Perhaps 2012’s most moving narrative, Telltale Games’ Walking Dead series needs little introduction, as the hardships endured by, and with, Lee, Clementine, and Kenny left many viewers sobbing like oversized man-children when Episode Five wrapped up. While fans may not have much longer before they rejoin Clementine for her second outing, the developers/writers bridge the season gap and flex their storytelling muscles with The Walking Dead: 400 Days. Embracing new survivors, new choices, new horrors, Telltale asks once more that players leave their humanity at the door.
The team's latest anthology concentrates player activities around Red's Diner, an abandoned pit stop and gas station where gamers relive five separate character vignettes, from day two of the zombie outbreak onward. The arcs progress in a set chronological order, but hesitant minds won't spoil pivotal plot moments clearing Vince’s chapter after Bonnie’s, or Shel's after Wyatt's. Since much of the mystery surrounding the infected was disclosed during Season One as well, 400 Days wastes no time delving into the series' ambiguous dialogue.
Vince's chapter may be one of my favorite Walking Dead sequences, period.
It’s almost unfair for other studios, really. Most titles need eight hours before their emotional resonance kicks in. Telltale creates persons from scratch, then sits back for thirty minutes while you form relationships, mold characters that match your morals, and betray others you befriended seconds ago. Should Shel trade her younger sister’s innocence for the good of the community? Would Bonnie behave like the husband-stealing type, causing rifts among her group? The human drama – the needs of one versus the needs of many – hits players from minute one with incredible voice acting, then ends each scenario with an equally ominous ultimatum.
Not all characters grew on me, however. Given each chapter’s limited half-hour length, it’s difficult divining anything remotely complex about 400 Days’ individuals. Bonnie’s recovering from her drug addictions, Wyatt embodies the stoner stereotype, and Vince awaits imprisonment for avenging his brother’s death. How will these life choices affect interactions with additional protagonists? The conclusion provides glimpses, nothing more.
Don’t expect any compelling overlap with Season One, either. Except for a couple familiar locations and corpses, 400 Days establishes whole new grounds for where the next season could go. The flashbacks themselves intertwine, though Telltale carefully minimizes their impact, keeping your decisions independent between arcs.
400 Days runs and looks undeniably smoother than Telltale's first Walking Dead season.
The isolated scenarios mean sudden gameplay shifts never seem irrational, too. One moment you're trapped aboard a bus with undead inmates, next you’re going about daily chores, playing "Would You Rather?" alongside fellow survivors, or running through cornfields from potential bandits. While the plot rarely incorporates zombies, they remain a source of common ethical quandaries. You feel the infected's influence constantly driving your split-second decisions.
Without ruining several story segments, it’s tough articulating why Telltale stills stands atop its game with 400 Days. The action requires a lot of pointing, clicking, and conversing with people, but fans that experienced the first season should know full well the mental trauma they will undergo. If 400 Days is what Telltale can do with twenty dedicated minutes per cast member, then whatever dilemmas follow in Season Two, I wait with bated breath.
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: July 3, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PS Vita, iOS
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