The Walking Dead: 400 Days was my favourite game at E3, and The Walking Dead: The Game was my favourite game of 2012. It's fair to say I was pretty hyped about this extra-special add-on episode, "400 Days". The Walking Dead: 400 Days is fairly short, and can be completed in less than two hours. However, it's still a great value, especially for only $5. It is comprised of five chapters over the course of the first four hundred days of the zombie apocalypse, each one starring a different character. These five episodes are The Walking Dead straight up, with no filler. For fans of the first season, buying this is a no-brainer.
Please be warned, I will be going into great detail about all five episodes in this review. If you haven't yet played The Walking Dead: 400 Days, do so and come on back.
Vince: 2 Days In
- "Fuck Wall Street."
This episode starts off strong, with Vince killing an off-camera victim. Afterwards, the player is prompted to ditch the gun somewhere, or keep it on them. Ditching the gun doesn't really matter, as the scene immediately cuts to the prison bus, but they do bring it up later, which is nice. The player has four options: ditch it in the drain, throw it on the trash, throw it on top of the roof, or stuff it in your pants. What you choose here alters the dialogue a little later, when Vince explains how he gets caught, which is a nice bit of variation.
The scene builds up to one final choice, in which the player must choose between shooting Justin or Danny to free the chain. This scenario is very reminiscent of the one from the beginning of episode two, season one, where Lee has to deal with David . However, this time, the dismemberment is unavoidable, which serves as a very grim and grisly introduction to this new world. Shooting Justin's ankle made me flinch, even though I did think he was less likeable than Danny.
Danny is far more endearing than Justin, which could undermine the central choice. Justin can come off as a bit pompous, and I feel like most people would side with the honest crook over the dishonest one. That said, the fact that Danny is a convicted sex offender might even this out a bit. He comes off as a good guy who made an honest mistake, whereas Justin is self-serving and kind of an asshole. Danny is a lot nicer by comparison, so this was a relatively easy choice to make. Danny goes out of his way to stand up for you as well, making him seem like the more reasonable choice.
The one thing I did like was how this plays out in the epilogue. If the player shoots Danny and frees Justin, the latter deserts Vince, which makes you feel a bit betrayed. I like this idea, because it makes sense within his characterisation. Justin is a snake, so him running away from you makes sense. In the end however, this is a bit undone when Vince ends up alone anyway. I hope we could at least see Justin make a cameo in season two or something, since his fate isn't as certain as Danny's.
The problem I had with this scene is that I never felt conflicted. They've both done bad things, but Danny has regrets, making him more empathetic. All three characters come off as interesting and somewhat likeable, but Danny moreso. I also feel that this scene would have benefited from a time limit indicator at the bottom, to ramp up the tension. There is a time limit sure, but without that bar at the bottom of the screen, this choice feels a bit more laid back than it should.
As much as I trusted Danny way more than Justin, I still felt bad for shooting him and leaving him for dead. It was unavoidable, and I’d make that choice again, but the way it was executed still gave me a sense of regret over killing him, even though I still feel I made the right decision.
Wyatt: 41 Days In
- "I will punch your eyes."
This episode also starts off in the middle of the action, with a car chase and some shooting. After that's over, Wyatt and his pal Eddie pull over, and get some dialogue in. Wyatt and Eddie’s banter is very entertaining. Both are lovable, in a douchey sort of way. Like a lot of the characters in The Walking Dead, they come off as very human and believable. I especially appreciate the use of the silence option to simply listen to character and his boring story, whilst being given three ways to tell him to shut up. Another little thing I appreciated was how this chapter lampshades the common adventure game trope of the protagonist talking to themselves at least twice.
The player isn't really presented with a choice this chapter. Instead, the defining moment is a game of chance: rock paper scissors. If the player wins, they stay in the car. If not, they leave Eddie behind. Either way, they get separated, and Wyatt ends up at the camp in the epilogue. I’d say you don’t really get much of a moral choice here, but the story does split in two directions, even though it ends up in roughly the same place.
If the player stays in the car, they wait in the car, which feels a lot less active. Instead of searching for the guy Eddie hit, you instead fumble for keys in an easy point-and-click adventure game puzzle. This is only done so the player has to turn the light on, and then off, which reveals that the truck drove up behind you (silently I might add). It's kind of clever, and I like it. The QTE action sequence is pretty standard, but it gets the job done. What's interesting about this scenario is that, if the player does stay in the car, they learn that Nate is the one in the car, which is interesting information to have in Russell's chapter.
Should the player leave the car and search for the body, they actually go through the fog, Silent Hill style. This is a good-build up for the climax. In general, fog is great for building up a horror scene. Having to walk through the fog as zombies approached was very tense. I was constantly shifting back and forth, looking for the next threat.
Again, as I said, there wasn't much of a choice here, just a split in the narrative. However, this split is interesting, as one side of the road leads to some knowledge about the story that can affect how they play later.
Shel: 236 Days In
- "We don’t have a choice. This is who we are now."
There are a lot of characters in this short chapter, so not a lot of them get fleshed out. Shel is conflicted about maintaining her humanity, her sister is an introspective child growing up in a terrible world, and Roman is the leader of the group who, after an attack makes him understandably paranoid, starts to become a sort of benevolent dictator, not unlike Rick. He’s still agreeable and even kind, however, which is good. They made it clear he’s going to become an oppressive figure without being too ham-fisted, but then again, subtlety is what I've come to expect from Telltale.
The former half of this chapter focuses on Shel and her desire to shelter her sister, with the puppy representing youth and innocence, the themes of this chapter. The focus here is on Shel’s internal struggle, as she tries to cope with the harsh environment she’s living in. The first major choice in this one is deciding to execute or set free a non-English speaking intruder. This choice is not unlike a lot of others in The Walking Dead. It’s a sticky situation, one where doing the right thing could be considered foolish.
The subsequent conversation gives you the consequences of your actions. By letting that guy go, they later returned and in the resulting raid, killed Boyd. If you execute the prisoner, he lives. I appreciate that Telltale isn’t afraid to punish the player for doing something idealistic and foolish, even for something so small. I just wish we got to know Boyd a little more, so I could actually feel bad about being responsible for his death. That said, “Boyd’s unfinished painting” was good for a tug on the heart strings, due more to Shel’s reaction than our memory (or lack thereof) for him.
This chapter felt longer than most, taking place over a longer period of time and involving two major choices instead of just one. The story revolves around the central theme of idealism versus pragmatism, and this is punctuated by the final choice. In the end, Shel is forced to either face up to the harsh reality of this world, or run from it and try to hold on to your humanity. This is probably my favourite chapter, as it it’s the only one that has a theme punctuated by some pretty effective symbolism.
Sadly, the chapter ends after making this decision, and you aren't forced to watch the execution if choose to do it. The “drive away” option is there for people who don’t want to execute Stephanie. Since it’s likely she’ll die anyway, it would have been best to force the player to do it themselves. That’s what The Walking Dead is all about; making choices and being forced to live with them. The fade to black at the end feels like it robs this chapter’s emotional climax of the impact it needed.
Russell: 184 Days In
- "So no one got down with the daughter then?"
This episode revolves around Russell and Nate, and their impromptu partnership. They are both clearly defined, with Russell being quiet, unsure, and young, and Nate being brash, crude, and crazy. Nate is an interesting character, simply because of how erratic and irrational he is. He’s the perfect psychopath. He’s definitely unstable, but he’s still human. He’s not a terrible person all the time. There were parts were I downright admired him, like Russell did. In many ways, this short story is Russell’s coming of age, with a really bad father figure to guide him. Nate has that sort of fatherly air around him, so he makes for a perfect foil for the young and naive Russ.
The first choice asks if you want to stand your ground like a badass or hide in a ditch like a wuss. Should the player choose to hide from the impeding truck, they will certainly get trolled by Telltale. And trolled I was. Fuck you Telltale. I love you.
As the chapter goes on, you find out just how crazy he is. His instability makes for a few good laughs, but also leads to one of the darker moments in the series. The only major choice here choosing to stand up to or side with Nate in killing a couple of old people and taking their stuff. Like the end of episode two, this act happens with or without you, but what matters is where you stand. This choice isn't as interesting as the others, since killing two unarmed seniors isn't really justified by any context. The choice involves giving into peer pressure and going crazy, or knowing when to stand up for what’s right. It’s a bit less black and white then a lot of choices, and having seen the bloodstains in the episode prior, I knew how it was all going to turn out. As I said, this story is a coming-of-age for Russell, one where we get to steer him in the direction we choose. Not necessarily an interesting moral quandary, but a good way to introduce a character.
Bonnie: 220 Days In
This chapter starts out with a game of “would you rather”, winning Leland points right off the bat. There's some obvious chemistry between Leland and Bonnie, but he's also commited to his wife, even if she is a pain.
Frank and Debra Leland and Dee are the typical older married couple. Dee is a cagey bitch, whilst Leland is a kind and bumbling fool. He’s fun to be around, and I was more than a little disappointed when I saw that ring on his finger. Bonnie is easy to empathise with, since she so often gets the short end of the stick.
This chapter, like all the rest, is connected with the others. As is foreshadowed/revealed in later chapters, someone stole supplies from the truck stop. After some great dialogue, the player has to run from some unseen attackers, which is as simple as holding the analogue stick up. I really liked how, if you played the Russell chapter before this one, and killed the walker, you won’t deal with it in this one.
The chase and subsequent hide-and-seek segment in the cornfield was extremely tense. The player is forced to move forward and side-to-side as several perusers close in on them. Like the Wyatt chapter in which the player must shoot zombies in the fog, this scene does a good job of keeping the player on their toes.
Despite thinking she was a total bitch (and going as far as to call her one), I was shocked when I hit her. The displaced eye socket was painful to look at, and her stinging final words didn't help either. Still, everything was her fault, and she was a bitch to the end. I'd say it's a testament to Telltale's talent that I felt as bad as I did.
The big huge decision you make is whether you lie to Leland or not. Personally, I liked how this one panned out. Having to lie about an accidental murder is dark, and I ended up giving into temptation. Hopefully, this will have some kind of impact later.
Tavia: 400 Days In
I'm not sure how I feel about playing as an unknown character at the most pivotal moment. The epilogue is mostly just a recap that ties everything together, and it does do that fairly well. In the end, I was left wanting just a little more, but I was still pretty happy with the content I got, especially for $5.
I was a little disappointed to see Danny get killed off-screen. It just felt kind of cheap. It would have been nice to have one extra character with the group, depending on your decision. There are a lot of choices in The Walking Dead that have the same end result, but I felt this one could have branched off a bit more.
I felt like there could have been one more chapter, showing the fall of the diner. The skip to the camp with a trimmed down group felt a little jarring for me. That said, season two has a lot to answer. What happened to Leland, Lilly, Roman, Nate, and the rest of Vernon’s group? Who goes and who stays all depends on certain choices made. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in season two.
As a side note, I really loved the credits sequence. Depending on your choices, you see different slides showing a myriad of fucked up stuff, including the consequences of your actions, such as Justin/Danny crawling away from zombies, or Eddie trying to carry Bennett with Nate in the background. It was the salt in the wounds the game had inflicted on you earlier, and I think it's brilliant.
These episodes can be done in different order, which adds an interesting dynamic to how you approach the story. This leads to “ah-ha!” moments and bits of dramatic irony, depending on the order in which you play the chapters. This gives good incentive to play through again and mix it up, so you can see the different connections and tie-ins. Seeing Carley’s/Doug’s corpse on the side of the road, hearing about Vernon, and seeing the Everett family drug store were all great callbacks to fans of the first season. The order in which you tackle these short stories can even affect how you feel about certain decisions, depending on how it all plays out. Take for example the Wyatt chapter. Had I known it was Nate in that truck, I would have treated him differently in Russell’s chapter, which I played later. These stories are all interesting on their own, but what makes them really stand out is how they are all interconnected.
Of course, there are still plenty of technical glitches that mar the performance. Stuttering, lag, long loading times, and occasional freezes as the game saves in the middle of an action scene is just jarring. It’s a shame, but it’s nothing new. The same technical problems that existed in the main game are still here in force, but they never ruin the experience. They just drag it down a little.
Despite a couple of technical hiccups and missed opportunities, Telltale still lives up to their namesake. These were interesting short stories with believable, human characters. None of them match up to Lee or Clementine yet, but I believe they should be commended for crafting such human stories with so many rich and unique characters in so little time. I’m not sure how the second season will play out, but if this is our cast, I’d say this has been a great introduction.
Would I say this is a good DLC? Absolutely. You get five well-told short stories with a ton of replay value, with decisions that carry over to the next game. All of this available for about half the price of a blimp.