TITLE: The Walking Dead: 400 Days
DEVELOPER/PUBLISHER: Telltale Games
PRICE: $5 US/400MS Points
TYPE: Digital (Downloadable Content)
*Important Note* 400 Days, is not a standalone game. It is DLC, therefore you must have Episode One installed on your Xbox to play (which is free as a trial in the Arcade section), even if you have the retail disc version. Additionally it is recommended that you have played the first season of The Walking Dead before playing 400 Days.
“This is a good thing. I know it is.” – Bonnie
If there’s one game that made surprising waves last year, it was the revitalization of the point-and-click adventure game genre: Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. Paired with an emotional and original story, the game is set canonically in the timeframe alongside the comic series (although there are many similarities and overlaps with the AMC TV show).
For those who have yet to play the actual game, the story is separate from that of Rick Grimes and the group we know from both the comic and the show. The protagonist is Lee Everett, a convicted killer who becomes thrown into the word of the undead and quickly becomes the caretaker of a little girl, Clementine.
Over the course of five episodes (cumulatively known as “Season One”), both of them encounter other survivors and threats both from the undead and the living. The story is tailored to a player’s own preferences of choices and decisions affect the game, albeit not to the extent some people completely assume such as games like Mass Effect or Skyrim.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days, is brand new DLC that attempts to bridge both Season One and the upcoming Season Two (planned for release in late 2013). It is additionally only minutely related to Lee’s story in the original The Walking Dead game. That said, Telltale consciously made the effort so that all your choices you make going forward (in Season One and in 400 Days) carryover to the next installment. Things you do in Lee’s story will be reflected in some way for this DLC.
Unlike Season One’s story, Telltale diverts again with 400 Days and experiments in a brand new story with more than one playable protagonist. As the name suggests, the DLC episode takes place over the course of the first 400 days of the series from slightly before the outbreak and onwards through an indeterminate point in Season One (most likely towards the end). The episode is split into 5 mini-stories featuring one playable character each: Vince, Wyatt, Russell, Bonnie, and Shel. You can pick and choose which ones to tackle first, but they all eventually come together, though the order I described is chronological.
“How do we know this will work out?” – Vince
As was stylistic of Season One, the game is part linear and part limited-free-roaming. The order of things investigated is up to the player, but eventually, the game does move the plot forward at set points. Players are rewarded if they attempt to dive deeper into conversation with other characters, and these plot points will show up later on as well. To fully experience The Walking Dead, I recommend this tactic instead of jumping from action to action. The game is clearly not an action game, but is much more investigative and embedded in the lull and downtime in which speech, investigation, and collection come into play.
Ultimately though if we are to break it down, 400 Days still remains very much a Telltale game and a Walking Dead game to it’s heart. The same creative developers who wrote the likable characters and the humorous and realistic dialogue for Lee and Clementine are still very much apart of this DLC. The branching-thought process of what carries on where depending on players input is evident, and the caretaking nature of each piece of the episode from the basic art to the voice acting are all done to the same great degree as Season One. The bridging of the two seasons, is a big draw for the DLC and it’s this draw that makes me recommend it to others who’ve already played Season One.
The only problem I personally had with it, without spoiling the game is that it’s done in too little space. Instead of controlling one character and following their story, we have five separate characters and only a certain portion of the episode devoted to the how, where and whys of their position in the story. There’s not enough time to care or become involved with them as we did with Lee over those five episodes. While we are ultimately offered subtle hints at where Season Two might go, the end of the episode paired with the lackluster integration of the player gives this DLC not enough power as it’s Season One counterpart. It’s hard to compare a DLC with a full game, but having heralded the latter because of so many strong points; I find it very hard to be just as in love with 400 Days as I am with Season One.
Story: The story is written much like the writing with Season One, and gives points of moral questioning and shocking scenes of the loss of control that plagues The Walking Dead franchise. Although the truck stop is a focal point, it is relegated to a background set piece for all but two of the stories. As I noted before, although 400 Days is effective in conveying quick characterizations of each protagonist, it does so at a much more simplified state than that of Lee’s story.
Because it all takes place in one episode, there is a little too much being crammed in and this results in a less involved story. Everything seems too quick and decisions/interactions are rushed and become not as important to the player when compared to those of Season One. Because you don’t become as invested in the story, this adds to the disappointment at the cliffhanger at the end when it ultimately sets them up again for whatever appearance they and the settlement plot will make in Season Two.
Gameplay: Being a point of continual contention for Season One by many gamers, some deem that the quick-time events that show up in key parts of the game detracts from it being nothing more than an interactive movie. While that was much truer in Telltale’s Jurassic Park: The Game, they made the right decision in balancing the QTEs with general point-and-click problem solving that is signature of adventure games. These QTEs and the gameplay style that is recognizable to the game continues in 400 Days. So if you’re adamant about not playing games with QTEs, this may not be a game for you.
Additionally, if you don’t care about stories in a game and like high-action FPS shooting, this is far from a game you might want to play. This game is meant for players who enjoy an emotional and engaging story that focuses on characters who they can relate to. If you’re already drawn into the world of either the comic or the TV show, then 400 Days easily serves as a companion/downtime piece before the next issue/season.
Audio/Soundtrack: The audio work in The Walking Dead is always top notch, and the same applies to 400 Days. Walkers sound dangerous and the numerous ways of killing them is visceral in sound; a gunshot ricochets away, characters sound rich and believable, and the general ambience of a post-apocalyptic world stands strong. Just like Season One, the music comes in sparingly at points of action or an emotional scene. It’s the general minimalistic trend of composition that gives an importance or cue to the player that is signature of survival games like these.
Graphics: Telltale’s games all run on the same in-house Telltale Tool Engine, so they are not as detailed as high fidelity games that impress like Battlefield or Call of Duty. That said the graphics are detailed enough to make the work believable, and paired with the grainy, comic-book art style, the game excels in its own deco and world.
Final Verdict: If you’re already invested in Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead series, I’d highly recommend picking up the 400 Days DLC. I can’t stress enough that it takes into account the decisions you made and will additionally affect the upcoming Season Two. If you’ve also become very attached to the story of Clem and Lee, you might find coming into a new set of characters without the buildup of the original game, disorienting and uneasy. For those who’ve yet to dive into this game but have heard about its praise, try out the trial on Xbox Live Arcade and see if the first episode is enough for you to play more. If you enjoy The Walking Dead comic or the TV series, check it out as well! But if you step into the game expecting a FPS or something full of high-strung action, then this is definitely not the game for you and neither is the 400 Days DLC.