Since my review of the original The Walking Dead from Telltale games I’ve found myself far more involved in the IP. I’ve watched all the TV episodes and whilst it isn’t my favorite show out there it still ranks up there as one of those shows that I’d say is recommended watching. Of course I understand that while they share the same source material the games are far more true to the originals and whilst I haven’t had the chance to read through them I can definitely attest to the incredible amount of character development that happens in The Walking Dead series. 400 Days is an episodic DLC for The Walking Dead, serving as an introduction for the story that will come with season 2. Now I’m not usually one for DLC but The Walking Dead stands out as one of the best episodic, story focused games out there which made this hard to pass up.
400 Days gives you a brief introduction into 5 different story lines that all within a short time frame of each other. They serve as the character’s origin stories, ostensibly the ones that will be used as a basis for season 2, and since you’re playing through them you have a certain amount of control over how their characters develop. All of them come with baggage, both from before the outbreak and after, and how you deal with that will determine how they play out in the future. This rings true to the rest of the series which was highly reactive the choices you made, even the ones you thought were of no consequence at the time.
Considering this is just a DLC it comes as no surprise that there’s been no dramatic changes to the art style or general game mechanics. It still feels very much like you’re playing a game that’s taking place in a comic book as style that works incredibly well, seemingly taking the idea of authenticity to its utmost conclusion. The voice acting has remained top notch as well with all the lines delivered with the expected emotion and gravity befitting the situation happening on screen. It shouldn’t be surprising really as this is essentially the 5th time they’ve done this and every time Telltale games have shown they can deliver.
Unlike the previous installments which followed Lee and Clementine’s quest to stay alive in a hostile world 400 days instead gives you the option of picking which story arc you’d like to investigate. Whilst I’m sure that many will do pretty much as I did, going from left to right, there’s no right or wrong way to play through them. They do intertwine however which means that it’s up to you to form part of the narrative through deducing the links, however they’re not exactly subtle so I don’t think anyone would miss them. Each of the stories are unique and provide you the opportunity to shape their character in some way and with a few cases you can (I suspect) radically change their behavior.
Mechanically it plays essentially the same as The Walking Dead did with the addition of a couple more mechanics that feel like they are there to test the waters for the next season. You’ve got your usual adventure game mechanics of clickable items which you can then interact with however since this is essentially just a bit of background story for each of the characters there’s really no puzzles to speak of. There’s a few challenges but the NPCs tell you exactly what to do so unless you deviate from that then there’s really nothing to threaten you. You could almost consider the mechanics unnecessary as they are as basic as you can get however I do appreciate them as they help to break up what would otherwise be a monotonous experience.
Thankfully it looks like Telltale has taken some of the lessons learned with previous releases and applied them to this one as my experience with 400 days was completely bug free. The worst thing that can happen in story focused games like this is game issues breaking immersion and The Walking Dead had enough of them that I had a couple occasions where I just stopped playing because of it. Hopefully this trouble free experience translates well onto season 2 as that was probably the only negative thing I can remember about The Walking Dead.
Of course that’s all second to the incredibly confronting stories that 400 Days manages to tell in its short play time. Every single one of the story lines will force you to make a hard decision, some a choice between two that neither of which you can completely agree with. Some of the things you’ll do thinking they were the right thing to do, or were simply the only way you could react given the situation, will put you on a path that you don’t agree with. How you deal with that will impact on how the character reacts later down the track and, if the foreboding is anything to go by, how the story of season 2 shapes itself.
400 days fits right in with the rest of The Walking Dead series, providing a little taste of what’s to come in season 2 and giving you the opportunity to shape the story before it starts. If you enjoyed the previous series then you’re sure to like 400 days as the same game play and story telling is there, it’s just the people you’ll be following is different. If you haven’t played any of them then I’d strongly recommend you do as they’re one of the stand out story first titles in recent memory and if 400 days is anything to go by season 2 will continue on with that tradition.
The Walking Dead: 400 days is available on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and iOS right now for $4.99 on all platforms. Total game time was 2.5 hours with 88% of the achievements unlocked.
Much to the chagrin of many of my friends I haven’t really got into the whole Walking Dead craze that seemed to sweep the Internet over the past couple years, mostly because my wife went ahead and started watching them without me. Couple that with the fact that I’m a terrible reader (I only seem to find time for it on long haul flights) I have also given the comics on which the whole craze is based a miss. I tell you this because The Walking Dead game seemed to attract just as much fandom as the IP’s other incarnations but that was most certainly not the reason I decided to play it. Instead I had heard that Telltale Games had done well with this particular franchise and since their treatment of Sam & Max was pretty decent I figured the hype was probably well earned.
The Walking Dead takes place in modern day America with you playing as Lee Everett, a university professor who’s been recently convicted of killing his wife’s lover and is on his way to jail. On the way however the police car you’re in hits an unidentified person sending the car tumbling over the embankment and leaving you trapped in the car. After looking around it’s clear that something is amiss with the officer who was driving you rising from the dead and attempting to attack you. Things only seem to get worse from here on out as you struggle to survive and protect the few people you manage to team up with.
Whilst I haven’t played many Telltale games (although I’ve watched someone play through most of the Sam & Max series) I still got the feeling that their titles had a distinctive style and The Walking Dead certainly fits in with that idea. Due to the extreme cross platform nature of The Walking Dead the graphics aren’t particularly great but the heavy use of comic-book stylization (I’ve seen people say its cel-shaded but I’m not entirely sure about that) means that it still works well. The animations and sound effects are somewhat rudimentary but this is made up in spades by the voice acting which I’ll touch on more later.
Whilst The Walking Dead is more like an interactive movie with game elements the core game mechanics are those of an adventure game coupled with a few modern innovations like quick time events to drive some of the more action oriented sections. If you’ve played other titles in the same genre like Heavy Rain then this style will be very familiar to you where the game play elements are there to serve as a break from the usually quite intense story sections. Of course decisions you make during these sections can also have an impact on how the story unfolds, something which The Walking Dead informs you of at the start of every episode.
Even for a modern adventure game the puzzles that are thrown at you are rather simplistic usually consisting of you tracking down a particular item or following the bouncing ball in order to progress to the next area. Some of the puzzles are also completely optional, as far as I could tell, as there were a couple times when I’d do things that didn’t seem to have any impact past the scene in question. For a game that is heavily focused on the story rather than the game play I can’t really fault it for this as hard puzzles usually only serve to break immersion and frustrate the player but if you were expecting The Longest Journey level brain ticklers than you’ll be disappointed.
What I was thankful for was the simplistic inventory system that shied away from having some form of combine or use one item with another item type mechanic that a lot of games like this have. Usually this just ends up in frustration as you try to find the right item combination in order to solve the problem, something that I’m not usually a fan of. Instead if you have an item that can interact with something in the world it’ll show up as an option taking a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. Sure figuring something out can be fun and The Walking Dead certainly has some satisfying challenges but playing inventory item roulette isn’t one of them.
The Walking Dead is, for the most part, bug and glitch free however I had several occasions when the game broke on me in one way or another. Typically this took the form of the keyboard or mouse simply not responding during an interactive section, rendering me unable to progress any further until I reloaded. This wasn’t usually a problem but sometimes it did mean losing a bit of progress, forcing me to replay through a section. By far the worst bug was when a particular cut scene somehow managed to double itself up with all the characters saying their lines twice over the top of each other and the animations attempting to do the same. Personally I’d put this down to the multi-platform release which means that the amount of time that Telltale could spend on QAing each platform was reduced significantly. In all honesty though I thought most of these bugs would be ironed out given the time since the initial release.
Realistically though you wouldn’t be playing this game for the game mechanics, you’ll be playing it for the story. The Walking Dead tells you in no uncertain terms that the choices you make will affect the outcome of the game and that’s 100% true. Depending on the choices you make certain characters may or may not be alive, people might react to you differently or you might end up in a situation that you didn’t expect to find yourself in. At the end of each episode you’ll also be greeted with a statistic screen which shows how your choices lined up with the greater community and the results can be rather surprising at times.
What really got me initially were the small decisions that I’d make in the heat of the moment having drastic repercussions later on, sometimes right after doing so. Traditionally your choices in these kinds of games were almost irrelevant due to the complexity of creating multiple story arcs that have some level of coherency. The Walking Dead still has decisions like that at times during the game but it’s hard to know which one is which before you make it. I can’t tell you the number of times that I found myself wanting to go back and change something because the result wasn’t what I had expected but since there’s no quick save/load function (a deliberate omission) there’s really no way to do it unless you want to play the whole episode over again. Even then you might not be able to shape the story in the way you want.
I also want to give a lot of credit to the voice acting as it’s not easy to make something fully voice acted and have it come out as well as it has in The Walking Dead. Whilst there can be some strange fluctuations in tone should you choose different types of responses (Lee usually has passive, neutral and aggressive options) the sound bites themselves are well spoken and full of emotion which is probably one of the reasons I found it so easy to sympathize with the characters. There’s been quite a few games I’ve played recently that have been ruined by sub-par voice actors so The Walking Dead was a welcome change and one that I hope more game developers take note of.
The story was one of the great examples where I could hate everything that was happening but still felt a deep emotional connection to most of the characters. The relationship between Lee and Clem is a beautiful one and whilst I won’t spoil the ending anyone who’s been through it will tell you that it’s utterly heart breaking, to the point where I was just staring at the monitor, not wanting to accept what was happening. From what I can gather though this is what The Walking Dead franchise is all about and it does a damn good job of making you care for a lot of people before putting them through all sorts of hell, taking you along with them.
The Walking Dead is a great example of an episodic game done right as each of the sections stands well on its own but together they form something that is very much greater than the sum of its parts. The graphics are simple yet well executed, the voice acting superb and the story so engrossing that you’re likely to be thinking “what if” for a long time to come after you finish it. If you’re a fan of adventure games or The Walking Dead itself then there’s going to be a lot to love in this cinematic adventure game and I can recommend it enough.
The Walking Dead is available on PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox360 and iOS right now for $24.99, $29.99, $29.99 and $14.99. Game was played on the PC with around 10 hours played and 100% of the achievements unlocked.