The Walking Dead: 400 Days has some big shoes to fill. Lee and Clementine’s adventure is one of the most emotionally charged stories I’ve ever experienced in all my years of playing video games. Watching the relationships I nurtured (or in some cases, neglected due to the game’s focus on making difficult decisions) over the game’s five chapters was a powerful experience, and when a main character bit the dust as a direct result of a decision I had made, I sincerely felt responsible. The best zombie games and movies are never about the undead ghouls themselves, but about the relationships people build against all odds, and the drastic measures people resort to when they’re backed into a corner. In no game before had this been executed better executed than in Telltale’s Walking Dead: Season One.
That said, Telltale’s decision to release 400 Days as essentially a collection of 5 short stories that intertwine in the end is a bold move. Fr0m the outset players choose from one of five characters whose pictures are pinned to a bulletin board, then their story begins. You can choose to play these stories in any order, and many of the stories are interconnected. The characters you play as come from very different walks of life, Vince, like Season One’s main protagonist, Lee, is on his way to prison for murdering an unarmed man to protect his brother when his story begins, to Shel, who just wants to protect her younger sister from the horrors of a world turned upside down. The problem is, it’s hard to care a great deal about the cast of characters in the same way you cared about Lee and his companions, mainly because you simply spend so little time getting to know them and their history.
The game itself feels just shy of the length of your typical episode, with many chapters taking just over ten minutes or so to complete. During these brief vignettes you’ll have to make some tough calls, often with grisly repercussions, but without having the time to build up a relationship with the characters you come across these scenes lose a great deal of their potential impact. Vince’s entire story takes place upon a prison bus, and most of young teenage survivor Russel’s tale takes place on the side of a highway. There just isn’t a whole lot of room in these brief tales to build up any opinion of the people you encounter.
Well, except for Nate. He’s a total dick.
The main story’s brevity aside, Telltale still proves they are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to crafting roller coaster ride of a tale. During the roughly hour-long adventure you’ll shoot it out with a deadly sniper, evade being pursued by an angry mob of survivors while weaving through a pitch-black cornfield, and decide whether to kill a dear friend to preserve the status quo or get out of town and throw your chances of survival to the wind to preserve your humanity. And, as always, it’s fun to go back and play the game again after you’ve completed it to see just how things play out depending on the choices you make. The five stories all weave together at various ways that are pretty easy to miss unless you’re paying attention, and I have to admit it’s cool seeing just how some of the chapters fit together.
When all is said and done, The Walking Dead: 400 Days is a worthwhile revisiting of one of the best games of 2012, but its execution definitely comes off as a bit experimental. Not that that’s a bad thing per se, but fans expecting a another heart rending experience of the same caliber as the other chapters would be wise try to approach this chapter with tempered expectations. So long as you go in treating 400 Days as an appetizer for the upcoming second season, rather than the main course for the feast that was Season one, you’ll be satisfied.
I give The Walking Dead: 400 Days three out of five fetid joysticks.
Available on: PC, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, iOS; Publisher: Telltale Games; Developer: Telltale Games; Players: 1; Released: July, 2nd ; ESRB: Mature; MSRP: $4.99