Episode 2 starts brilliantly. As Telltale proved with the first episode a couple of months ago, the studio is attuned to The Walking Dead. The developer 'gets' Kirkman's fiction, and with its multi-part adventure game has succeeded in conveying the hopelessness, dread and violence synonymous with the graphic novels.
For those that haven't played The Walking Dead - it got 8/10, why haven't you? - each episode plays out like a point and click adventure, using the face buttons to interact with the environment or the people around you. Fast-paced decisions are frequently thrown at you, and the shrubs of consequence begin to sprout from choices you planted in the previous episode. There's no obvious right or wrong, and the fact you're playing in a world where the line between has been blurred adds tremendously to the moral toing-and-froing.
Three months have passed since we left protagonist Lee Everett, Clementine and the band of survivors at the motel inn. Food is in short supply, relationships are waning and patience is growing thin. This episode (number two of five) is very much concentrated on the living rather than the dead, exploring the brutally desperate measures we'll go to in order to survive the end of the world, and just how tenuous bonds of partnership can be when the stakes are life or death.
The tense relationship between Lee and the aggressive Larry is stretched to breaking point this time around, resulting in a particularly salty climax. Meanwhile, new additions to the group - as well as some unexpected departures - alter the social dynamic and challenge the groups' willingness to accept other survivors into their midst. These new characters also bring with them some of the most painful moments of the entire series so far, so expect to have the top of your gore-meters blown off.
We descend deeper into unknown territory, tested by a constant 'do-you-don't-you' dilemma and the effect desperation can have on your ability to make sensible, objective choices. Smaller sub-groups form within the main band of survivors, and these inter-group politics provide Starved for Help's biggest draw. A few plot setups appear to be borrowed from the comics/TV show, but are twisted in new directions, the results providing enough shock and surprise to make even the most hardcore Walking Dead fans shift their bums to the edge of their seat. As for the ending, well, bring on episode three.
Despite this obvious narrative success, Telltale needs to rethink its episodic approach to the Walking Dead. Throughout episode 2 I encountered more bugs, glitches, hiccups, internal explosions and graphical supernovae than I could possibly count. I had to revert back two chapters a total of three times, delete the game file and re-download the entire thing twice just so I could progress past a certain point. It feels clunky, rushed, and at times completely broken. The framerate feels like it's constantly about to nosedive, momentarily freezing at key points and drastically interrupting the flow of the storytelling. Despite the sky-high quality of the actual content, technical faults bring the game down.
Games like The Walking Dead are rare, and if you've played the first episode you'll be compelled to pick up Starved for Help, but prepare for the possibility of frustration and at worst, incompletion. I hope Telltale sort their act out between now and the next episode, as it pains me to come away knowing that an abundance of shoddy technical execution was all that tainted a game full of standout moments and incredible originality.
Version tested: Xbox 360