It’s highly unlikely that even Telltale themselves could have predicted the level of impact that The Walking Dead would have on the games industry. After a disappointing Jurassic Park spin-off in 2011, Telltale quietly dropped the first episode of their zombie epic onto Xbox Live, PSN and Steam in early 2012 and waited for a reception. What followed was a huge cultural phenomenon that wowed critics and possibly changed how narrative will be perceived across the medium for years to come.
Through a series of multiple-choice questions and QuickTime events, The Walking Dead caused players to question their own morality and created a seemingly unique experience on the back of some creatively developed branching logic. The Walking Dead’s scenarios and conversations remained the same throughout almost every play through but the consequential weight tied to even the smallest of choices created the kind of video game experience many never would have thought possible. If ever there was an interactive experience capable of showing us how far the medium has come since the founding days of Pac-Man and Nolan Bushnell then this was it.
Entirely unrelated to the AMC TV series of the same name, The Walking Dead is actually based on the original comic book series by Robert Kirkman. Without giving away too many spoilers, the first season of this episodic adventure series focused on the story of an escaped convict named Lee Everett and young orphan girl called Clementine, thrown together by chance after a zombie apocalypse has struck their home state of Georgia.
Across it’s five episode, each approximately two hours in length, The Walking Dead Season One explored friendship, deception and a complex father-daughter relationship which is likely to remain in the minds of all those who experienced it long after this generation has passed. At it’s core, the game play is essentially a point-and-click adventure with elements of combat but it in the story telling and narrative that this game truly shines. In recent years only Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain stands out as a comparable mainstream interactive experience.
400 Days has been designed to act as a bridging episode between Season One and the forthcoming Season Two which is due to be released later this year. You do not need to have played through Season One to play 400 Days although at least Season One Episode One needs to be installed on your PC, console or device for 400 Days to work. It is strongly advised that you play through Season One first however as 400 Days does make passing references to earlier events and playing through Season One will help you to better understand the world.
Rather than being a direct continuation from Season One, the characters of 400 Days are all completely new and the plot focuses on a series of photos found of five survivors on a gas station pin board. Players are free to choose the order in which they play through each survivor’s back story and although each character’s is only briefly explored, Telltale manage to pack in some fantastic levels of characterisation.
Similarly, the way in which these five stories intertwine is nothing short of magnificent and, although I will not go into any specific detail on the different characters in this review, suffice to say that each person who plays 400 Days is likely to have their favourite by the end. There is also a unique and extremely well conceived twist at the conclusion of the episode that adds further weight to the various choices made by the player throughout.
Visually, 400 Days is more of the same. The now synonymous art-style and trademark brown decor remains although the amount of visual polish applied to this episode does seem to surpass many parts of Season One and I didn’t notice any glitches or issues on the Xbox 360 version. The voice acting on the other hand, whilst mostly fantastic, does occasionally feel wooden and whilst this didn’t really detract from the experience, one character actor in particular failed to impress me.
My only other minor complaint about this episode is that it does seem to be slightly shorter and more linear than the preceding episodes from last year. The occasional puzzles which were dotted around throughout Lee and Clementine’s story are absent and 400 Days instead seems more focused on short and high-impact drama and suspense. Whilst 400 Days definitely doesn’t represent poor value, this could be worth bearing in mind if you enjoyed the more open parts of the previous episodes, particularly as 400 Days is being marketed as a standalone product and isn’t included as part of the season pass for either Seasons One or Two.
At the low cost of £3.99/$4.99 or 400 Microsoft Points though, Telltale have definitely provided a worthy followup to last year’s episodes though and I would urge any fan of Season One or even anyone with a general interest in games as a interactive storytelling medium to play this title. 400 Days opens our eyes to a new world within The Walking Dead universe and I now personally cannot wait to experience more of it.