Last year’s The Walking Dead adaptation turned out to be a bit of a thing for Telltale Games.
Above and beyond its inoffensively simplistic point and click gameplay systems, The Walking Dead was a succinct episodic prospect that brought us some truly memorable characters in the form of Clementine, Lee and many others all of whom were underpinned by some of the most solid writing that had seen in a long time. Decisions which you made mattered and best of all, their ramifications were keenly felt from the first episode to the last.
It was, in short, a revelation and one whose profile was infinitely boosted by the cross-pollination of interest in the original graphic novel source material and the ratings grabbing TV show of the same name.
With fans eager to get another of bite of The Walking Dead before season two touches down later this year, developer Telltale Games decided to satiate the crowd with The Walking Dead: 400 Days; a DLC episode for the first season which is supposed to act as a bridge of sorts between last year’s effort and the next season of the episodic adaptation.
Shifting the focus of The Walking Dead’s terse narrative from the familiar faces of the first season, 400 Days instead elects to show us how a bunch of other faces are faring in post-zombie apocalypse America. Five other faces in fact; each with their own stories to playthrough which in turn interlock with one another to various extents before dovetailing into a nice epilogue flavoured wrap-up.
You have Vince, a chap who committed a murder to protect his brother before the outbreak, but finds himself locked in a prison truck when everything goes to hell. Loose cannon Wyatt meanwhile. does a hit and run on a stranger with his friend Eddie by his side as the mysterious individual begins to catch up to them. Russell meanwhile, is a Native-American chap on his way to visit his grandmother who decides to take a break at a truck stop where all is not as it seems. Bonnie is a narcotics junkie who finds herself trapped between some dangerous strangers and finally, Shel is part of an outbreak survivor group similar to the collective of individuals seen in the first season.
While they are a deep and varied bunch, they nonetheless play to post-apocalyptic stereotypes quite neatly. Part of this adherence is how the writers follow the theme of bad or morally compromised people from before the outbreak aspiring to better themselves in a time of crisis. Naturally, the role-reversal of seemingly more well-adjusted types evidently features in 400 Days as well; much as it did in last year’s episodes.
Additionally and certainly more keenly than the first season, 400 Days is more concerned with the human threat rather than the undead, face-chewing one. Such an approach serves to quite neatly underscore the writers love of the dangerous, unpredictable human element in zombie cinema as well as the creation of some truly vile individuals in need of a good face shooting.
Gameplay-wise, 400 Days is as anemic as the episodes that came before it. Puzzles never seek to confound in any meaningful way, instead acting as artificial bumps in the road for the story to trundle along and over, but quite honestly, it feels churlish to judge the game too harshly on this given that the developer is playing to an already enraptured audience of millions who likely wouldn’t want the boat rocked too harshly in this regard.
Something else that remains untouched is the narrative craft which aptly shows that Telltale has lost none of its storytelling verve. With tough choices to be made along a stirring emotional spectrum, 400 Days is timely reminder of the developer’s skill in weaving a compelling and emotional story.
However, while Telltale’s narrative skill remains thankfully intact, the relatively standalone and limited nature of 400 Days doesn’t provide their scribes with anywhere near the same breadth to exercise it as expertly as last year’s full season of five episodes allowed.
Rather than the long, slow-burning story arcs of the first season which felt akin to an actual TV series, 400 Days by comparison feels like a Tales from the Crypt style one-off; a rapid fire blast of five different zombie mini-stories in an effort to give the player a kaleidoscope perspective on the zombie apocalypse.
The obvious problem with this approach, is that no one character is ever given long enough to shine and as such, its a lot more to difficult to engender any sort of lasting connection with them when they only appear on your screen for fifteen, twenty minutes before buggering off. The developer has cryptically said that some of the decisions that you make and some of the characters that you see here will make it into season two, but without any lack of confirmation in this regard, it compounds the feeling that the weight afforded to any of the choices that you make is significantly reduced.
In the end, you can’t help but think that Telltale would have benefited more from playing it straight; creating an effort that directly bridges into season two (with those assurances in place) rather than a haphazardly disconnected collection of zombie yarns with characters that you’re never given long enough to really bond with. An issue exasperated by the fact that the developer has yet to give any concrete promises as to whether or not these characters will even make it into the next season in the first place.
The next time we’ll get to see Telltale flaunt their storytelling muscles in The Walking Dead universe, it will be a return to the sort of longer, more measured narratives where their adept storytellers can ply their trade with all of the trademark bombast that we’ve come to expect from a series that ended up at the top of so many GOTY lists late last year.
Both satisfying simply on the virtue of being more of the same and mildly unsatisfying because its cloying, scatter-shot format provides little room for its contained stories and characters to really flourish, 400 Days provides a decent, if unfocused slice of what Telltale Games do best ahead of the main event later this year.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days was developed and published by Telltale Games. This title is available to buy right now on all formats except for iOS which launches on July 11th.
An Xbox Live Arcade download of this title was independently acquired by the reviewer.