The Walking Dead: 400 Days Review
TellTale Games’ The Walking Dead took gamers by surprise last year, offering a story-driven adventure that won over both zombie aficionados and gamers alike. The second season of this praised series is not due out for some time, but TellTale hopes to make the wait a little easier with The Walking Dead: 400 Days, a DLC addendum that tells the story of five other survivors. Does this additional chapter deliver the same impact as the mainline series, or are you better off waiting for the real deal?
Set during the same time as Lee and Clementine’s journey, The Walking Dead: 400 Days tells the tale (heh) of five new survivors: Vince, Wyatt, Shel, Russell, and Bonnie. All of their stories are unrelated to one another, only coming together in the last 10 minutes of play. It’s standalone nature is a unique idea, perfect for both newcomers and veterans. However, this style is also a double-edged sword.
It all comes down to its length. The fact that 400 Hours is only two hours long means that these new faces do not get the time they need to become fully fleshed out characters. References to ex-girlfriends and past crimes are mentioned in passing, but it is hard to become attached to a name when we don’t know who they are or even what they look like. This especially stings when one considers how TellTale Games’ could have used their trademark characterization and writing style to flesh out the history each of these people could bring to the table.
Of course, being a TellTale game, each character has to make tough choices and spur-of-the-moment decisions. However, any possible repercussions that may come about from said decisions simply do not exist. What would originally lead to character growth in the original 10-hour adventure is simply brushed under the rug for a different persons’ tale in 400 Days. Massive railroading goes on in the story, and breaking the developers’ vision forces the script to make little sense. A particularly egregious example happened when I volunteered for a mission twice, forcing my teammate to call me a pussy and then subsequently beg me to play rock-paper-scissors with him…so I would go.
As a result, your choices end up feeling arbitrary, like you are watching a movie instead of playing a game. There is a vague payoff in the end, but even it is not fully explained and obviously serves as an interim for the second season. Said ending is not Mass Effect 3-ending caliber, but it does leave something to be desired.
Given the restraints the team had to work with, 400 Days stands as a fine addendum to its source material. The backgrounds of each character are distinctly different from one another, with a stoner on the run, a mother trying to shield her daughter from the world, and a third wheel rounding out the crew. It is easy to become attached to these characters, and each of them could easily hold their ground in a fully realized game all their own. To back up these personalities, the writing and voice acting are at the top of their class. Lines are delivered with emotion, and even subtleties like jealousy and a southern drawl can be heard. Put simply, they are human.
Of course, 400 Days is still a game. The decisions are easy to execute, but the tank-like controls and the awkward shooting mechanics are still present. A more free control scheme would work wonders in a game like this, even if it is barely utilized.
The story found in 400 Days carries The Walking Dead brand, but the DLC nature ultimately hinders its source material. As a taste of things to come, it is a fine prequel, but on its own merits, it is merely a group of stories just begging for an ending.