The Walking Dead: Episode 2 Starved For Help
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: 06/29/2012
So, the episodic series I was absolutely enjoying the hell out of in the first episode back in April returns with Episode 2 where we get to see some of the choices we made pan out and whether or not Telltale can keep up the great and grisly story-telling from The Walking Dead Episode 1. It’s a lot to live up to, and some of it paid off in surprising ways, some of it didn’t seem to pay off at all just yet. Either way, Episode 2 lived up to my expectations. When I review episodic titles like this, parts of the first review I did pop back into the review and I’ll italicize those. Anything new is going to look like a normal font. Just giving people a head’s up.
The story has jumped a head a bit from the last game, fast-forwarding our characters and their situation up ahead 3 months. There’s a new character added into the mix who had brought food with them, but as the title of the episode suggests, the food supply is dwindling and the walkers aren’t helping as they’re eating the food supply of our furry forested friends too. So for those following along with the show or comic, this would now be taking place well after Rick had woken in the hospital. Right away you’re making decisions as to who can eat and how to smooth things over between Lilly and Kenny. Now, just because you got certain scenes in your “Ëœnext time’ from the previous episode, doesn’t mean they’ll quite show up here. Part of that is because you still are making decisions that affect things. A big blow-up with Lilly over her father never happened for me as I actually tried to smooth things out with him. I’d also made the choice to give the kids food so I never got Katjaa’s conversation about thinking about the kids first. The person I saved, Carley, was utilized in here, but suffered a bit from the same problems that Mass Effect characters that could have died had, and didn’t seem to carry over or do much until a few points where either of the two could have fit in the same situation. It was interesting to see the conversation I had with Clementine about Manure carry over from the first episode into this one where she informs Duck what the smell is in the barn.
While the drama between the group has made it pretty interesting, it’s kind of the side narrative, and while still important, the driving thrust is food and the lack thereof and you get a dangling carrot in the form of the St. John brothers who own a farm nearby. They just want to trade food for gas, which you actually have extra of, and food you don’t. They’re using the gas to run generators to power the lights as well as the electric fences protecting their farm from the Walkers. Right away the farm feels wrong, and I’m not talking about the single cow for an entire “Ëœdairy’ farm syndrome that Hollywood and the video games industry in general seem to have. I’m giving this a bit of a pass cause, zombie apocalypse, but anyway, things aren’t adding up. Deals with bandits, a somewhat abandoned camp that wasn’t the bandits, a locked door, and a disappearing friend add up to your gut feeling being completely and totally right with a neat little twist of the knife.
I will say this hits all the beats I was expecting from the first episode and more. This is one of the few times I’ve felt bad enough about a decision to actually close the game out and go back to a previous save to re-do the scene over again. There comes a point in this episode where you can make a choice and if you follow through, Clementine, that little girl you’ve been looking out for, will actually hide from you behind someone else. That made me feel so awful, broke my heart so much, that I went back in to try it another way. I couldn’t bear to have a cel-shaded pixel person look at me like that after they had been looking to me for protection that whole time. That is great story-telling right there folks.
Visually, the game is solid. It uses an art style readers of the comic should be more than familiar with and the scribbly lines that surround different objects don’t look out of place at all and instead add to the flavor and feel of the game. People should bear in mind that the game lends itself more to the comic book than the TV show, so characters who are in both the TV show and comic, don’t necessarily look like their TV counterparts, but are dead on for their comic book look. Lilly is the same, but we also haven’t met her in the TV show yet. There were no dropped frames, and lighting definitely got taken into consideration for this as well. Zombies look suitably, well, rotten, and blood trails and debris litter what would normally be pristine landscapes. One of the locations does end up feeling a little bare bones on the outside, but you only see it in a few quick scenes so it’s not overly detracting from the rest of the game. While it’s not going to wow people who are looking for hyper-realism, fans of the comic book or traced look should love it.
Sound is what you’d expect from a zombie game with the moaning and the tearing and breaking, but the game does a great job of delivering dialogue, which could have been terrible and wasn’t, sound effects, and even music. My ears weren’t bleeding and the voice actors did a great job bringing these characters to life. Usually I detest little kids in games, mainly because they’re portrayal is beyond awful, usually a combination of writing and the voice actor not being able to translate the dialogue well, but Clementine, the little girl you meet up with at the beginning of the game, is actually written really well and the voice actress really makes you care about this little fictional pixel girl and what happens to her, which is a great thing for the story-telling, and even better when it works with the audio and dialogue and not just in the subtitles.
I decided to be a little different for my replay of Episode 1 and my first time through Episode 2 and used my 360 controller exclusively. You still can’t actually change the default view to see the keyboard keys as a 360 controller shows up instead of the keyboard even when that’s unplugged. While the 360 controller works well on PC, the keyboard and mouse work just as well and didn’t leave me hanging. You move around using the WASD set-up, with a cursor on screen to interact with objects using the mouse. You select objects and which action you want to perform using the scroll wheel on the mouse and then left-clicking. You can also select you dialogue choice using the scroll and click method. If you want to use your keyboard for dialogue you can as well, using the arrow keys to move through dialogue choices and then the Enter key to select. I preferred the mouse method myself as it was faster. There are a few quick events in the game, usually involving spam hitting the Q key followed by a quick hit of the E key and usually involving some form of zombie attack. You also may have to aim a little bit with the mouse for intended targets to keep from ending up as zombie chow. With the 360 controller, they alternate quick actions with the face buttons and interacting is done through those as well. The left analog stick moves you around while the right changes your view. Overall I liked the mouse reaction time better over the controller, but having experienced it from both sides now I’ll end up playing this with either depending on my mood.
Dialogue that matters is timed. So if you’re going to start a conversation, don’t get distracted, otherwise you’ll end up saying nothing and the conversation will end and you’ll miss the opportunity for the extra actions, unless that how you want to do it. It keeps you quick on your feet, and 5 or 6 seconds is really all the time you’d have to respond in a conversation IRL, so not only does it keep things moving, but it leaves you second-guessing your way through the conversations, wondering if you’re doing the right thing, and if you’re lying, whether you’re keeping those straight as well. Puzzles again aren’t as prevalent through this episode. The big two involve getting a tractor moving and breaking into a locked door with a distraction. They all fit with the tone of the game, and really feel less like puzzles until you’re looking back on them, and more like obstacles that someone in a zombie apocalypse would actually be facing. I think the best part about it all is that it’s smooth and the scenes transition extremely well with a minimum of loading for any given scene.
Normally when I talk about replayability in an adventure title, I’m left going, “Ëœyeah, sure if you liked the story,’ but that’s not entirely the case here. By bringing in that element of choice, through the dialogue and siding with different characters to who you save or not save, you’ve got quite a few replay options that will pan out farther down the episode line, with some occurring in episodes further down the line. I had three games save ready to go for episode 2 all with different choices, so there’s 2 replays of this right there. The smooth and polished controls, gameplay and dialogue don’t hurt your replay value here either. Trophy-wise though, if you’re running this through Steam like I am, you only get trophies your first run through and it’s for completing each segment of the episode, so while one run will suffice for those, you might be short-changing yourself on some very different story elements later.
One thing TellTale doesn’t skimp on is delivering a reasonable price. Their titles are always priced well and competitively for a 10 to 12 hour romp, and with some nice replayability this goes up. My one run through on this episode lasted a full two hours, and usually other episodes follow through. You’re looking at about $25 for the whole season, which is a gift. I’d have not been upset for a higher price point, but this is a great price out of the gate. As far as balance in the game, for more traditional adventure players you have a no hints version of the game, and for the rest of us, the hints are pointed out in a subtle way with floating grey dots over stuff you can interact with. The only thing I can see being an issue is the timing you need to escape zombies or attack them being an issue for those who like a more laid back adventure game experience.
While this does borrow a license about zombies, a game subject that has been visited before, Telltale has gone and made up a new story that ties into the comics and gives us some compelling new characters. They’ve also shaken up the adventure game expectations a bit by giving us a branching story where choices you make shape your experience as you play, something we’ve really not seen in an adventure title before this. So while it’s combining elements we’ve seen in other genres, it’s doing it well and telling us a compelling story and giving the same as a gaming experience as well.
My first play through the outside world ceased to exist. I put on my headphones and played the whole way through. This had me on the edge of my seat through most of it. There was a nice bit of slow down while we investigate the farm and then it amps back up again as the mystery and other plot issues creep into the picture. At the end of it I wanted more. Yeah this is easily on par with some of the other addicting titles I’ve played in the past year. Being a great and faithful translation of the comic to the video game world won’t hurt this games chances, In fact this has been one of Telltale’s biggest sellers according to their reports. It feels polished and plays great.
I did have a few issues this go around. For some reason when I updated on Friday night, and this could have something to do with the big ass storm that went through my area knocking out my power and internet, I lost my game saves from Episode 1. I haven’t heard or seen this happening to anyone else. Also, I did have some loading glitches and had to change it to compatibility mode when last time I didn’t. I didn’t bother swapping drivers yet because I wanted to get through to review and I had it working. Just a head’s up though for people who might be running nVidia and Windows 7 64-bit on their PC. I will be tinkering to see if I can smooth out my issues or at least verify if those issues are in the game itself. Right now I’m attributing it to the power and internet spasm my laptop went through, especially since when I loaded it up just to test it ran smooth without the jitters, but it’s still in compatibility mode only. Still has yet to crash to desktop on me or lock-up. I’m thinking it was just a weird weekend overall.
Control and Gameplay: Amazing
Appeal Factor: Very Good
FINAL SCORE: INCREDIBLE GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
The Walking Dead Episode 2 continues to be a shot in the arm for episodic release titles, and for the adventure genre. It continues with its story mechanic we’d only really seen in RPGs and runs with it and does it extremely well. The game has the tone from the comics down to a story-telling science, and since it’s not directly tied into the main story, fans of the TV show can enjoy this as well without worrying about spoiling the tv show for themselves. Personally I’m actually enjoying the video game release more. It plays extremely well, feels polished, and is on my must buy list for horror fans, fans of the comic or show, or people who just want something new in an adventure title. The Walking Dead is a fantastic translation of the themes and characters from the comic book while giving us some fresh faces to experience it through, and I think it should be on everyone’s radar.