In the future, when cyborgs have assimilated with mankind, we will differentiate man from robot by one of several humanity tests. One of which will be the playing of Telltale’s Walking Dead games. If a being has any shred of humanity, they will wince, grimace, gasp, or even bawl at the atrocities which they’ve been presented.
The latest episode, 400 Days, is no different, throwing players into the morally grey savagery of a zombie-ridden Georgia. But while Telltale games still plans on shaking you up, don’t expect the same bargain found in prior episodes.The first season told the grinding saga of Lee Everett, while the second season is still in the works, so 400 days works as an intermediary episode, holding marginal connections to the prior tale. The game is presented as a series of five intersecting vignettes, ranging from 10 to 20 minutes each.
For those of you who have never experienced Telltale’s take on the Walking Dead, the game plays like a streamlined point-and-click adventure, placing emphasis on dialogue and character choices, while retaining constant narrative momentum, much to the effect of an interactive drama. Traditional gameplay mechanics are substituted with slick presentation and sharp writing, leaving the game without challenge but still brimming with tension.
Granted, this can all be said of the series as a whole, but what is a DLC review without a straight comparison to the core game itself? Well, the first thing one may notice upon completion of the game is that it is significantly shorter than season one’s individual episodes; whereas each episode took roughly two or three hours, 400 Days takes up half of that. I have no complaints for a short game, although with the story already divided among the characters, you will be left wanting more undoubtedly.
With so many characters and so little time, there’s not much of that deep character development that made the first season so impactful, but still Telltale is able to rattle the player with speed and grave efficiency. If season one was the odyssey, 400 Days is a day in the life, and it is a very bad day indeed. The writers know how to involve the player fast, and as always, just where to strike to make them uncomfortable. It’s unfortunate that the conclusion can’t draw the characters together in some graceful way, but I’m not sure that’s where the value in the game lies. I can easily say that the best time I had with it was just spent experimenting with the design of the branching dialogue, going through the various scenarios in different ways, (eating a sandwich while watching the NPCs struggle with my mute avatar was oddly satisfying.)
It’s hard to discuss 400 Days without addressing the fact that these are not the characters many of us have fallen in love with, and these are not the resolutions to the cliffhangers we’ve been left. This is a morsel for the starving Walking Dead fans, something to tide us over until season two, but no more than that. In the bluntest terms, if you liked the first season of the Walking Dead, there’s a good chance you’ll like this with equal or lesser fervor. If you’ve never played the first season, trying 400 Days actually wouldn’t be a bad idea, getting your feet wet without going all in. And if you don’t like the Walking Dead altogether, you’re probably a cyborg.