Video Game Review: The Walking Dead – 400 Days

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Plot: The zombie apocalypse is at hand and everyone is doing what they can to survive. Five individuals named Vince, Bonnie, Russell, Shel, and Wyatt all come from different walks of life, but are brought together by chance at a single truck stop on a Georgia highway. All five undergo personal turmoil and heartbreak as they try to get through this mad world. After 400 days, each will have their lives forever altered based on their decisions leading up to the end.

The Walking Dead Video Game has been quite a ride over the past year for millions of people. Completely ignoring other titles like Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead where the games are about killing as many zombies as possible, The Walking Dead Video Game focused significantly on characterization and giving players a real emotional connection to the characters on screen. Season 1 of The Walking Dead Video Game received near universal acclaim for its strong writing and voice acting, and even won an incredible amount of “Game of the Year” awards from publications like USA Today and GamesRadar. The game was a smash hit to say the least, so the fact that developer Telltale Games wanted to continue it was no surprise. Season 2 is currently slated to come out in Autumn 2013, but to satiate fans until that awaited date, Telltale Games teased that even more content will come before that. This was later revealed to be The Walking Dead: 400 Days at E3 2013 and will revolve around five brand new characters with five completely unique short stories. The intended purpose is to bridge the gap between Season 1 and Season 2, with events from 400 Days having an impact on how Season 2 plays out. Was Telltale able to work their magic to create a great sort-of follow up to the highly praised Season 1, or does this new addition trudge along like the zombies we all want to avoid?

It’s pretty safe to say that if you were a huge fan of Season 1 like I was, then you’ll absolutely love 400 Days. Cosmetically the game is absolutely the same. The graphics look great and still retain the comic book style, you still move a little target around to select which options you want to do, and what your characters say is entirely up to you. The whole controlled narrative aspect that everyone loved from before is still obviously present. Who lives and who dies is up to you, and how each character views you is entirely your decision. You could turn a character like Shel into an unforgiving human being who prefers giving the death penalty, or you could make her someone full of compassion who likes to give people a second chance. The same really goes for the other four characters. Each segment can be played at different times as well with little connections present during each short story. For example, someone hunting you in one story for one character is the ally of another character in their story. What’s also important to know as well is when each character’s climatic journey happens. Vince is Day 2 of the zombie outbreak, Wyatt is Day 41, Russell is Day 184, Bonnie is Day 220, and Shel is Day 236. Day 400, or the Epilogue, is where these five characters are seen together for the first time and their own tough decisions come back into play.

Speaking of tough decisions, each story has their own “big” moment like we saw all the time during Season 1. These are those moments were stats appear at the end showing what each individual player picked earlier. There were always five “big” decisions per episode in Season 1, so naturally there are five “big” decisions in 400 Days, one for each character. Each one appears near the end of their individual story and that decision directly impacts how the character acts at the very end. It’s expected at this point that these are the decisions that will really come back once Season 2 rolls around. Each decision carries its own monumental weight, and considering how quickly you have to get to know these characters, choosing which option to pick is at times very difficult. For example, I waited so long to make my decision during Vince’s story that I ended up dying. It’s difficult when you really have nothing to fall back on regardless of what you have immediately seen on the screen.

400 Days does a great job connecting you to the characters in a very short amount of time, but that connection is no where near as deep as the one you felt during Season 1. Each story is so short as well that just when you’re really connecting to the person you’re playing as, their story is over. The game as a whole is also much shorter than each individual episode prior, not even coming close to the two hour mark. While this didn’t really allow us to form that deep of a connection with the characters, it did let us experience the real meat and potatoes of the story almost immediately. There is no aimless walking and figuring out what to do next with this game. It’s all action from start to finish with only short breathers here and there. Once the five stories are over, the game is pretty much wrapped up as well, so don’t expect much beyond Day 400. From my understanding, that’s all Season 2.

What disappointed me about this new addition was how seemingly inconsequential the decisions from Season 1 were. Perhaps I need to play a new game without even touching Season 1 to see the real changes, but from what I saw there were barely any echoes of what I did prior. The only real exception I saw was during Shel’s story where some characters from Episode 4: “Around Every Corner” make an appearance. This makes Shel’s story take place after those events, very likely even after Season 1. However, these characters were minor at best before and they’re just as minor now. That’s the only real connection that I saw. Again, I played through 400 Days on my already completed Season 1 file, so there’s a chance that I missed something. For that reason I’d still recommend not playing 400 Days until you get through Season 1. However, if I did end up missing more connections, they really should have been clearer to give us a real tangible connection to Season 1. Something like running into Christa and Omid before they meet with Lee and Clementine would have been awesome. Considering Lee ran into Christa and Omid several months after the outbreak, at the very least 100 days after, it would have been cool to see them get written into Vince or Wyatt’s stories in some form. There’s really none of that though, so if you were expecting deep connections prepare to be disappointed.

The typical technical issues that plagued Season 1 are present as well, but weren’t as game breaking as before. For starters, the game didn’t erase my files completely at random, which is always a good thing! Sometimes the scene transitions were a little choppy and the lips didn’t always match up with the voices as well. Not major issues mind you, just the same stuff that everyone complained about during the first season. My game was almost completely issue free with a few small problems here and there, so it looks like Telltale improved their methods from before. Definitely not perfect however.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days is meant to bridge the gap of Season 1 and 2 and whet everyone’s appetite for what comes next. Through a still strong voice cast, beautiful animation, and just as difficult decisions as before, 400 Days accomplishes this in spades. All the good from Season 1 comes back with a different cast of characters, and I can’t wait to see these many different stories from 400 Days and Season 1 come together in Season 2 later this year. The game is short, only taking about an hour and half during your initial playthrough, but that means all the attention is focused on the action and not aimless wandering. However, this also means that we don’t get as deep of a connection to these characters as before. The same tech issues from earlier are present as well though a lot less frequent. Regardless of the cons, 400 Days is a great example of DLC that just works and is a must have for anyone invested in this version of The Walking Dead.

Rating: 9/10

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