Dance the Night Away: Just Dance 4 Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360
If you’re not quite caught up on the series so far or are just looking to see if the game will suit you, I have to warn straight off that spoilers follow below. If you’d rather get a closer look at the game’s mechanics and gameplay, a discussion of that can be found in my earlier review of Episode 1, along with an introduction to the main character and his situation.
Episode 2 of The Walking Dead starts off three months after Lee and his crew decide to hole up in a motor inn and predictably, things aren’t quite as neat and tidy as they would like. Tensions are high. Not only is food shortage an immediate concern but the burgeoning power struggle between Lily and Kenny is forcing the group to splinter along those lines.
Starved for Help introduces Mark, a new arrival who came in weeks ago with supplies that have kept the group from starving the past few months. Though he’s a late arrival, his presence is immediately felt and the combination of good writing and solid voice acting lend credibility to what could otherwise have been a throwaway character.
It bears mentioning that the writing, although it follows a fairly predictable pattern in terms of plot devices, is very intelligent. The characters, even though they get irritating and a little shriek-happy every now and again, fill out as real people with real problems and real motivations. They’re not always likeable, but the game’s cast (as opposed to the TV show) is a lot less obnoxious.
In any case, plot points involving bear traps (some subtle foreshadowing there, for the attentive), a lack of food (half an apple, two packages of crackers, cheese and some jerky are all that’s left for ten hungry people – now including Ben, another new edition) as well as a surfeit of opinions about what to do about it all. Eventually after making some relatively unimportant decisions, a few strangers come by to ask for gas.
Which leads us to the St. John Dairy Farm. This entire IP, from the show to the comic to this game, seems to have a fascination with rural Georgian farms. Not only are they apparently everywhere, but every character, despite all evidence to the contrary, seems to think that they’re impenetrable fortresses. It’s a little absurd that we’ve already seen two sinister farms in as many episodes. Everything seems peachy at first; the place is run by Andy and Danny St. John along with their aging mother. Predictably, there’s a terrible secret hidden behind the idyllic veneer. Lee decides to help out around the farm and is told to keep away from the barn (which should sound familiar to anyone who’s seen the show). Lee and Mark decide to help out by poking fried walkers off the electrified fence and end up getting attacked by bandits in the woods. Mark is wounded by a crossbow bolt and as he gets dragged into the house to convalesce, Lee takes one of the brothers with him to scout out the camp of the bandits.
If double-dealing with bandits isn’t enough, there’s still a mystery behind the barn. Lee appears to be fairly committed to not rocking the boat and is more or less convinced to poke around no matter what when Danny St. John shoots a crazed, half-starved bandit in an act of arguable murder. Although it can be frustrating to watch Lee and company stumble around without getting fed, the reason soon becomes pretty clear. Lee is able to unlock the back door to the barn to reveal a slaughterhouse, and later finds Mark with his legs cut off in a secret room upstairs. Lee gets downstairs fast enough to perhaps warn Clementine in time, but the others have been tucking in heartily, and the confrontation results in Lee getting knocked out.
You wake up with Kenny, Clementine, Lily, and Larry trapped in a meat locker. It’s in the locker where The Walking Dead starts to get real. I criticized Episode 1 for being fairly humdrum and formulaic, and although “Starved for Help” definitely has some extremely familiar plot elements (I really think they could have found a better location than yet another rural farm), the last forty minutes sports some of the best cinematic gameplay this side of Mass Effect.
Everything comes to a head in the meat locker. This episode’s inter-party tension revolves around Kenny and Lily arguing over who should be the leader of the group, and Lee’s general dependability means that they both want his support for any decisions they make While Kenny and Lily argue, Larry wails at the door as if he can knock it down just by shouting, and Lee can’t seem to calm anyone down. When Larry inevitably succumbs to his heart condition, Lee is forced to choose to either help Lily try to get him up again or side with Kenny and kill the man before he becomes a 6-foot-4, three-hundred-pound walker inside the closet-like confines of the meat locker.
Whatever the case, Kenny decides to drop a salt lick on the guy’s head before anything can be done. It’s quite shocking, especially when you’re wrapped up in doing chest-compressions and not paying any attention to Kenny’s ranting. The game’s tight control of everything such as your field of view, all work together to make that one moment one of absolute repugnance. The salt lick smashes Larry’s head and sprays blood and brains everywhere, but nowhere as much as on Lily’s chest and face.
After dealing with the immediate aftermath and convincing Lily to allow you to rummage through Larry’s pockets, you get yourself out. Kenny runs off on his own to save his family, and Lee is forced to follow. He gets his choice of weapons, from a hay pick to a sickle to a cattle prod, and is forced to confront both Danny and Andy. After a brief but fairly intense fight with Danny, you’re given the choice to put the bastard down or spare him. If you choose to kill him, Lee stabs him in the chest with a pitchfork while Clementine watches in horror.
Then you get into a fight with Andy, who very nearly puts your face into the electric fence (which is a bit of a plot hole – more on that later), but after Carley (or Doug, depending on whom you’ve chosen to save in the previous episode) shoots Andy and wounds him, you get Andy on his back and beat the ever-loving crap out of him. The moment is pretty impressively framed; not only allowing you to see Andy’s face accrue more and more damage as you rain punches down on him, but also letting you to see your own face reflected in a puddle underneath. If you choose to kill Andy, you kick him into the electric fence and watch him fry, which overloads the generator and leaves your group – which has witnessed the whole affair – vulnerable to a horde of walkers attracted by all the noise. Whether you choose to spare Danny or Andy or not, the walkers show up and your group makes a hasty exit from the property.
Slipping out, you’re presented with one last choice—whether to loot an empty (but still running) car or leave the supplies to whoever left them. Clementine is critical of your choice if you choose to take the food, but really there’s no choice. You’re given time to do some last-minute chatting with the group to see where things stand.
It’s an impressive episode. All in about two hours of the game, it completely changes the dynamics of the group, raises the stakes of the story, and calls into question not only Lee’s nature but also Clementine’s heretofore unwavering loyalty to Lee. Yes, some of the plot elements are recycled and overused, but the core of the game shambles out of Starved for Help much more emotional than it went in. They also managed to squeeze in quite a few moments of unexpected but welcome humor. Kenny implying that Lee has some natural aptitude for lock picking just because he’s black brings a hilarious reaction from Lee and helps to break up the building tension of the episode.
If you get past The Walking Dead: Starved for Help without being totally sold on the viability of the series, you’ve totally missed the point. It earns a remarkable 4.75 out of 5. Play this game, and stay tuned here for episode reviews as they’re released.
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