The Walking Dead: 400 Days - Review
Telltale Games achieved a lot with their release of The Walking Dead episodes last year. They made good on their promise to actually reflect player choice in a way that Mass Effect ultimately failed to do. What's more, they created a child character that you didn't want to throw off a bridge as soon as possible. Whilst the writing was solid, and more consistently well written than the TV series, the game still had its problems.
These largely came down the engine, which couldn't seem to cope with the actual game. It was rare that you could get through entire episode without the game stuttering as it cut between numerous characters. It wasn't necessarily a deal breaker, but it was disappointing since the writing (something that games struggle with far more often), was handled really well.
From this perspective, Telltale's 400 Days, which acts as a bride between the first and second season, is more of the same. The writing is still solid, and while the technical issues have been patched up a bit, they unfortunately still plague the title. It was never anything too bad, bar one moment where I thought I'd have to reset my console, but it is frustrating when the game is otherwise really immersive.
Where 400 Days does differ though is in the story it tells. Rather than following one character like we did with season one, here you get a glimpse into five different people's lives following the zombie apocalypse. It's an experiment on the developer's part, and one that for the most part pays off.
400 Days story is not (necessarily) told in chronological order. The five survivors: Vince, Wyatt, Russell, Bonnie and Shell each have individual narratives, typically ranging from fifteen to twenty minutes in length, that all take place in or around a truck stop. It's a bit like Pulp Fiction in that you're constantly making connections as the story develops. What's more interesting though is that the vignettes can be played in any order with some sequences, naturally, interacting with how you might view others.
It's a surprisingly refreshing concept, and one that emphasizes a video game's interactive quality alongside the more traditional cinematic elements that 400 Days borrows from older point-and-click adventure titles. The fact that you jump between numerous people's experience of the apocalypse also makes for a change of pace from season one.
However, it does highlight one of 400 Days weaknesses on a story level. Unlike Lee and the group, who we came to bond with over the course of several hours, here we only get a glimpse of these people, usually without a lot of context, for twenty minutes at most. As a result, there's not the same level of investment in the characters since we don't know them all that well. The game does a good job attempting to get us invested, and in some cases uses the lack of context we have to subvert our expectations, but overall its choices fall short of the emotional stakes experienced in season one.
Then there's the differences in quality between the actual episodes. Vincent story, which takes place only two days after the outbreak has started, is perhaps the most interesting, both because it takes place at a point in time that we rarely get to see in The Walking Dead universe. Trapped on a prison bus and chained to his fellow inmates makes for an interesting dilemma, not to mention that poor old Vincent has no idea what's going on at this point. Meanwhile, Wyatt's story was, for me, the one that didn't quite get the tone nailed down. It appears to go for a more relaxed approach as Wyatt and his friend Eddie attempt to flee from some unknown assailant. It verges on comical at times, especially considering some of the pair's choices, and I was never quite certain whether it was being intentionally comical or not.
Still, overall 400 Days remains an engaging piece of story-led gaming. The game also manages to reference the first season, even reflecting some of your choices, without shoehorning things in just for the sake of it. It's clear from the ending, however it turns out in your play through, that we haven't seen the end of Vincent, Bonnie, and the others. A fun appetizer before we get our hands on season two later this year.
This review is based on the Playstation 3 version.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days was released early July.
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