Last year’s violent but oh so satisfying and award-winning The Walking Dead isn’t followed up by the continuation of Season 1, but receives a DLC (a first for Telltale Games). If 400 Days hits the same level of quality or is simply another example of a left-over cash-in, you’ll find out here.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days (Xbox 360)
(USA 2012-2013, developer/publisher: Telltale Games, platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3, PS Vita, iOS)
A new group of survivors is formed and their zombie-related stories told.
Choose your character and story
Unlike the first season which concentrated on one specific group with an emphasis on two characters’ growing relationship, 400 Days tells the story of many survivors with their individual experiences after the zombie outbreak. Despite a unified time frame and shared locations, these can be selected in any order, and only at the end will they be connected with a frame story.
There are 5 stories to choose from with different protagonists who have their own settings and whose tales treat different subject matters. As these are rather short with only 20-30 minutes playtime, these will only be discussed briefly.
Despite its shocking violence, it’s quite difficult to really care about the main character or his other inmates, so when it comes to decision making, it’s not really a moral dilemma, because the outcome of the choices don’t seem to matter, as this is a very streamlined episode.
A surprisingly very humorous, but also scary episode, even though the main characters only win sympathy points because of their often comic verbal attacks rather than being relatable. Despite this flaw, there’s a bit more freedom and interactivity with scenes which play out differently.
Visually quite arresting, this offers another interesting mix of weird humor and outbursts of violence. Choosing between certain actions or answers is a bit disappointing, as it doesn’t really affect the outcome or gives a lot of insight into the individual characters’ thoughts and feelings. But it still delivers with some tense and action-packed scenes.
Another episode full of suspense which is reflected in tense dialogue, some smart stealth scenes and an overall depressing sense of despair. It might not have the same impact on the player with its shocking ending as in Season 1’s most dramatic parts, but it’s nevertheless a very strong and emotional entry to the series.
There’s not a lot to do in this episode and there aren’t many characters to talk to, which is a bit sad considering the potential this new-world-order society has for storytelling. But there are still enough gripping moments and more interesting moral decisions to make than in some of the other short stories. If any of these should be selected as some sort of direction for Season 2 or other DLCs to come, this story should be the best guide line for its sheer emotional power.
Connecting the character dots
As has been seen, the biggest issue with the DLC is the short time one spends with the new characters. There’s a lot of potential for each one, and even those who appear to be uncharismatic have some interesting characteristics. So it’s a real shame that these tales are only the beginnings of stories rather than forming a coherent whole. Together with the frame story, they function more like teasers for a big picture which also means that they lose some of their emotional impact.
There’s also the question of how these characters are connected to the main season. It has been said by Telltale that the decisions of Season 1 affect the DLC and the decisions of the DLC affect Season 2. Of course, one can only speculate how this plays out. During multiple playthroughs, it became apparent that there are only some very small allusions to the former story, e.g. finding a dead character on the roadside, which can also be avoided, so some people never experience this. A very simple but also crucial question is: How important is the DLC for the series as a whole when some people decide not to buy it?
Decisions made in parts
Having the freedom to choose between individual characters is certainly a very interesting idea and could provide Telltale with a more varied storytelling experience in the future, maybe even with some ways to see a scene from different perspectives. Unfortunately, this can’t be seen in the DLC. I’ve played through the game a second time after knowing its chronological order (which isn’t indicated before), and there were only some very small references to previous story arcs. It’s true that it wouldn’t have been possible to connect these episodes with different decision-making moments, but it would have made the stories feel much more homogenous (without the last one bringing them together).
Still despite all these flaws and the questionable short playtime of about 2 hours, there’s a lot to like in the storytelling of 400 Days. Dialogues are well-written and characters believable, touching and thought-provoking moments change with adrenaline-rushed action set-pieces which usually don’t suffer from the unfair short reaction times of the season. It’s also interesting to note that even if not all decisions seem to be as difficult to make as in the main game, the way how these experiences form each character’s persona at the end is very touching and convincing.
Limited gameplay and maximized experience
Categorizing The Walking Dead as a classic point-and-click adventure was already difficult with the first season, but the interactive movie template Heavy Rain followed with lots of button presses wouldn’t have done the game justice either. Now with the DLC, this is actually the best description one can give (although interactive drama still fits the bill).
Collecting items isn’t necessary anymore, and exploration is also very limited. So puzzle solving is a thing of the past, and so is the interactivity in a lot of scenes. On the one hand, this makes it much easier to follow the story and characters without getting stuck or having any downtime. But on the other hand, this makes it much harder to get involved in a believable world. The freedom of choice is one thing, but the lack of additional information by not being able to talk to a lot of people can be detrimental to the storytelling, if one isn’t careful enough.
An update in presentation
Not only the gameplay and storytelling received some slight changes and adjustments, the overall graphical presentation got some polish work as well. The graphical changes might not seem like much at first glance (or on screenshots), but there’s a definite step up for the character animations which are more fluid, and the freezing problems or slowdowns are fortunately a thing of the past. Camera work is also a bit more dynamic, while atmospheric sound effects, music and professional voice acting remain as great as ever.
An experiment in DLC with an interesting outcome
400 Days is an interesting experiment of Telltale’s franchise to dip into the DLC crowd. It offers the same high quality in scriptwriting when it comes to believable characters and moving human drama. Unfortunately, with its very short playtime and a decision-making system whose outcome can only be speculated on, it’s difficult to say how essential this purchase actually is and why it’s free for those who got it from the Telltale store while others who bought it on Steam or even disc don’t get the same treatment. Granted, it’s very entertaining without any dull moments and the whole idea of having multiple characters to choose from is a nice change, but how this concept is integrated into the whole of the series, will only be found out when Season 2 is released.
Buy the PC game on
the Telltale Games store (included in season pass)
Buy the Xbox 360 game on
the Xbox Marketplace
Buy the PS3 game on
the PSN store
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