July 2, 2013
Incredible Storytelling I Near-Perfect Voice Acting I Interwoven Stories
Too Short (even for DLC) I Technical Issues I Limited Puzzles
2012’s The Walking Dead point-and-click adventure from Telltale Games was my favorite game of that year. It’s story kept you intrigued, its characters made you care, and it proved to millions of gamers that episodic storytelling in videogames can work. With the releases of the DLC 400 Days, the developers at Telltale Games have continued the story of the human condition from the point of view of not one, but of five new characters.
Where the original Walking Dead game gave you the decision-making power of Lee Everett, 400 Days places you in the shoes of a variety of characters: recovering drug addict, convicted murderer, protective older sister, young African-American, and out-of-touch hippie. Each have their own stories to tell at different points of the first 400 days of infection and each are faced with the same life-or-death decisions that Telltale has made synonymous with incredible storytelling in a videogame.
400 Days allows the player to select which character they will play as from a billboard filled with “missing person” photos. It’s a clever way to begin this new tale in an otherwise unrelated chapter of The Walking Dead franchise. Fans of the series – Robert Kirman‘s graphic novels, AMC‘s television show, and Telltale’s successful videogame – will be pleased to discover that although the dead still roam the earth, they continue to take a significant back seat to the more powerful (and more interesting) interactions with the remaining living population.
From the start through to the end of each of the five short, but no less tense, stories, the player is presented with conversations and decisions that are recorded and kept track of. Responses to nearly every question, argument, or predicament undoubtedly effect – in the positive or negative – the characters that you encounter. These life-changing decisions deliver an incredible sense of morality – do the right thing or leave behind all remnants of humanity to ensure your own safety? However, due to the extremely short length of each individual storyline (approximately 15-20 minutes each), these consequences seem entirely less significant than what I came to love the most about Telltale‘s first Walking Dead game. I would have preferred fewer new characters to play as in favor of seeing in more detail the consequences of your choices.
Like the best Quentin Tarantino movies, many of the characters you play as or encounter cross paths at some point during the game. These characters experienced such terrible situations it was interesting to see how their lives interact with one another. However, this was not as blatant or in-your-face as I was hoping it would have been. As the player, you really need to pay attention to even the smallest of details to pick up on how one character’s decision has effected others yet to be played. The crossing of paths do occur, just in much less dramatic fashion as I would’ve liked to have seen it.
The gameplay was nearly identical to the last Walking Dead game save for a reduction (thankfully) of the often unforgiving quick time events. Conversational responses are timed – some much faster than others – exploration of your immediate surroundings are limited, and interaction with the people and objects around you are awkwardly controlled with the right stick and face buttons. Although adequate, it continues to be a minor complaint that was carried over. A refinement of the control scheme would have been nice but due to its limited use I understand why nothing has changed.
What seemed to be completely removed from this DLC was the experience of puzzle solving. Where I often found myself scratching my head to solve even the most “basic” of puzzles in the original Walking Dead game, 400 Days has, for reasons unknown, decided to skip this fundamental piece of the point-and-click adventure. It was an unfortunate realization and one that I’m hopeful Telltale Games will rectify with their next offering.
Something that I wish Telltale would have addressed is the oddly placed invisible wall. Practically every videogame I’ve played has them, it’s how the developers disguise them that can make or break the annoyance. Unfortunately ,The Walking Dead: 400 Days hasn’t found a way to correct an issue that can quickly remove the player from an otherwise immersive experience. Partially due to a fixed camera, players are still faced with distinct boundaries that further limit character movement. I can only hope that the next chapter of The Walking Dead manages some of these consistent technical issues more effectively.
Taking a page from the incredible success of Robert Kirkman‘s graphic novels, 400 Days continues the tradition of using cell-shaded effects, while smartly incorporating vivid color animation to an otherwise black-and-white world. With games like Naughty Dog‘s The Last of Us, this generation of gaming consoles has delivered some of the most visually realistic gaming experiences. However, there’s something to be said about the artistic stylings of The Walking Dead. Aside from giving the characters and environments a grittier look and feel, it proved to me that the story and character development continue to be front and center.
That’s not to say 400 Days looks anything short of beautiful, in a sick and apocalyptic sorta way. The character facial details and animations deliver just as they are intended; young women prematurely show their age with a variety of wrinkles surely brought on by stress, and men display their own version of hell when you look into their eyes. The world these remaining survivors inhabit is not a pretty place. It’s not meant to inspire or resemble a natural beauty. It’s meant to be feared and hidden from.
Unlike the lengthier introduction to Telltale Games, The Walking Dead: 400 Days mostly leaves environments rather barren. Areas that one would expect to be littered with trash were empty. Roads that should be clogged with abandoned vehicles were clear for miles in either direction. Little details such as these would have added to the sense of realism to an already tense situation, but I think this speaks more to this being a brief add-on than a lack of attention to detail.
As one might expect from such a story-driven game the acting is very much spot on. The characters you play as and interact with are all exceptionally voiced. They provide the necessary realism in situations of fear, anger, compassion, and violence. Telltale Games continues its tradition of pairing near-perfect actors with the right characters. Without the talents of these men and women 400 Days could have easily been forgotten as another missed opportunity for quality additional content. The developers approached this add-on just as they did with their prior Walking Dead titles, and it shows.
Although I generally prefer games to include an adequate musical score, 400 Days just gets by with a minimalist approach. Aside from very intense scenes the music that is used is barely noticeable. Reflecting on my play through I’m somewhat confused if this was intentional. Either way, the music that was used (or lack thereof) did not detract from my overall experience. If anything, those scenes that utilized music stood out that much more.