Review: The Walking Dead Game – Episode Two

Axe to the KneeA few months ago we reviewed Episode One: A New Day of The Walking Dead from Telltale Games.  We were encouraged to see the undead given a sense of sympathy rather than used for cannon fodder as we often are in popular first-person shooters.  This time, though, the focus has shifted.  In Episode Two: Starved for Help, the emphasis is on people and survival.

Glenn and Hershel’s appearances in the last episode weave a solid thread through to the storylines of The Walking Dead comic and TV show.  At the end of Episode One, Glen, as he must, returns to Atlanta and we’re left with Lilly. In the comic book, she’s a minor character in the Governor’s camp, but in the game she rises to the leadership role in the three months that pass in game since Episode One left off.   Having someone other than Lee in charge feels realistic.  While we experience the story through Lee, we’re not the one calling the shots.  Lee is subject to someone else’s decisions and his choice lies in his reaction and response to fellow survivors.

The game does remember your decisions.  If you and Kenny are on good terms, you get a few friendly words.  I haven’t seen a game follow and apply the consequences of social interaction since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.  Episode Two felt more fast-paced.  Timers on your decision pour on the pressure to make a quick decision for good or ill and that’s where this installment shines.  This isn’t about hand-eye coordination.  Rather, it’s the story and experience that pulls you along.  At times, it pulls despite your objections.

With bandits and bear traps in the woods and conflict at the motel, the undead are the least of Lee’s problems.  Things start looking up when two men show up asking for gas and offer to bring a few from the group up to their dairy farm. Even if you have Lee object to going to the farm, he’s overruled.  While I understand that Telltale can’t code for every possible deviation from the main storyline, it starts to become deterministic and takes on a sense that the group’s fate has already been decided.  Lee is just there to bare witness.

The Walking Dead

The walk up to the farm is as picturesque as can be, but all is not well. This brings me to my second nitpick.  You can figure out what’s wrong at the farm long before the big reveal.  I won’t give away any spoilers, but you’ll unravel the mystery yourself before the story hits the crescendo.

As things go from Mayberry to mayhem, the weather goes from sunny skies to gathering clouds and a thunderstorm.  It’s a prefect background for the most dramatic scenes so far.  Lee is forced into morally ambiguous decisions that can shift alliances and fracture the group.

This time around, we don’t need to wait two full months for the next installment.  As of the time of this writing, Episode Three: Long Road Ahead is due to release in August.  This zombie will be eagerly waiting to bite into it.

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