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Telltale’s second episodic Walking Dead game, Starved for Help, isn’t about zombies. Well, it is about zombies, but it isn’t about zombies.
Case in point:
A major sequence three quarters of the way through the game presents you with a simple but difficult binary choice – murder someone who potentially poses a threat to the safety of your group, or attempt to save them.
Two NPC’s argue the opposing perspectives of your choice in the background, simultaneously conflicting and clarifying the situation.
It’s a decision with future ramifications, and therefore one you’d want to take your time over, but as with all decisions in The Walking Dead it’s accompanied by a 15 second shrinking timer bar. Chose not to act before it depletes and you relinquish your influence whilst the situation advances regardless.
Here’s my thought process throughout:
Okay. Just kill him; it’s the cleanest outcome and what I’d do in real life.
Yes, right, easy enough. Why would I leave the possibility that this person isn’t a danger to chance? It’s the logical decision, and I’m nothing if not a pragmatist.
Only, she makes a good point. There’s really no evidence here that he’s a danger, just a suspicion. What if he isn’t?
Shit, it’s going red, that’s bad! I’ve got to decide, quickly.
Stop being stupid Matt, JUST KILL HIM.
Right, I chose not to kill, well, I hope it’s the right decision?
For a game about zombies, I never once considered zombies during my decision. And there were zombies, pounding at the door whilst I indecisively waivered.
It’s the same throughout most of the pivotal moments within Starved for Help. Telltale understand that this isn’t a franchise about undead horror, but one that utilises its monsters as a contextual backdrop to create a psychological pressure cooker of highly emotional human interactions. And this is brilliantly transitioned into a videogame mechanic through a shrinking timer bar, and angry opinionated NPC’s, forcing your hand during clouded decisions.
So whilst Starved for Help is plagued by the same technical glitches as its prequel, they’re quickly drowned out as you panic to rationalise your fumbled choices, and deal with the impacts of your actions. None of which are black and white, so much as granite grey in morality and Newtonian in the finality of their consequences.
And more than anything this episode is about difficult, heart-breaking questions, not zombies.