The Walking Dead Episode 2 takes a good series and makes it great, despite technical flaws
The Walking Dead Episode 2: Starved for Help
The Walking Dead is playing for keeps. The game continually puts you in situations where you’re forced to make quick decisions, and how you handle yourself determines who gets out alive. The people who live and die and the decisions you make will inform the game you play as the episodic series continues. The sense of danger and tension is pervasive; the few moments of quiet aren’t relaxing because you know that something terrible will happen very soon. Robert Kirkman’s world is aggressively lethal, and that feeling continues in the second episode of the game series.
That commitment to storytelling consistency makes the technical issues I found in the PC version of the game all the more disappointing. My choices from Episode 1 didn’t seem to carry over into Episode 2, which is a major issue in a game that provides so many interesting choices. A character I thought had died was suddenly alive in the group, and someone I thought I had saved was gone. The problem of the glitched saves has to be fixed before the next episode is released if TellTale expects us to take that aspect of the game seriously. If life and death are to mean something, those decisions have to be permanent, and respected. The lengthy loading times in the middle of scenes were both distracting and inexplicable. I have a powerful gaming machine, there is nothing in The Walking Dead that should be stressing it.
“We’ve been hearing from a group of users, not all, that they were experiencing a similar issue, and our production and QA team has been working diligently on a solution. We’ve been working with users on our forum to try to narrow down all the variables and find out exactly why this has been happening, and we aim to have a solution for those affected as soon as possible,” a TellTale Representative told the Penny Arcade Report. “Rest assured, we’re working on it! We certainly want everyone to enjoy this latest episode without any problems, and we’ll be updating those affected on our forums when we have a solution and I’ll also be sure to let you know as directly as well.”
Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later.
The zombies aren’t the only thing to fear
The Walking Dead comic book has done many interesting things with the tropes of zombie fiction. It solidified and played with the idea that the real fear after the zombies have taken over is other people. Without the comforting embrace of society, the worst aspects of human nature take over, and we’re left with a world where might makes right. Even “good” people greet each other with fear and skepticism, and trust is hard-earned.
The game series seems to matching the format of the comic. The survivors find themselves in a series of locations that may provide temporary safety and security, but then things go bad and they are back on the run, usually short one or two members of their crew. In this episode of the game our heroes are starved out of their previous stronghold, and meet up with a group of dairy farmers who seem to have everything figured out. A generator powers an electrified fence that keeps the zombies out, and there is plenty of food to go around. Clementine makes friends with a cow. The farm quickly begins to feel like home.
What follows is one of the rare gaming experiences that can quality as actual horror. Things aren’t as they seem, the zombies continue to exist in the background and provide moments of chaos and confusion when needed, and characters will die. The situations in the The Walking Dead are scary because the game is not afraid to kill off key characters, and more often than not the blood is on your hands due to the decisions you’ve made. The game delights in throwing you into impossible moral situations and then starting up the clock. Your choices tend to consist of one option that is terrible, and another that is horrible.
Those moments are sometimes non-violent in nature. An early sequence in this episode consists of a series of decisions about who gets to eat that day. Everyone looks at you in quiet desperation, and you have to choose. The game tells you that people will remember who ate and who didn’t, and it may change how people deal with you in the future.
There are jump-scares, as well as legitimate tension and a sense of fear. There were times I was shocked, there were times I laughed, but impressively the story always felt believable and real. Adventure games rely on writing more than most genres, and the writing in The Walking Dead helps to create a sense of place. There are no redshirts in the game, and every loss hurts. Every person who joins your crew adds a sense of weight; they are one more person to feed, keep safe, and worry about. When someone pulls a gun, there is a good chance that someone else is going to die.
This episode does a good job of delivering a self-contained story while continuing the larger character arc for the series. I finished it in one sitting, and began to count down the days until the next episode. The technical issues, including the inability of the game to track your choices, are tragic compared to the high level of polish on the story and action. Once those issues are fixed, and if the episodes continue to ramp up the quality in this way, I have no problems saying The Walking Dead could become a nearly-instant classic.
The Walking Dead Episode 2: Starved for Help is out now for the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.