The Walking Dead: 400 Days Review (PC)

Please no, I don’t think I can take anymore. After the harrowing finale to Telltale’s Game of the Year nominee you’re asking me to play a whole new episode? And I’ll still have Season Two to get through later this year? Where’s me hangin’ rope. Not that The Walking Dead is a bad game, in fact all five episodes were utterly fantastic and it’s for good reason we seriously considered it as GOTY 2012. The problem is they suck you in with great characters and force you to make choices that’ll lead most of them to an unfair demise. 400 Days though is unrelated to the fate of Lee, Clementine and whoever survived or didn’t survive the events of Season One, so hopefully it won’t be too upsetting for me. Fat chance.

While you need The Walking Dead to play 400 Days, it does indeed have nothing to do with the events of the main game and presumably is entirely a setup for Season Two’s cast. It’s also different in that while just one short episode it tells the story of six characters. These are called Vince, Bonnie, Shelly, Russell, Wyatt, and a mystery person you play in the finale. The other five parts can be played in any order and take place at various points of time between the zombie outbreak (Vince’s story takes place at this exact time) and the “400 Days Later” of the Walking Dead “present”. In general they all take place in the area around a diner.

The long, winding and undead-filled road

It’s all done very cleverly and the segments slot together well, although the disparity in time between parts leave a lot of questions unanswered which I’m hoping will get some resolution in Season Two. There’s no guarantee of that of course, especially as this is a paid DLC episode currently unrelated to the main story so not everyone will have played it for Season Two. Still, not everyone who played Mass Effect 2 played the first one, so we can only hope. There are a lot of characters left hanging and events in one story might have not had a resolution, so if you’re after a complete experience stay away from 400 Days - this is an intro to the second season not a standalone experience, at least not one where everything’s wrapped up in a neat little bow.

Fortunately though what is there is impressive. The segments interact in the most surprising of ways, events referenced in one part may have a shocking answer, and no matter what order you play the characters in your choices may well ring into another. While you’re with all these characters, playable or not, for a very short time you get a handle on each and every one and immediately see that they’ve been well thought out with hidden depths. That’s great writing there, folks. My personal favourite story is Wyatt and his pal Eddie on the run in a car from the guys in the diner (which explains some things in Russell’s story, so not everything is left a mystery) and their utter ineptitude offers a rare run of comedy in the dire world of The Walking Dead. I particularly loved a moment with them where Telltale poked fun at themselves a little by acknowledging that characters in The Walking Dead describe things out loud when examining them, so when Wyatt does that Eddie asks who he’s talking to. “Um, you?” is the response.

Don’t expect things to get much better from this point onwards

The main thing of note in 400 Days though is that it offers a pretty good indication of the way Telltale are going to be taking things in the second season, not just in terms of story but also gameplay. Deeper consequences, more involved quick-time events, and a whole lot more choices are in, whereas free-roaming puzzle sections are out. There were still free-roaming sections in 400 Days but they were limited to checking out a few things rather than anything deep, so presumably it’s sayonara to Walking Dead’s last lingering vestiges of the traditional adventure game. Considering that people disliked these slow scenes most about season one I’m not sad to see them go, but then again without them 400 Days was over in a couple of hours or so.

Without puzzle sections Telltale could be fanning the flames for people who accuse The Walking Dead of being all story and little game, but fortunately by going deeper with their choice/consequence-based gameplay Telltale have an answer to this. Simply put there are now “little” choices all over the place (which have all sorts of minor-to-major consequences) from dialogue choices to how long you take to do something, and few are obvious. Very often you’re given little time to think with any of the major choices, so they’ll often be a spur-of-the-moment thing. They’re also a lot more “shades of grey” than ever before, so often I had no clue whether a choice would turn out bad or good (hint: probably bad). Now your actions really do lead the game, because you’ll regularly be taking action without even knowing it. The only “major” choice I was disappointed with was at the end of Wyatt’s chapter where I didn’t even know a choice was possible and it wasn’t obvious Wyatt would take that action. It’s the one moment where I wasn’t totally in the mindset of one of the characters.

As long as this doesn’t turn into Survival Instinct I’m fine with guns in this game

Fortunately it’s just one minor blip in an otherwise excellent episode. Your many minor and major choices don’t just decide the story, they actually define the characters and that requires some impressive writing, design and programming to pull off convincingly. Telltale manages that, and by the sixth and final chapter of 400 Days the final decisions and presumably the entire setup of Season Two are automatically decided entirely by your actions or inactions in the previous chapters. That’s beyond Witcher-standard of consequence-based gameplay, and despite my worries earlier I highly doubt Telltale won’t carry these decisions over to the next season of Walking Dead. Even the QTEs are more fun, with less of the “hammer Q then press E” and more of a mix. A tense hunt through a cornfield ending in a shocking standoff in Bonnie’s chapter is a highlight. The graphics also look better too, with a spooky Silent Hill-esque fog covering Wyatt’s day being the standout here.

400 Days is a short-story anthology that bridges two novels, and ties them all together so well that it’s hard to work out what would happen if you don’t play it. It’s all wonderfully written, and most importantly the feeling that you’re driving the story and action has never been better implemented. Yes the running time zips by and a few might miss the slower puzzle sections, but if Telltale continue on this course for Season Two then we might well have another Game of the Year candidate on our hands. For now though, if you’re considering picking up that second season 400 Days is damn near essential – and if you’re not, then it may well change your mind. Just please tell me what happened to Eddie, Telltale.

Top Game Moment: Each of the six chapters has at least one Top Game Moment each, but I’ll go for Wyatt and Eddie chatting in their car in a panicky way. Love those guys.

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By Mindrax (SI Core) on Aug 01, 2013
Put this on my wish list. I still need to complete the game first.