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Jul 05 2013

Review of The Walking Dead: 400 Days

the-walking-dead-400-days[rating=5]

Telltale Game’s latest is a small romp that takes place between season 1 and season 2 of their award-winning take on The Walking Dead. Being a single episode in and of itself, it doesn’t quite deliver the long-term and engaging investment of the original series. Still, it offers more of the same, and that is just fine by me. Telltale seems to have tried a few different things with this piece of content, offering 5 different stories in just a single episode. Is this addition to The Walking Dead’s interactive canon enough to tide us over until season 2, or is this a story best left untold?

Clocking in at around 2 hours, 400 Days serves as an appetizer while fans wait for the next official chapter to continue. The add-on reads your season 1 data (though what for, I couldn’t tell) and will have ramifications in season 2. In that 2 hours, you’ll play through 5 different storylines (plus one shorter epilogue). Each story takes about 25 minutes in total. This is both the biggest draw and drawback of 400 Days. The brilliance of season 1 was that we got to spend a long time developing and growing with Lee and Clem. By the end of season 1, many of us had grown attached to these characters and genuinely cared about the outcome of our choices. In 400 Days, this same sort of attachment isn’t there, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing at all. Telltale has really grown their storytelling since season 1, and the fact that they managed to deliver 5 fantastic short stories is nothing shy of amazing.

Oh, the places you'll go...

Oh, the places you’ll go…

Without giving much of the plot away, each story offered a quality and varied experience. The title, 400 Days, refers the span of time in which the game takes place. Centered around an abandoned truck stop, one of the game’s best features is indeed the fact that you get to play through 5 unique stories that, mostly, use a shared space. Missing items or mysterious blood stains in one story will often be answered in another. There is also a hint at a much larger arc which will hopefully find fruition in season 2. While the 5 stories do indeed offer sequential and thematic ties with each other, they are quite varied in terms of play style. While some would just be 5 item-find and puzzle-solve clones, each story offers something a little unique.

With only 25 minutes to offer a complete experience, Telltale worked their narrative magic, but have also tried out some changes in gameplay. No, the game doesn’t suddenly change into an FPS, but there are some unique takes on the formula. Conversation does indeed still take place on a timer, and characters frequently note whose side you take or what actions you make. While I wouldn’t say there were more ‘live-or-die’ moments than season 1, the shorter game length certainly made it feel like there were. Tough choices were made, and though I didn’t always think I made the best choice, I made best out of a bad situation. Where the game tries out some new material is by changing how you interact with objects and your environment. One story has you dodging gunshots while ducking between cars. Another story has you running and hiding throughout a corn field, and then has you wiggle a piece of rebar out of the dirt just in time to defend yourself. It was refreshing to see some new mechanics used in this episode, and I hope to see more of these used in the next proper installment.

This section seemed like something right out of The X-Files

This section seemed like something right out of The X-Files

While this was an outstanding addition to the Telltale catalogue, the game suffers from some of the same problems as season 1. The voice acting in this addition is as strong as ever, but lip syncing problems sometimes remove the player from the experience. There are also a few graphical hiccups now and then. Scenes will often break too early or freeze before saving for a second. While none of these problems are that detrimental, they are noticeable. The immensely impressive world-building and narrative prowess used in the game makes any blemish seem all the larger. It would be nice to see these issues fixed in following installments, as they seem to be the same problems present in season 1. Still, while it is good to be aware of these problems, they don’t really detract from the overall experience.

At $5 for 2 hours, The Walking Dead: 400 Days is the certainly the cheapest collection of short horror stories you’ll find, but the quality and variety offered is astounding as well. Telltale seems to be trying out some new techniques this time around, and I think it will pay off. While I didn’t notice the effects of my season 1 data at play (though there was one recognizable location), the fact that this will have ramifications into season 2 is quite exciting. If I could throw out some conjecture, I hope that season 2 will continue Clem’s story (as well as any others that survived during your unique playthrough). It would be great to see these 5 new characters be NPCs and their location and attitudes will vary depending how you played 400 Days. Overall, The Walking Dead: 400 Days gets and fully deserves a 5 out of 5 stars. While there wasn’t the depth developed in the same way as season 1, these shorter bites of story and new gameplay elements were exciting to see. One can only hope that these new techniques are just a glimpse of what Telltale will have to offer in what will surely be a brilliant second season.

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