem of a game. The problem was definitely on their end because when I purged and restored, the network prompted me to download an update patch which did not happen for the episode 2 file by itself. Perhaps it is a problem for everyone having purchased the season pass for $19.99, but if I have to repeat this procedure for every future episode, I will be extremely disappointed. I’m thinking that this is the first IP developed by TellTale that consumers have been completely ravenous over so perhaps they are not used to this level of demand. This leads to management acting more like nervous fools pressuring programmers for faster results yielding a less than ideal product. This speculation has not been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, but simply getting this game into the hands of gamers has been shaky at best.
As for the game, it certainly does not waste any time throwing the player back into “the sh*t.” After a brief cut scene reviewing the player’s key decisions from episode 1, Lee Everett’s gotta get his hands dirty immediately and often for the duration of Starved for Help. Although the first episode eluded to the perceived danger of other survivors, this is the prevalent issue for the entirety of episode 2. Finally, the player is getting knee deep into the unique harshness of Robert Kirkman’s zombie apocalypse and the new rules are as follows: 1) zombies are a constant threat, but never the immediate one, 2) bites don’t turn people and 3) developing trust requires more than just trading favors. Knowing this, I was very hesitant about all of the new characters I was introduced to despite their well mannered demeanors and helpful attitudes. My Lee Everett already has plenty of issues with people he already knows that are somewhat gunning for him within the group. Additional wildcards will only complicate things. Some of these concerns were justified while others were misplaced. Trust is in short supply at this point in the story, but desperation (particularly the need for edible food) tends to force people’s hands.
This doesn't look threatening in any way, shape or form.
Characters inside the player’s initial group have a little more exposition as well as bonding or conflicting moments with Lee which does much to raise the stakes for any danger the player runs into, of which there will be plenty. I like that there’s a lot more action involved in this episode whether its combat or running from trouble, but the overall pace of this episode remains as methodical as the first, so don’t expect a drastic change. The one change that seemed undeniable was the darker tone combined with the proximity of the children in Lee’s group to the increased level of horror.
Gameplay and Functionality
There are no new challenges to the required coordination for gameplay in episode 2, but there are certainly new difficulties navigating this chapter that wasn’t nearly as much of an issue for episode 1. Starved for Help is very glitchy or laggy which has Lee getting stuck on corners, taking indirect paths to speak with people and investigate environments as well as having several awkward delays between transition scenes. As a result, this gives the episode a very choppy feel which does the player no favors considering snap reflexes are much more important to survive this time around. Again, what the player is called to do (whether it’s button-mashing, targeting or movement) is not difficult in and of itself. However, if the game lags, the player has lost precious tenths of a second that will determine the difference between victory and defeat. This is an issue that may lead to some impromptu deaths, but is less of a deal-breaker and more of a growing concern for less than precise programming.
The real danger is that my feet are actually glued to these stairs.
I find it very interesting how this game continues to feature an inventory indication on the screen with no player ability to interact with that inventory as he or she sees fit. Yes, some items are necessary to trigger the next scene, but not everything Lee’s possession accomplishes this. What would make for more dynamic gameplay is for the player to be allowed to use different items in the inventory for situations that may not seem like it would be useful so as to present more options for reaching the goal. For instance: [and this example doesn’t happen in the game, so no spoiler alert necessary] if Lee is held at gunpoint in a small, enclosed room and he only has a piece of rope and a pencil in his inventory, using one or the other combined with a convenient environmental distraction could set him free, or get him killed. This game seems to be too reliant on whatever props are immediately available in the current scene to win, which dilutes any perceived importance the player may place on investigating every corner and examining every item leading up to designated “moments of truth.”
Episode 2 Starved for Help is an excellent follow up to A New Day. Unfortunately, with all the problematic logistics behind the production and distribution of this game, I am forced to debate whether the wait was actually worth it. Don’t get me wrong. The story is engrossing, the characters have depth and the ability to choose (illusion or otherwise) is still a compelling gameplay mechanic, but there’s an awful lot of time in between the release dates of these episodes. I feel the impact of the story is being lessened by its fragmented presentation. This interactive drama is just too good to be consumed piecemeal that I am now recommending interested gamers to save their money until every episode is available to play.
And I do highly recommend everyone to (eventually) give this game a play through as these very unique, Kirkman-esque social commentaries really make me think. Upon digesting everything I witnessed at the end of Starved for Help, it made me consider the concept of desperation in general. Is it something human beings simply cop-out to so as to act on raw emotion or is it a natural and justifiable survival instinct? The evolution of mankind suggests taking steps away from “the animal” to find new, innovative and previously unconsidered methods of problem solving; independent of the situation while pragmatic necessity rarely leaves people the time to weigh their options and consider alternatives.
This is the allure of well written zombie fiction as it is not as immediate or decisive as war or natural disasters, but as an equally dangerous peril that needs to be circumvented in order to survive. The manner in which an individual circumvents reveals a strength (or lack of) character which remains to be seen if such a thing matters when civilization ends. This is what makes Robert Kirkman’s pristine exploration of humanity in The Walking Dead a journey into the proverbial heart of darkness not because evil, death and depravity are at the center, but because we are fearful for not being certain that we won’t succumb to them when put to the test. Lee Everett certainly gets put to the test in Starved for Help. What will you make him do?