The Walking Dead: 400 Days
Maybe after the first Walking Dead season’s rigorous and emotionally wrenching web of events, you’re not really ready to once again have your gut punched into psychological submission at the hands of Telltale Game’s brutal narrative sensibilities. But let’s be honest, for all the loss and mental scarring the first five episodes put you through, you can probably still justify it. Thankfully, ‘special episode’ 400 Days successfully runs on with its forebears’ bleak and unsettling descent into apocalypse, even if the new characters don’t quite hang around long enough to leave a lasting mark.
For all intents and purposes, 400 Days is a sort of spin-off to last year’s opening season. A cast of new characters are all briefly introduced via their own short mini vignettes which are smartly laid out to approach in whichever order you like. The concept of struggling through a land ravaged by zombie infestation as a squabbling group may be worn-out to some degree, but the first wave of episodes demonstrated an appreciation for culling effective human drama from this usually depleted horror. The writing was sharp and engaging; and the choices presented as a result of many harrowing circumstances were not only grey but uncommonly mature. While 400 Days carries this baton onwards with a force as grimly involving as before, the fresh cast is given such short air time that this shortened selection of individual tales ultimately can’t compete with the five episode-long love affair established with previous characters.
In fairness however, this could never be the case with a one-off episode. If that was such a core component of the first season of The Walking Dead, you might ask, then what’s the appeal of 400 Days? Likewise, it’s the quality of writing, storytelling and characters which makes it all worth going through. Without divulging too much of this stuff (primarily for the sake of not giving away the details of an hour-long piece of content), Telltale connect the dots between all of 400 Days’ characters without ever falling into a trap of illogically crossing their paths or signposting obvious clues across each vignette. The impression that there are many stories to be told is strongly felt when all is said and done, and that’s reason enough to be excited for the future of the series if nothing else.
That said, the conclusion to 400 Days doesn’t necessarily provide a lot of resolution, although it remains to be seen what’s to come of the next full-on season and if any of the events here tie in. If Walking Dead of old bummed you out with all of its harshness and sheer dramatic weight, 400 Days probably won’t cheer you up much either. Of course, moments of despair and immoral behaviour from the certain characters pervade the experience, but the odd occasion of comic relief highlights a human-like touch so shamefully devoid in many game-based narratives. These moments remind of Joel and Ellie’s left-field banter in The Last of Us – this kind of dialogue interaction is a natural fit that goes a long way to making your time spent with particular cast members that much more persuasive. As the nature of the beast suggests, story beats between all 400 Days’ protagonists generally thread a specific location across different stretches of time. While some are definitely more appealing than other fairly familiar accounts, there’s an enjoyable spread of different character archetypes and unique scenarios to keep things interesting throughout each one.
Plus, the worst parts of the opening season – the more ‘interactive’ bits – are fairly few and far between here. That means less ‘shoehorning something of a first-person shooter into a talky adventure game’ for half a minute, and more ‘this is best as a talky adventure game and we’re mostly sticking to it.’ For what it’s worth as well, this seemed more technically stable than last year’s episodes, which were all notably hitchy in spots (in reference to the Xbox 360 version).
As a primer for Walking Dead’s upcoming sophomore season, 400 Days is absolutely a worthwhile stop-gap. More importantly, it is a great reminder that Telltale can continue to deliver on a quality of writing and characterisation far beyond many of its contemporaries, even when placed into a single chapter so fleeting compared to a full season’s worth of escalated drama.
Game reviewed on Xbox 360; purchased by D+PAD
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