Decisions, decisions, decisions. All of them a matter of life and death, and barely any time to make them. That's what makes Telltale Games' Walking Dead series so engrossing and addictive.
The second episode in the five-part series, The Walking Dead: Starved For Help, is an altogether darker affair with protagonist Lee Everett once again accompanied by little Clementine in a fight for survival after a zombie outbreak. It's a few months since the last episode concluded and the guys barricaded themselves in a deserted motel. Food supplies are rapidly depleting, morale is low and the world is just as dangerous as ever.
It's the same old mix of point-and-click adventuring with occasional QTE button mashing but it is still sublime and a joy to play. Again the short playtime fails to detract from the proceedings, which sees our group of survivors venture out from the confines of their apparent safe haven to a nearby dairy farm, complete with a friendly food-bearing family, poorly cow and heavily fortified defences. Could things finally be looking up for our beleaguered group of misfits? Nah, course not.
Choices made in the previous game are carried over and have some effect on what happens and how your companions perceive you. There are some equally tough decisions to be made and some truly grotesque discoveries that help to change the dynamic of the group. Even at the start, the seemingly simple objective of deciding who should receive the limited rations puts your position in the group under strain and tests relationships.
You can instantly jump into the action this time round; you know the characters, understand the point-and-click mechanic and have a firm grasp of the controls. By the end of this episode, you'll have lost some of those close to you and inevitably done something that will put you at odds with members of the group. Along the way you'll meet new friends and foes, from stranded students to crossbow-wielding bandits... oh, and bond with that aforementioned cow.
Without giving the game away, it's difficult to go in to too much detail about how the story unravels but suffice to say, it's a fantastic continuation from A New Day. Thing is, it is slightly predictable - given that by now you've learnt to trust no one and that it's highly likely few of your comrades will be in one piece by the end of the episode.
Conflict and constant bitching between Larry, Lily, Lee and Kenny adds some drama and tension, while the sudden zombie strikes add a shock factor - and it combines perfectly. Once again, however, the puzzles are painfully obvious and won't create too much of a challenge - but that's not really an issue
Graphically, it obviously continues the cel-shaded style of the first game and the voice acting, animations and environments combine perfectly. There was the occasional moment of shuddering or a glitch where an arm would pass through a solid cardboard box, for example, but nothing detrimental to the gameplay.
The slow pace and dialogue-heavy sections only add to the atmosphere and contrast perfectly with the shock discoveries and constant threat of either being ravaged by a zombie or shot by a stranger. In fact, the choices made this time round really feel like they're helping to mould your character, Lee - you decide whether he lies and kills, who his allegiances are with and whether he has a moral compass. It's inspired and feels like the game is being tailored to your playing style and personality.
Telltale Games has once again done a fantastic job - one that's arguably better than its predecessor. Now when's the next episode going to be available??? We can't wait any longer!
Reviewed on PC