The human element
The first episode of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead was somewhat of a shock to everyone. Coming off of the less than impressive Jurassic Park game, I don’t think people had great expectations for The Walking Dead. Here was yet another zombie related game coming from a developer whose style of game was, perhaps unfortunately, dying off. Yet episode one released to much critical and consumer appraise. While episode one isn’t perfectly paced or written and the choices felt rather obvious, Telltale had still put out a great first step.
Going into episode two, Starved for Help, my expectations were quite high. The previous episode had set up the world and characters and now they could really start telling a story and boy oh boy is it a grim one. I had heard the episode two starts with quite a shocker and it really does. I won’t spoil what it is; suffice it to say that the situation you find yourself in is a complicated one. There are several ways to go about it and none of which would leave you feeling too fond of yourself. I am still not sure what I was thinking when I decided to do what I did, but when it was all said and done, I was simultaneously disgusted with myself and happy because I had saved someone’s life.
Any who, the story picks up three months after the end of episode one and your not-so-merry group of survivors are not doing too well. In the time that has passed you have met someone new and he has been able to provide the group with food, but that food is now running out. The tensions between the characters are mounting as they grow even hungrier and no clear leader has emerged. In short, things are not going well for anyone.
While many of the choices in The Walking Dead give you very little time to really think about the consequences, once you return from the forest where the shocker of an opening happens, you are given the very difficult task of distributing four food items to four of the ten (I think it’s ten) characters that are in your group. This is what makes The Walking Dead so successful; it’s being able to so naturally create a situation in which there are so many outcomes and so many consequences to everything you do that something as seemingly simple as giving out food becomes one of the most challenging things I’ve done in a video game in 2012.
After the somewhat slow opening 30 minutes, the story gets moving, rather literally. Two brothers approach your camp and offer a trade, food for gas. Rather surprisingly, the brothers are actually decent folk, they aren’t looking to rob or rape or kill, they are just in need of gas to run their generator which powers an electric fence surrounding their farm. You agree to their request for gas and eventually most of your group travels up to the St. John farm. It’s a godsend to the group of survivors. There is food and water and protection from the walkers and the St. Johns have allowed your group to stay with them for a limited time.
This is the basic premise of the story, but there is much, much more that happens of course. However, I will not go into any detail as that would ruin so much of what makes episode two so phenomenal. The human drama is at its darkest and grimmest. There are essentially no walkers in this episode and the focus is solely on telling a believable, human story. And Telltale nails essentially everything in the episode. While you will probably see the twist coming, it is executed in a way that will have you genuinely uneasy for the last hour. Episode two is also free of pretty much any puzzle solving, which is a relief because the parking lot scenario in episode one was probably its weakest moment.
With Starved for Help Telltale has essentially turned their [I]Walking Dead[/I] game into an interactive story where all you really want to do is make your next dialogue choice and see everything unfold. It is so story focused that the moments of actually moving Lee around feel trivial and border on unnecessary. Thankfully though the story being told is as dark and depressing as I could have hoped for and I cannot wait to see where they go next.
If Telltale keeps this level of quality up, the game of the year decision will not be too hard for me come December. The Walking Dead has provided me with the realest, most emotional video game storytelling to date along with some of the realest emotions I’ve experienced gaming. If you are not playing The Walking Dead, you are missing out on one hell of an experience.