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Walking Dead – Episode 2: Starved for Help – Review

The odd thing about the zombie genre, whether it be in film, book or graphic novel, is that the focus isn’t on the ghouls. From Zombie Flesh Eaters to Rec, it’s not the undead that are dissected but the living. How humans interact when pushed to their uttermost limits, what an individual will do to survive, and why selfless sacrifices are made – It is these central questions about ourselves that are at the core of the zombie genre’s rotting heart.

This has rarely been the case in gaming however, with the Left 4 Dead series supplying us with hordes of zombies and epic set pieces, whilst Resident Evil presents horrifying imaginations of zombies wielding chainsaws – it has been closer to Dead Snow than 28 Days Later. But in Episode One of Telltale’s Walking Dead there were glimpses of those core questions about humanity as Lee and Clementine teamed up with Kenny’s family and Lilly’s group of survivors. When the lights went down on the debut episode, we were left wondering which direction lay ahead for our rag-tag bunch.

Yet again Telltale capture creator Robert Kirkman’s vision of the Walking Dead world, opening with Lee and new member Mark hunting in the woods. Just like Lee’s background, Mark’s story is subtly told in the mature storytelling already established. In a montage reminiscent of Rick and Shane’s hunting in an early episode of the comics, we learn more about the world, the group and how Mark joined. It becomes apparent that food is scare, and tempers are running just as low as fear for the future sets in. Just like Kirkman, the developers don’t let us get too comfortable before throwing excitement and a moral dilemma into the fore.

Your decisions won’t only affect Lee, but his fellow survivors who have made a home at the motel where the first episode ended. Within the first half an hour the decisions and alliances established in the previous outing are evident. Kenny, Lilly and Larry (not to mention Doug and Carly) will respond to Lee depending on how they have been treated, showing you how you have made an impact on these people’s lives and the narrative. However you don’t have total reigns on the direction of the story: you can alter the details, but just as in Mass Effect you can see the strings of the puppet master pulling you towards the chaos.

The longer you spend with the group, the more you’ll want to protect them. Despite Larry being a pain, you’ll begin to understand his concerns, you’ll want to comfort Kenny as the stress of being a father and a husband gets on top of him, and of course you are pulled towards Clementine, who longs for her parents. When these people you care about are brought into contact with other groups of survivors this instinct to protect only grows. Just like Lilly and Kenny, each new character is flawed: in a good way. There is not good and bad here: each new individual has their own concerns, preoccupations and desires. How those concerns mix with yours is where the drama lies. Whether you are a Mother Teresa who will openly trust all those around you, or you reject every threat with hostility that Tony Montana would be proud of, when you are introduced to a peaceful rural paradise and the promise of food, the hope that your group may at last catch a break will spark in your mind.

Despite the immersion the characters bring, the illusion does break occasionally. Again and again Lee is forced down paths, despite the impression that you have a choice: well in many cases you don’t – but as we said in the last review, much of the joy comes from how you do things, rather than what you do. At other times loading delays in dialogue or stuttering cut scenes are simply irritating; especially considering this was a rarity in the opening episode.

Although once the episode starts to heat up, you won’t notice these glitches, instead the intrigue and tension building up will take all your attention; from running for your life, to whispered conspiracy. Will you delve deeper into suspicious clues, or turn your back on paranoid ramblings? By the end of the episode you’ll have journeyed through a rollercoaster that emulates the best of the Walking Dead series. Conversations options and A or B choices aside, the drama and storytelling is some of the best in gaming this year – and will leave you with a greater understanding of the efforts people will go to survive – and just maybe, how far you would go.

9/10

For more on all things gaming stay tuned to Koku Gamer. For more on the Walking Dead check out Telltale’s trailer for Episode 2 below.

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