|System: PS3*, Xbox 360, PC, PS Vita|
|Release: July 2, 2103|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Intense Violence, Blood and Gore, Drug Reference, Strong Language|
by Angelo M. D’Argenio
If The Walking Dead: Season 1 was the great American novel (zombie novel) in video game form, then The Walking Dead: 400 Days is classic, fictional short stories (zombie short stories) in video game form. Instead of connecting the player to a set of characters like Lee and Clementine, the game revolves around a setting instead: one little truck stop in Georgia. The events of 400 Days connect the player to the history of this truck stop and the world of Season 1. Telltale will set the stage for Season 2 later this fall.
The game opens up on a bulletin board showing with pictures of several missing persons posted on it. These will be the characters you control during the game. You can play the stories in any order you like, and they take place anywhere from 2 to 400 days after the zombie apocalypse erupts. However, the stories are likely best experienced when you play them in order. Elements from previous chapters tend to show up in later chapters, referencing the events that took place, even though they may not have much relevance to the new characters you are controlling. Similarly, elements from Season 1 tend to show up as well, such as the drug store where you camped out in Episode 1.
The whole short-story format of 400 Days has its ups and downs. The game does a fantastic job of making you care about characters in a very short span of time. As always, important decisions need to be made without giving you a lot of time to think about them. So you are forced to come to your own conclusions about the backstories of some of the characters you meet. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. Allowing you to fill in the gaps in character motivation and backstory with your own imagination actually works quite well in this format.
The one downside to the format is that you always kind of want more. Granted, every character’s story is successfully wrapped up (to different extents), but it just doesn’t give you the same payoff as the Season 1 endings did. The game leaves you feeling like there is more story to tell, which is actually the case considering Season 2 is coming out, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a little something about the game that feels… incomplete. Maybe that’s the whole point? Maybe Telltale is just getting us hyped for the next season? Who knows.
The most satisfying part of 400 Days is its variety of gameplay. 400 Days doesn’t play it safe by sticking to the formula that worked in Season 1. Instead, it introduces a whole bunch of new gameplay elements such as stealth sections or contextual shooting sections. There are also several more quick-time events in 400 Days than there were in Season 1, making the whole DLC chapter feel more urgent.
However, this urgent pacing also comes at a price. Some of the stories feel a bit odd, as short establishing scenes are cutoff to make way for more action-based scenes. Huge spans of time are lost in scene transitions as you hop, skip, and jump your way to important points in your characters’ lives. It’s not sloppy so much as it is jarring, breaking you out of dialogue that you were invested in. It’s easily overlooked and made up for by the overall quality of the rest of the plot, but it bears mentioning as a tiny flaw within the short-story video game format.
Another interesting quirk about 400 Days lies in its overall tone. It doesn’t really feel like Season 1 in that it’s not really telling the story of a man caught in the zombie apocalypse. Instead, it’s telling the story of the zombie apocalypse itself. You aren’t really given time to explore your surroundings like you were in Season 1. Sure, there is plenty of the good-old Telltale “click on X to pick up Y and interact with Z”-style gameplay, but you rarely have those moments like you did in Season 1 where Lee was just wandering around the drug store or the motel. Instead, the game constantly forces you into climactic scenes after a short bit of character building, usually done through dialogue. Once again, this isn’t a bad thing; it’s just a facet of the new short-story format.