Review: The Walking Dead, Episode 2 from @telltalegames
Short Version: Light on gameplay, but a great piece of interactive fiction. A compelling story throughout with hard choices that the game makes sure you know were the wrong ones no matter which choice you made. Score: 8 out of 10.
The Walking Dead is, as you might have expected, the video game from Telltale Games based on Robert Kirkman’s hit comic book/media empire. However, instead of following the group from the comics and TV show, the game follows an entirely new group of survivors, giving you control of Lee Everett, a man given a second chance when he escapes from the police car taking him off to jail after the zombie apocalypse breaks out. Let me go ahead and get the bad news about The Walking Dead Episode 2, titled “Starved for Help”, out of the way: it’s really not much of a game in the traditional sense of the word. Oh, there’s the normal adventure game stuff where you can examine items (and even a few pithy one liners if you look enough), but the puzzles tend to be pretty easy (and if you have the object highlight on, virtually impossible not to solve) and the rest of the gameplay is quick time events that serve no purpose but to try and keep you engaged (I’m a firm believer that there should never be a quick time event unless failure is an interesting option). It’s a menial task that is neither interesting nor challenging. When the game isn’t giving you choices, it’s a roller coaster ride. You are moving your way through a movie to get to the next plot point.
Now ignore all of that. All of it. It doesn’t matter. Not a darned word of it. Not even a little. Why? Because The Walking Dead Episode 2 has one of the most compelling stories I’ve ever seen in a video game. The story isn’t just ‘good for a video game’ it’s good for entertainment generally. It’s good enough that my wife watched me play through the whole thing with the same investment that I had playing it. The Walking Dead Episode 2 picks up at the motel you found at the end of Episode 1. You meet a few new characters at the beginning, and there’s a nice getting comfortable period where you have some interactions, but it’s really just to lull you into a false sense of security. The story itself is very good, if a little transparent in spots, and things never stop getting worse for the group. And when they do I get really worried because that means the other shoe is going to drop even harder.
Once you get past that first scene the game never lets up. It’s one creepy, atmospheric twist after another. Even when there is a lull I find myself holding my breath waiting for the other shoe to drop. This doesn’t happen to me often (the last time I remember a game causing me actual dread was Silent Hill 2), but The Walking Dead manages to do it consistently. The characters are interesting, consistently portrayed, and have their own agendas and desires. Just because you want things to go one way, don’t expect the other characters to go along or not be furious with you afterwards.
The second episode is even better than the first. The pacing is faster and the dialogue and graphics (which are very nice, comic book graphics) are just as solid as they were the first time around. What has changed is that the choices are even harder this time. The time limits make it even better, forcing you to go with your gut and not think things over. The dread, for me, was not that the zombies were going to come it was that the game was going to give me another choice soon. It was the effects it would have on Lee and the rest of the group. I knew that whatever I chose it was going to be awful for someone. The game constantly challenges the path you have chosen. It points out why the choices you made were wrong constantly and that is beautiful. After you complete the episode it also shows you how your choices at major plot points match up with other players, which is an especially nice touch. It is also worth noting that ‘Starved for Help’ is considerably more brutal than the first one. It was, for me, stomach churning in parts. If you are immune to such things, this might not be a problem for you, but I tended to take breaks every once and a while just because of the general intensity of the game. It only about two and a half hours long, but it’s a pretty dense amount of story.
So, should you play The Walking Dead Episode 2? My answer is that you absolutely should. Just know what it is and what it isn’t. If you want a game that lets you make hard choices involving interesting characters and then show you the terrible consequences of those choices, then pick it up. It does video game storytelling as well as any other game I have ever played. I wish there was a little more game in there, but what is here is so good that I don’t wish too hard. A compelling story, good characters, nice graphics, a sensible, well-written script, and hard decisions? Yeah, I’ll take that. The Walking Dead Episode 2 is available now directly from Telltale as part of the whole season (five episodes) for $24.99.
Score: 8 out of 10.