Developer: Telltale Games / Publisher: Telltale Games / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: $4.99 / ESRB: Mature [Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Strong Language]
2012 was a fascinating year for the videogame industry. Despite a total saturation of zombie-themed games, Telltale Games surprised everyone by covering a different side to the zombie apocalypse: the survivors and their motives to live. The Walking Dead: Season One’s dramatic storyline and engrossing character development left many yearning for more, and 400 Days is Telltale’s start at satiating that thirst.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days is downloadable content for The Walking Dead: Season One, depicting the stories of five individuals at different stages of the outbreak, all taking place concurrently (but completely separate) from Clementine’s ordeal. We have Vince, the recently incarcerated murderer; Wyatt, just a regular guy trying to survive with his somewhat ignorant friend; Russell, a young boy trying to make it on his own; Bonnie, a reformed drug addict; and Shel, the older sister seeking refuge in a diner with her sibling. This is the order each story falls chronologically, but they can be played in any pattern.
Each character is unique, and remarkably all avoid becoming clichés despite hints of stereotypical scenarios. Shel, who plays the protective surrogate parent to her younger sister Becca, is in a role we’ve seen a few times before (especially if you read the comics or watch the show), however with only fifteen minutes of screen time she still manages to make a lasting impression. She struggles to balance her role as a moral guide while making tough decisions in an unforgiving world for the better of the group.
Then there’s Wyatt and his friend Eddie, who despite just escaping mortal danger, play rock, paper, scissors to determine who’s going outside to investigate. Of course, a few characters stand out more than others, but that’s to be expected when touching on the lives of five distinctive people.
Additionally, each story treads lightly on deeper societal dilemmas not usually considered in a post-apocalyptic world: how do we deal with language barriers; should those we can’t communicate with be left to fend on their own? Is that inherently racist? What about drug addicts, how will they cope? Are they now scavenging for food AND drugs, or trying to detox? Though these questions aren’t answered in 400 Days, I appreciated the illumination on these intriguing circumstances.
References to stories previously played are littered throughout each campaign, such as a robbery discussed in one story is explained in another, which gives the entire package a tightly cohesive feel, especially since the entire story intersects at a truck stuck on a Georgia highway. Moreover, some familiar names are mentioned in passing that highlight some important Season One moments, so paying close attention to all the dialogue has its rewards (though playing through Season One is not a requirement to understand what occurs in 400 Days).
While the gameplay is familiar in 400 Days, each story manages to differ in its mechanics, which is both surprising and much appreciated. One character may need to hide in a cornfield to escape nearby strangers, while another is fending off a zombie. It’s still The Walking Dead, so it’s more about the dialogue choices you make, but it shows Telltale exploring more ways to amp the intensity factor.
In the same regard, it wouldn’t be a Walking Dead game without some framerate problems. There are some significant lag issues between scenes, more so this time than the entirety of Season One, at least in my playthrough. Sometimes audio failed to sync with lip movements, and some camera angles were questionable. While these glitches can disconnect you from the moment, it’s not enough to hinder the game entirely.
In any case, the impact of some moments is difficult to lessen. There’s a particular scene more gruesome than anything I can recall in Season One, and it drags on for more time than I was comfortable with, which was intentional. Then there was another moment accompanied by an extremely difficult choice, one that took me quite a few minutes to make. The choice had no timer, so I was given the liberty to think it over, again intentional. Those instances, while difficult, are what make The Walking Dead the new standard in videogame storytelling; they understand player interactions well enough to determine what matters most. Though, I will admit the final scene had me more perplexed than I think I was meant to be.
400 Days is not the emotional rollercoaster that was Season One, but it will still leave that bitter taste you get from the horrific consequences of your chosen decisions. Though the entire experience will take you less than two hours, for $4.99 it’s a good way to hold you over until we see Clementine again.