Telltale Games released the first episode in their adventure game The Walking Dead months ago. Due to some of their past titles not panning out despite hype from the studio this time around it seems like Telltale may have finally found their groove with this game set in the zombie apocalypse world created by critically-acclaimed comic book author Robert Kirkman. With the first episode, A New Day, the company was able to capture the chaos and danger of the early days that was only hinted at in the comic book and in the AMC tv series.
That first episode introduced gamers to the two main characters that would be the focus of this horror-adventure title. Lee Everett and Clementine were characters rare in licensed video games in that they’re original to the title and also one of the better written and realized fictional characters in gaming. The first episode did a great job in setting up these two characters and the world that some thought the problems that has plagued Telltale Games with their episodic titles would pop up once more: great beginnings that would fizzle out with each new episode.
I’m happy to say that episode 2, Starved For Help, doesn’t fall in Telltale Games’ past pattern. In fact, this latest episode in the game actually builds on the strength of the first episode and improves upon what made it fun and very good while minimizing some of the flaws with that initial episode. We find Lee, Clementine and the survivors of the first episode (how a player made their decisions on who lives or dies in the first episode will determine the roster for episode 2) still at the motel complex from the first episode. They’ve been largely kept safe at their makeshift haven but the prospect of dwindling supplies has forced Lee and the group to venture out into the surrounding forest to forage for food. It’s during one such foraging mission that the group comes across another group that would kick-off the story for Starved For Help.
Telltale Games doesn’t try to recap too much of the first episode in this follow-up, but does let the dialogue between Lee and others remind gamers about their decisions in the first episode and how it has affected the situation Lee and his group has itself in. The addition of some new members to the group doesn’t feel forced but actually feel quite welcome as it helps keep the growing rift between two factions in the group from becoming too static. In fact, this episode actually makes some of the decisions made by characters we initially found to be on our side to be counter-productive and dangerous while those who came off as too rigid and confrontational end up being more sympathetic.
It’s during these dialogue sequences where players once again have a timed-limit to make their dialogue choices and decisions that The Waling Deadcontinue to impress. Once again players must make their dialogue-choices from four choices that doesn’t really come off as evil, good, indifferent, etc. It’s up to the player to determine just exactly which dialogue answer best fit the sort of game they’re playing. I’ve played through both episodes trying out myriad of choices available to me and with each and every different choices the game plays out much differently, but still continues to straddle the grey area. There’s no good or bad decision and it’s what makes this game’s dialogue-mechanic so much better than most games that use something similar.
The action part of the episode has some tweaks to QTE (quick time event) combat mechanic that makes targeting a tad better than what was available in the first episode, but this part of the game still remains the weakest link in what has so far been a stellar game. After just two episode I wouldn’t be surprised if most fans of the title just wish for the QTE’s to go away and let actions in future episode be determined by dialogue choices. It would definitely help keep the gamer’s from being pulled out of the narrative immersion they find themselves in.
Starved For Help is a great example of how a studio can learn from it’s past mistakes and improve on the template they’ve decided on from the beginning. Even the story that unfolds in episode 2 is a huge improvement from the first episode that was very good to begin with. We see Telltale Games handle the themes of survival vs living, moral grey areas in an apocalyptic world and survival at the cost of others with deft hands that best exemplifies what has been great about the comic book series. There’s been times when the narrative in the game actually comes off as more subtle and less exposition-heay than Kirkman’s own writing which for some is an improvement in itself.
With two episode now released it’s going to be interesting if Telltale Games can continue their new found groove of keeping things consistently good to great which their past games didn’t seem to have. Now three episodes remain and from the ending of episode 2 the group has found a new reprieve from their dire problem of low supplies, but at a cost that may come back to haunt Lee, Clementine and others.