I was certainly not the only person to be impressed with, and affected by, Telltale Games’ episodic series The Walking Dead last year. It featured on many “Best of” lists, and justifiably so; the writing alone makes it stand out to me like few games ever have. Now, in advance of the next season (a date for which has not yet been announced), the developer has released 400 Days, a single-episode add-on intended to bridge the gap between the first and second runs.
Mechanically, nothing has changed. If you played the original series (and if you haven’t, you’re probably not playing this particular episode anyway), then the controls will be familiar. There’s some third-person movement and a few quick-time events, but overall, the dialogue choices are the focus. You will still encounter many sets of choices with the familiar time bar that shrinks as you ponder which is best—or, more likely, which is the least terrible.
There are still no good choices—not really. This was an important point of the first series, and it’s one that 400 Days definitely does not abandon. You’re still in a world that really, really sucks. In nearly all of the situations you encounter, someone is going to get hurt or be endangered no matter what you do; it’s your job to decide not if that will go down, but how. Sometimes that choice may be more difficult than others, but Telltale manages to never make it easy or obvious, which is part of what made the original so powerful.
So, if the world is the same, the system is the same, the art is the same, and the dialogue is the same, what’s changed? Well, for one, the characters are different. I’m not sure if this turns out to be the same for everyone, but I only had one character from the original series show up in my game, and I didn’t even interact with that person; it was the briefest of cameos. Instead, you follow five short vignettes featuring the five characters that, presumably, will be the focus of the new season. These can be played in any order, and once all have been completed, there’s a short sequence that ties them all together and sets a starting point for their combined adventure.
This, I think, was why I didn’t have as strong a reaction to 400 Days as I did to TWD. You simply don’t have enough time to get attached to any one character, because their introductions are so rapid-fire. This isn’t to say that the characters themselves aren’t as strong; there’s definitely potential to them, and what I have seen so far has me interested to learn more. In that, 400 Days is quite successful. It’s pretty hard not to compare them to Lee and Clem, though, which is not fair at all, as I had five episodes and a hugely emotional journey with those two. To see how that particular comparison really stacks up, we’ll have to wait until the new season actually begins.
If your game settings allow for it, you will still see pop-ups at various points notifying you of how your decisions affect the world around you: “So and so will remember that.” This indicates that the choices will have an impact beyond what happens in this isolated episode, so if you are looking forward to season two, that’s something to keep in mind. The ending leaves plenty of room for things to develop, but it also could have a significant effect on how the new series starts, so it will also be interesting to see the “default” choices stack up against those that actual players make.
Overall, I’m not sure it’s possible to take 400 Days as an isolated game. It’s a teaser—an appetizer. As that, it’s incredibly effective, because I definitely want to see where it goes from here. If you come in wanting resolution, you’re not going to find it, but if you want a taste of things to come, then I highly recommend using this to take a peek.
Writing is as excellent as ever
Leaves plenty of room for things to expand in what comes after
New characters are intriguing
Not connected to the previous episodes
Not much time to get connected to the new characters and setting
Really difficult to write about without spoilers…
Overall: 4 out of 5
The Walking Dead: 400 Days is available for purchase on 360, PS3, PC, Mac, and iOS. The PS Vita version is scheduled for release in August. Telltale Games provided a review code for this game.