Video Game Review: ‘The Walking Dead: 400 Days’ Short on Time

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CHICAGO - This past February, wading through a few inches of snow late at night on a quarter-mile jaunt to buy Black and Milds from a convenience store, subconsciously a mite terrified about what exactly was lurking in the woods and shadows, I realized there was no going back to how it was. The binary concepts of good and evil, right and wrong, black and white, felt light-years away. In their place a million shades of gray. It was…bittersweet. Video Game Rating: 4.0/5.0
Video Game Rating: 4.0/5.0

Simply put, “The Walking Dead” was my white buffalo; a perfect combination of storytelling, interactivity, pathos, and gut punching choices that had consequences beyond the simplistic nature of ‘evil’ and ‘good’. With so many titles desperately trying to be ‘cinematic’ and movie-like (“Alan Wake”), it was Telltale Games’ episodic not-quite-adventure game that merged interactivity and narrative successfully the best. I marathoned the first season in a day and a half with a buddy, frequently pausing to haul stress-reducing tobacco into our lungs and contemplate the plight of Lee, Lilly, Kenny, and Clementine, all names I still remember off the top of my head. With every choice, doubt would settle in. “Could I do more?”, “Is Kenny mad at me?” “Do I really need *both* my arms?”

The Walking Dead: 400 Days
The Walking Dead: 400 Days
Photo credit: Telltale Games

The beauty of “The Walking Dead” is that while it wasn’t exceptionally written, or even fluid - considering on the 360 the game tends to hiccup for a tick or two every time you enter a dialog option - it utilized the medium of video games to force you into making heart-wrenching choices. With every chose-your-own-adventure style gutpunch and no win scenario, “The Walking Dead” dug its teeth into players who wanted an immersive story. Over the five episodes you grew to genuinely care about the fates of the people in the game. People.

Which brings us to “The Walking Dead: 400 Days”, a ‘special’ episode featuring five new characters that may or may not be featured in the much-anticipated second season of the series. Before even being played, “400 Days” has a few things working against it, primarily hype. “400 Days” has quite a lot to live up too, and not nearly enough time to do it. Second, well, it’s introducing us to 5 new characters in a game that runs roughly 3 hours if you take your time. So by design you won’t become as attached to these characters and their plight.

Instead you end up with a series of morality-play-esque vignettes that focus on what aspects of humanity you’re willing to sacrifice in the name of survival. The writing is the quality you’ve come to expect from the series, though things tend to be a little heavy on the exposition side of things since we need to get to know each of these characters, just a little, so we can feel bad later as we slowly rip away humanity from them with each moral choice. The best moments have you making choices that define who you are as a person within the context of the game. Do you get into a truck with a complete stranger? Do you execute a thief because he stole supplies? Who’d you prefer have your back, a friendly sex-offender or an asshole white-collar criminal? Do you tell a dying woman you’re interested in her husband or let her die in peace? Hell, do you tell her now widowed husband how she died? Each of the five stories feature one or two defining choices to make, and the consequences may not always be apparent.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days
Call of Juarez Gunslinger
Photo credit: Ubisoft

Unfortunately, “400 Days” doesn’t pull at your heart in the same way “The Walking Dead” did, due to a lack of game-length and a core relationship to influence your choices - You’re never wondering what Clem is going to think of you after a given choice here, for example. But, that said, “The Walking Dead: 400 Days” is a quality smattering of Hors d’oeuvres that reminds players just how special the first season of “The Walking Dead” was, all the while providing just enough gut-punches to honor its legacy, and tosses in a few gameplay wrinkles for kicks. I really didn’t like how the game more-or-less scores your choices at the end, but beyond that it’s a great sampler of what’s to come, that leaves you wanting more.

“The Walking Dead: 400 Days” was developed and released by Telltale Games. The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360 but the game is also available for the PS3, PC, and iOS devices. video game critic Paul Meekin

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