Review: The Walking Dead: 400 Days (PC)

2013-07-14_00005The Walking Dead: 400 Days
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 07/03/2013

Telltale’s The Walking Dead, almost more of an interactive movie or TV show than an adventure game, is getting a season two and to bridge the gap and keep the game in people’s minds, they released a DLC special episode titled 400 Days to introduce the new characters for the season and give us a taste of what they’ll be like, but does this teaser spoil what’s upcoming, build on what we’ve seen and deliver, or a small little cash grab? While it is shorter than previous episodes by about half an hour to an hour, it does feel pretty weighty and depending on how you play could have some pretty big impacts on the start of your second season. Let’s take a look.

The story of 400 Days centers around five separate characters, all interconnected in some way through a truck-stop along a highway, is basically five vignettes, small snippets of these people’s lives at different points in time. Some cross into the others more directly than others and there’s some definite drift from the first season as well as some of the bigger moments like the boat incident and certain people left behind along the road. The one thing that is conspicuously absent is Clementine, who I thought would end up with the new group, but maybe her tale is done. You can play the vignettes in any order, Pulp Fiction style, randomly selecting the pictures on the board, or you can try to do them in order timeline-wise, which does have a little more effect on the drift through stories.

2013-07-14_00039Vince’s story takes place first and he parallels Lee in how his story starts as far as his past and what he’s done and even some things leading up to how he gets free from his prison transport, but Vince’s escape is far more brutal. Wyatt’s story takes place a little over a month later as he and his friend are trying to escape a mysterious truck trying to drive them down. After splitting off from the truck there’s an incident in the forest they ducked into while the two are discussing the gunfight that led to the truck chase. Russell starts almost 5 months after Wyatt as he walks along a familiar road from the first season and he gets a ride from a stranger in a familiar truck. Russell doesn’t quite trust the driver and things go downhill after stopping near the truck stop that we get more involved with later. A month after Russell we get involved with recovering drug addict Bonnie, who’s making her way with an older couple. Things quickly go awry when it turns out that the older woman was being followed on her return by some people with guns. Shel’s story is the longest of the lot, taking place two weeks after Bonnie initially and then a month after that. Shel and her group are in the truck stop trying to make a go of it and a few of her group are from the cancer support group from season one. Things never go to plan being a Walking Dead game and Shel has to make some hard choices involving her and her sister and their future.

All of these culminate in the epilogue which does take place 400 days into the apocalypse with a scout from an encampment looking for other survivors to add to their community. Depending on how you played out your stories you can get one or all of this group to go with Tavia as their situations allowed them to trust her along with whatever dialogue you choose. There are a number of guides out already on how to get them all and my first run I only ended up with Bonnie who you’ll always get to go with you. I did go back and replay it to get them all, but forgot to save a copy where I only had Bonnie. I’ll be doing that just to see what differences occur in season two. And some actions you take do have a direct bearing on what happens this episode. For example, if you don’t shoot one of the potential zombies in Vince’s story, that particular zombie shows up in someone else’s at a very inopportune time.

2013-07-14_00107Visually there’s little to no change from this and the first season, although they do change things as you go, with visual cues flowing from one story to the next as well as the changes in the truck stop itself as time progresses. For example, if you do Vince’s story and follow into Wyatt’s, the back of the prison bus features in the intro to Wyatt’s, but if you do Bonnie’s before Wyatt’s the first visual cues are different. The effect is subtle but a nice touch tying the stories together as you play. There are some holdovers from the previous season as far as how things happened or looked, and if, say, you shoot out a certain headlight (yes you can shoot out a different one during a chase sequence), it will still be out a month or two later in the next person’s story. There are some great moments done with lighting, fog, and a rain storm that really help set the mood for those moments.

While the stories themselves are interesting, the voice actors really do a good job selling these characters in the short time we have with them. Do we care about them as much as Lee and Clementine? No but we also don’t have near as much time with them. There are a few really touching moments, some gut-wrenching, and even a few that got a laugh and a lot of that had to do with delivery and the depth those voices brought to the table. The rest of the effects and noises that handle your interactions and the ambiance do a decent enough job. The stuttering issue persists a bit, but it’s only on the first run. If you revisit that section it doesn’t do it. I haven’t tried the fix for it yet.

2013-07-14_00092Like before I used a 360 controller for this playthrough as opposed to mouse and keyboard. I did try my mouse at one point for aiming purposes and found the 360 controller worked better overall so your control options may vary here. Also during a rock paper and scissors competition during Wyatt’s story I had an issue a few times where I’d made my choice and the game initially registered I hit a button because it killed the timer bar, but then my partner complained I needed to make a choice. Other than that oddity the game seems to control just fine. Most of your option for controlling involve moving around and timed dialogue choices with a number of instances where you can interact with objects around you but there aren’t as many as in the regular season, probably because this is more focused on telling shorter stories with what’s available.

I did end up replaying this once and one of the stories multiple times to get one of the achievements as I apparently suck terribly at rock-paper-scissors. There are also options and ways to play through to select which of the survivors will be going to the camp and there is a guide out there to do that, with the exception of Bonnie. She will always go no matter what. In my first playthrough Bonnie was in fact the only member of the group I got to go and then I replayed through to get everyone and my two lagging achievements because I’m like that. So depending on how many options you want to start season two off with will change how much mileage you can get out of replaying the DLC.

2013-07-14_00162The take on this one being told through the different characters so we can see them before they group up or don’t group up in the second season was a good change. I’ve never actually played through something quite like it before and while it is still set in Kirkman’s The Walking Dead universe, it’s new characters and situations that we haven’t seen before with very loose ties to the first season, at least at this point, so they’ve got some originality points there. Even playing through a second time and knowing what would happen I was highly amused playing through to get different dialogue and make sure I had the whole crew. It helps that it only runs about an hour and a half, so it’s easy to complete in one sitting much like the regular episodes that ran about two to three hours. It does feel like a little less here though than a regular episode for the same cost, but I was interested enough in the new characters and the opportunity to craft my second season experience a bit that I overlooked it.

This does have the appeal of more Walking Dead before we get into the second season which is a good thing, especially since they’ve kept up the story-telling end of these, giving us conflicted and mostly believable and relatable characters that are driving what’s going on instead of relying on pretty graphics or other methods. I did have a few glitches, the sound being one and the controller seeming to not register what I’d pressed. Other than that it booted up smoothly. I was a little annoyed while I was replaying, hoping to skip Bonnie and just replay the people I couldn’t get to go with me the first time, that it reset all of the stories I had played after the one I was replaying. So while you can go in and replay any of the stories it will wipe the others or up to the ones you haven’t done yet, so something to bear in mind. So while they’ve managed to tease us a bit more with something beyond the ending we got for season one and given us something that gives a bit of control over shaping season 2 before we ever get into it, your mileage with 400 Days may vary.

Short Attention Span Summary
While 400 Days is an intriguing experiment with Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead formula, it is a bit shorter than other episodes in the first season even though it’s priced the same. The impact isn’t nearly as great as we’re just getting to know these new characters, but the situations and choices the players are forced to make aren’t any easier. There are some loose ties with the first season as far as pieces of conversation and set pieces go with a number of choices carrying over between the five personal stories of each of the characters you have the option to play. Being able to set up your season two playthrough a little bit with this is an interesting prospect and it will be interesting to see it play out, but if you’re looking for the same experience you had with season one of the Walking Dead you’re not going to quite get that same feel but it definitely is fun to revisit the world through Telltale’s game.

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