We’ve been told that the choices we make in The Walking Dead game will matter all the way through to the last episode. Consequences carry through in dialog and in action, and feed into our understanding of both the world and the character of Lee, who remains, two episodes in, a relative enigma beyond the decisions the player has explicitly made for him. With this in mind, the start of Episode 2 will, for those who encounter the same glitch that I did, reveal a rather frustrating flaw in the system Telltale has devised.
When my episode started up, a character who had died in Episode 1 – one who had died, no less, because I had chosen to prioritise someone else’s life over his – was still very much alive and well. The character I had saved was presumably off elsewhere, moaning sadly and pining for human brains. The issue wasn’t simply that the game had messed up my choice. That can (and probably will) be patched.
Ultimately it’s the sort of thing I can begrudgingly learn to live with as long as it’s a one-time incident, and detracted from the experience less than I would have expected it to. What bothered me was that my immediate reaction wasn’t to get angry that the game had screwed up, but rather to second-guess myself. Had I really killed this guy? Who was
the other character? Why had I let her live instead? Could it be that I simply misremembered the events I played through back in April?
This is a potential issue resulting from the game’s episodic structure, which means that, right now, you can’t immediately see the fallout of your actions. We’ll be revisiting the game as a whole when Episode 5 comes out, but who knows whether we’ll remember what other choices we made in Episode 1 by then? This isn’t Mass Effect, where your major choices are part of a sprawling week of space adventuring – you’ll need to remember very specific details about how you spent two hours several months prior.
But critiqued on its individual merits, Starved For Help is another success, nailing comic author Robert Kirkman’s uneasy vibe. Human societies must, it seems, inevitably boil over into full-blown amorality in the wake of a zombie apocalypse. The old cliché is that the people are the real monsters of any zombie flick, and that’s certainly true here. This episode starts a full three months after the first, and sees the rag-tag bunch of survivors heading to a nearby dairy farm in search of food and protection, while simultaneously dealing with nearby bandit camps. Without spoiling anything, Starved for Help takes some seriously creepy turns, and really ramps up the horror. It’s clearer here than it was in the previous episode why the series has not been submitted for classification in Australia. This is actually a pretty harrowing outing, with moments of extreme violence that are sudden, unexpected and brutal.
As before, the focus isn’t on conversations, not puzzles (of which there are basically none). The dialog is actually better written than the vast majority of exchanges in the comics, and the moments of intrigue and action are far more exciting than anything the TV show has offered up. The way you treat the major choices in the narrative actually allow for some interesting characterisation too – I’m personally crafting Lee as a man who mostly does the right thing, but who has, as of the end of this episode, unwittingly started the inevitable downward moral shift that Kirkman’s characters always seem to have. I can’t wait to see how that’s going to pan out.
Starved for Help tells a better story than A New Day did, but the sparse puzzles and that one huge glitch hold it back from being a huge improvement. The Walking Dead remains Telltale’s most promising work, although these series often start to see a downward shift around the midway point. Let’s hope that’s not the case with this one.