The Walking Dead: 400 Days [Review]
It occurred to me today that it’s been a long time since I’ve reviewed anything on this blog. Coincidentally, it’s also been ages since I’ve made any significant mention of zombies — and one would expect the blog of any respectable writer of post-apocalyptic fiction to contain a lion’s share of zombie references. Luckily, Telltale Games, the developers of the amazing The Walking Dead: The Game, which I reviewed sometime in 2012 released their DLC episode 400 Days last week, and I’ve finally had the chance to play it — and it’s a fantastic addition to the franchise that any Walking Dead fan owes it to themselves to check out.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days is a downloadable bonus episode for The Walking Dead: The Game that chronicles the experiences of a new group of survivors throughout the first 400 days of a zombie apocalypse. Ownership of at least one episode of the main game is required to play 400 Days (unless you’re playing the PS Vita version, which is bundled with all of the previous episodes), though 400 Days can be played without having experienced any of the main game. At the time of writing, 400 Days retails for $4.99 (not including the price of the main game if you don’t already own it), which buys you about two hours worth of zombie fueled adventuring.
What’s interesting about 400 Days is the way in which its story is told. Unlike the main game, which primarily chronicled the experiences of one protagonist (Lee Everett), 400 Days is split up into five short chapters, each one focusing on a different protagonist and their struggle to survive. You have the option of playing through these vignettes in chronological order (which is what I did), or you can play them in any order you wish. Once you’ve finished them all, you unlock an epilogue set during Day 400 where the characters — now having met up and formed a group — decide whether or not to join a colony of survivors promising them a safe and normal life, with their final decision depending on how you played their individual stories and the major choices you made.
It goes without saying that, much like the original game, 400 Days’ gameplay features a heavy emphasis on morality. Each of the chapters (except for the epilogue) contains at least one major choice which determines how the chapter will end, as well as a number of less important ones. Due to the short length of game, many of these lesser choices aren’t quite as meaningful as those in Lee and Clementine’s story, though there are still a handful of different paths through each chapter and plenty of dialogue options. As most of the game’s events take place in the same general location, several choices also carry over into subsequent chapters, such as choosing to ignore and incapacitated zombie only to have him re-appear, healed up and much angrier, weeks later. You’ll also encounter echoes of decisions made in the main game, so beware of spoilers if you’ve decided to play 400 Days before the other episodes.
Overall, the gameplay in 400 Days is pretty much the same as you’re used to from the previous episodes, just on a much smaller scale. There are a couple of adventure game style puzzles to solve — though they’re a lot simpler than the problems Lee had to bust his brain over — and the handful of action scenes in the DLC make good use of quick time events to simulate urgency and a sense of danger. There are also conflicts with fellow survivors to resolve. For such a short experience, 400 Days does a good job of making its characters seem lifelike and complex and I was surprised to find myself becoming attached to them relatively quickly, though they’re definitely not a patch on the memorable cast of the main episodes, and you won’t find yourself moved to tears when bad things happen to them.
Unfortunately, as 400 Days runs on the same engine as the main game, the awkward controls that I pointed out in my original review rear their ugly heads again here in the PC version. You have to use a surprising number of keys on the keyboard to control what essentially amounts to a point and click game, and the standard WASD movement can feel a little clumsy when the game’s dynamic camera angles force you to suddenly walk in a different direction. It’s a shame that Telltale didn’t include an option to customise the controls in this DLC, and having a joypad is pretty much essential to enjoyment of the game. The iOS version of the game, on the other hand, is much easier to play and is well suited to touch based control, which is proof that a simpler control scheme would work wonders with this game.
However, like before, the positives of the game far outweigh the negatives. When it comes down to it, The Walking Dead: 400 Days is an excellent add-on for the original game, providing more of the same for people who haven’t had enough. It’s a fun little collection of stories about life during a zombie apocalypse and the conflicts that arise when people will do anything to survive. It won’t scratch your itch to see characters such as Kenny and Clementine again, and it would be nice if it were a little longer — but for $4.99 it’s an excellent way to return to the world of The Walking Dead and a taster of things to come in the upcoming sequel.