The Walking Dead: 400 Days (PC) Review: Long on Stories, Short on Storytelling

the-walking-dead-400-days-box-artLast year’s The Walking Dead by Telltale Games was a real surprise. Not only was it a licensed game that turned out to be spectacular when the TV show based on the comics was struggling but it came from a developer who hadn’t put out a really good game in the previous couple of years. The Walking Dead was the surprise hit of 2012 and walked away with a number of Game of the Year awards.

With the promise of The Walking Dead: Season 2 upcoming, Telltale tided us over with a new series of five short stories from their The Walking Dead universe. Fortunately, all the success hasn’t gone to their head and tiny series of snippets into The Walking Dead play out almost as well as Season 1.

If you’ve played Season 1 of The Walking Dead, you already know how the gameplay works. It’s a point-and-click game. Sometimes there are quick time events that you have to pass to move on with the story. None of that changes in 400 Days. Similarly, the answers you choose in dialogue influence what the other characters think of you.

the-walking-dead-400-days-screenshot-02There is a bit more variety in the gameplay here than we were used to in Season 1. While there were shooting and stealth sections in Season 1, one of the five stories has both in quick succession. Another story has a game of rock, paper, scissors minigame. One story even has a game of “would you rather” which is quickly followed by a run for your life section. Gameplay is changed up more frequently in 400 Days which keeps the pace from ever dropping. It helps tell the tales of people desperate just to survive.

The visuals are pretty standard for The Walking Dead. It’s the same visual style that’s inspired by The Walking Dead comics but in colour rather than the black and white of the comics. The only real change is that some of the interactive object identifiers don’t show up even if the options are set to show them at all times. I found that this was only really a problem in Shel and Russell’s stories.

The premise of TWD 400 Days is about a group of survivors whose stories all cross paths with one location at different times. Each of the characters go by a truck stop in rural Georgia. In the case of three characters, this truck stop is in the background as their stories take place. For the other two stories, the truck stop is a central location for the action where important decisions are made.

The 400 Days comes in as the story takes place at various points in time over the first 400 days of the zombie apocalypse. They start around two days after the outbreak with other stories taking place over 250 days into the apocalypse. The epilogue to the five stories is, in fact, set 400 days following the start of the walker infestation.

the-walking-dead-400-days-screenshot-01The stories and characters are introduced by showing their pictures and names on a billboard at the truck stop. They’re posted there for you to go through in any order you choose. The stories don’t impact each other but it looks like they will have an impact down the line if you run into any of these characters down the road in Season 2.

Each of the five stories covered in this DLC run 20 minutes or less in length for a total run time of about 90 minutes. You’re not going to mistake the size and scope of these new stories with the first season of TWD. Of course, with this being DLC, we weren’t expecting each story to be the same size as an episode of the proper game but I was hoping for over two hours in length.

My one complaint about the game is that the time spent with the new characters left them a little thin compared to what we got in Season 1. Granted, there’s a massive difference between getting five episodes of character development focusing on a small group of survivors and 20 minutes with a whole bunch of different characters.

the-walking-dead-400-days-screenshot-03There’s not enough time to get to know some of the characters and learn about their motivations and those around them but nothing is really fleshed out. Shel’s story is probably the best written as her relationship with her sister is fairly well fleshed out but life with the other half-dozen people in her group is mostly implied rather than told. (Though her story does feature a neat call-back to Season 1). Most of the other stories are picked up partway through which just throws you blindly into the middle of the plot. You can get bits and pieces but it’s never as deep as we had with Lee and company.

Still, the stories felt right when compared to The Walking Dead comics and Season One, even if they are short. It’s still a very dark universe where anyone can die at any point in time and other survivors are bigger threats than the walkers. And even though our time with Lee and Clementine has come and gone, 400 Days is still about trying to carry on living in the face of end of life as we know it.

Telltale has hinted that some of the characters we meet in 400 Days will make an appearance in Season 2 of The Walking Dead. When you get to the end of your 400 Days experience, you’ll know which ones are likely to make an appearance and who you are unlikely to see again. Given that there appears to be multiple outcomes to the epilogue, it’ll be interesting to see how differently Season 2 would play out depending on which characters actually appear in Season 2.

Conclusion

the-walking-dead-400-days-screenshot-04What Telltale did with 400 Days was set the table for Season 2 and experiment with changing POVs for the different stories. Maybe I’m reading too much into the latter but I wouldn’t be surprised if changing between characters for the different stories is something that Telltale was testing out for Season 2.

While 400 Days doesn’t quite live up to the storytelling that we’ve come to expect from the rest of TWD Season 1, it’s by no means a let down. It’s good to see that 400 Days doesn’t try to change the formula to sell more copies or go more mainstream. It’s the same style of TWD game that won awards in 2012 and it’ll be interesting to see how the decisions I made here and in Season 1 affect Season 2.

Rating: 8.0/10

The Walking Dead: 400 Days DLC was reviewed on Windows PC but is also available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Macintosh OS X, PlayStation Vita and iOS. In order to play 400 Days, you must own The Walking Dead Season One. Your impressions of the game may change based on the platform played on, your decisions in the game and your PC specs.

Cross-posted from et geekera.

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