If you've read my review of The Walking Dead Episode 1: A New Day then you'll know that I highly recommended it, but didn't believe it stood very well on its own. My recommendation came because I wholeheartedly believed Episode 1 showed a great amount of potential. Telltale sold me on the idea that decisions in Episode 1 will have dramatic consequences in further episodes. Will the drama stack up or be further pushed down the storyline?
At E3 Telltale showed me a live game demo of Episode 2: Starved for Help and I came away from it both exhilarated, yet apprehensive. Let me tell you about what I saw, so you can decide for yourself whether my new worries are unfounded or substantiated.
There's literally five minutes spent in the beginning of the demo reintroducing us to The Walking Dead game, but I literally can't recall any of what was said up until a point where the main character chops off a new character's leg with an axe. The man's caught in a bear trap, screaming bloody murder, and the zombies -- they're coming. The axe isn't the only solution, err... option, but it feels like it is when the game's moving full speed.
And there's the heaven and hell of The Walking Dead game. Telltale fully believes in this balance between calm, dramatic sequences with choices that dig and twist in you -- choices that have consequence. The other side is these intense, fast-paced -- borderline quick-time event scenarios where life and death is quite literally on the line. These two sides of the game often balance fairly well, but in this case beginning the reintroduction with a few minutes of backstory feels forced and absolutely unnecessary.
That axe scene lasts well after the demo is over and I've flown back home; it weighs heavily in my mind. The man in the bear trap, a teacher with his two students looking on begging for an answer. Your fingers clasp the bear trap, searching for a release mechanism that doesn't exist. You chop at a chain nearby, perhaps you can escape with the bear trap in tow, but the chain is too strong. The leg takes more strikes than I care to recall to chop off. It's almost an afterthought that one of the students is caught by the zombies as we make our escape.
The teacher doesn't live. Welcome back to The Walking Dead.
Three Months Later
Forget about the fill-in from the beginning of the demo, the stage is set as soon as our protagonist returns from the bear trap incident. It has been around three months since the end of Episode 1, the camp is running extremely low on food and everyone is on the verge of exhaustion -- let alone maintaining their sanity. Lilly is running the camp, and due to your strained relationship with her father the camp is a particularly tense and stressful place. Might have to do with the zombies, too.
This is second half of The Walking Dead experience. Lilly, frustrated with you bringing more mouths to feed, gives you the days food rations and says you'll have to decide who goes hungry. Free to roam the hotel parking lot, discourse with the other survivors, your decisions on who to feed and who to starve will have ramifications later in the episode -- and on. No choice is easy, even when there aren't any zombies bearing down on your face.
The axe is passed off for fence repairs and you wander the camp. There's discussion among Kenny and his family of leaving the hotel and heading towards his fishing boat. Clementine seems to be holding up well, Doug is rigging up an alarm system, and a new guy to the camp (dead meat, right?) is particularly tired from hunger. Who you give the food to likely plays a significant part in upcoming events not shown in the demo. Before that happens though, a zombie shows up in camp -- the unbitten teacher we'd brought back with half a leg missing.
Naturally, our protagonist just happens to be looking at the newly awoken zombie as he turns. A QTE wrestling match occurs where your life is literally on the line, but luckily it ends with an axe in the back of the zombie's head. Our camps of survivors has learned that it doesn't take a bite to turn you into a zombie, just death. There's no escape.
The Walking Dead's truest strength has nothing to do with its gameplay systems, though there's no argument what they've built is excellent. What's so great about The Walking Dead is how it's presented -- through its visual style and cinematic storytelling. There's still some instances where facial animations fall into uncanny valley territory, but overall Episode 2 looks to be much stronger than its predecessor. Starved for Help is a zombie feast of brains for your eyes -- delicious.
How Episode 2 ultimately fares likely heavily weighs upon its overly sold choice and consequence system. The choices pointed out to us in the demo likely affected gameplay in a myriad of ways, but I'm still waiting for something heavier -- a result that forces me to reevaluate what I've done or how I'm playing the game. I don't doubt Telltale has big plans in store, but for now I'll just be happy knowing The Walking Dead hasn't lost its touch.
Look forward to The Walking Dead Episode 2: Starved for Help soon. The Xbox and PlayStation versions are only just being submitted for certification, and are expected for release in the coming month -- PC release should be earlier. Also, the iOS version of Episode 1 was demoable at E3, expect more news on that soon.