It’s no secret that I loved the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. It’s also no secret that during my single-sitting playthrough of the first five episodes (not recommended) I completely voided myself of all emotions, becoming an empty shell of a man by the final credits. Hell, one episode (looking at you Episode Three) had me so distraught that I actually cried. I cried. At a point and click adventure game!
Luckily for all TWD fans, and unluckily for people who enjoy being happy, Telltale’s series is back. The Walking Dead: 400 Days is a transitional filler between Seasons One and Two. It is designed as an arch from the first season to the second, introducing us to a new set of characters, and new storylines.
In true Telltale fashion, 400 Days uses your save file from the previous season in order to make some nifty little nods back to the first five episodes. It also promises that the choices made in this new episode will directly affect the next season. Which, when you think about it, amounts to a heck of a lot of possible storylines come season two. But we’re not looking to the future, we’re looking at the here-and-now, so how does 400 Days fare?
Unlike in previous episodes there is no single overarching storyline. Instead the game is split into five segments, each with a main character whose name titles that segment. Each segment also has a set of auxiliary characters who are… auxiliary, though by the end there is a hint that some of them may return for season two. Though each story is a separate entity, all five stories are based around a single petrol station (I refuse to call it a gas station) over the course of, you guessed it, 400 days. The eagle-eyed player will notice subtle interplays across the five segments, but these are usually inconsequential. They also suggest that over the course of a year and a bit, these characters didn’t wander too far away from each other without actually meeting face-to-face. However, this concept of the five segments is a nifty little feature, and provides brilliant exposition for the next season.
However, given the episode’s playtime of two hours, each segments doesn’t last very long. Though I am not necessarily disappointed with the game time itself, I am disappointed how this translates towards the length of individual segments. Two hours in the first five episodes seemed a perfect length of time, providing plenty of story, and plenty of opportunities to empty your tear ducts. However, in these segments I felt it was very difficult to become attached to any of these characters. Choices were more haphazard, and I felt myself making decisions based on what I hoped would make for a more interesting future story. Yes, were are some ‘holy crap moments’- one in particular involving a cornfield- that got me to pay attention, but they didn’t hold the same power that ‘holy crap moments’ from the previous episodes did.
That’s not to say that I didn’t find these characters engaging. There are several characters that I cannot wait to see return, but the Lee-Clem story arc was so engrossing that this episode felt a bit hollow without them.
Though the choices and interesting characters return, so do the minor technical hiccups. The lip-syncing is terrible, the game slows down and sometimes freezes before the next section can load, and some of the dialogue is awful. The episode with Vince was the worst offender for terrible dialogue, but it was also the weakest story arc, and therefore the entertainment provided by the B-Movie style badness of conversation actually worked in the slow-paced episode’s favour, albeit unintentionally. There were also a few moments when the game decided that there is a set pattern you have to look at things, which is reflected in the dialogue of the auxiliary characters. Though this isn’t enough to ruin the experience it is very noticeable and will take you out of the moment.
400 Days is a nice little snack for eager fans waiting for the release of Season Two. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it doesn’t need to be, the game wears the fact that it is exposition on its sleeve. For the measly sum of 4 pounds sterling, this is essential for all fans of The Walking Dead. You may not get overly-attached to the characters just yet, but you will look forward to getting attached to the them in the future. Which is stupid. Because terrible things are going to happen to them all. Because this is The Walking Dead. And you will cry. Again.