I really hate that I’ve stopped reviewing TV shows for this blog like I did in the past. There was a time where 2/3 of my post on any given week were for the various TV programs I was watching. However, with work and school (and the fact that I just started writing a screenplay), I just don’t have the time anymore. I barely have the time to do my Song of the Days, movies, and the occasional video game. But the reason why I’m sad I stopped doing my TV reviews is that so far, this fall’s line-up of TV has been pretty great. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed Glee this consistently, and Dexter‘s the best it’s been since Season 4. Throw in a phenomenal season premiere for The Walking Dead last night, and now is as good a time as ever to be writing about television. Seriously, the premiere for The Walking Dead was excellent and it gives me hope that this season will learn from the mistakes of last year.
This, of course, segways into the fact that I played Episode 2, “Starved for Help,” of The Walking Dead video game. It was only yesterday that I put up a post for A New Day so it should be no surprise that I’ve been really enjoying the series if I’ve already played a second episode (of the four that are currently out before episode five closes out the initial season). If you want an overview of how the series plays out, check out my initial review here, and if you haven’t played Episode 1 yet, avoid this post because there will be some minor spoilers. Although Starved for Help gets off to a slower start than its predecessor (which began in fairly explosive fashion), Episode 2 proves to be a classic horror thriller which continues the franchise’s trend of forcing the player to make seemingly impossible decisions even if the game play itself remains as simple as before.
After Lee, Clementine, and your fellow survivors escaped the drug store at the end of A New Day, they found a motel which they turned into temporary shelter. Three months have passed since the end of Episode 1, and tensions are starting to flare again as the group’s food supply has finally run out. Earlier, the group picked up a new survivor, Mark, who had food but it’s now a week away from being gone. The vitriol between Lily, the group’s de facto leader, and Kenny, a father with his son and wife, is at a boiling point over whether it’s time to move on. When the group stumbles upon a high school teacher caught in a bear trap (while two of his students panic), they have even more mouths to feed and things only get more complicated when two brothers from a local dairy farm show up at the motel offering food in exchange for gasoline.
The series continues to force the players to make excruciatingly difficult decisions, and between Episode 1 and Episode 2 now, Lee will become even more of an imprint of the player’s personality. Although certain outcomes turn out to apparently be inevitable, I’ve never once felt forced to have Lee take an action that I didn’t want over the course of the story. Well, that’s not entirely true. I think perhaps Lee and crew were a little slow on the uptake over the course of certain scenes but maybe I just made the wrong decisions for them to be more suspicious early on. One early (non-spoilery) moment has Lily getting angry with Lee and forcing him to ration the food for the day when there’s only four pieces of available food and ten mouths to feed. If that doesn’t make you feel like comic book Rick Grimes, I don’t know what will. And later on, I was presented with one of the most difficult moral decisions of the series so far and made the decision that I thought would keep myself and my group alive (even if it might have been morally wrong).
The episode begins by continuing to explore the group dynamics of our often incompatible and volatile groups of survivors. Larry’s still sort of an asshole (with a point). Lily has control issues. Kenny can be a selfish prick (though to protect his wife and kid). And Lee becomes more of the man that you want him to be. And the series really plays with how you perceive these characters as people you may have liked and sided with in Episode 1 suddenly start acting in less than heroic ways. After these initial development scenes though, Starved for Help slowly ramps up the tension and horror until Episode 2 becomes more scary and disturbing than anything you saw in the first episode. This one goes to a really dark place, and it catches on the theme from the TV series that our fellow man is more dangerous to our survivors than the Walkers ever could be, and sometimes, these threats come from within the group.
The episode isn’t perfect and the game play is still frustratingly simple (and one puzzle only stumped me for a minute or two because I wasn’t thinking of the game in typical point and click adventure game terms), but Starved for Help continues the strong blend of storytelling that has become this franchise’s trademark. Yeah, I think our group was sort of dumb about trusting certain people and not picking up on some weird vibes that were pretty noticeable, but it wouldn’t be horror if people didn’t realize a threat until it’s too late. And what a horror it is. If it weren’t for the fact that I work tomorrow evening, I would probably dive straight into Episode 3. As it is, I may have to wait a day or two. That’s okay though. I think I could use the chance to mull over my decisions a little bit and think about what the consequences are going to be for every tough choice I made. Few games have ever made me do this.
Final Score: B+