Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Walking Dead (video game): 400 Days


    The Walking Dead: 400 Days is a DLC containing a series of vignettes centered around a group of survivors struggling to make it to the titular 400 days in. The vignettes are all during different parts of the zombie apocalypse and involve different casts of characters. At the end of the game, we see how all of their stories tie-together.

    I got my copy of 400 Days with my Game of the Year Edition for Xbox 360. As a result, I played it directly after The Walking Dead video game. A part of me was disappointed I didn't get to continue the adventures of the "main cast" (such as it remained) but given the events of the finale as well as the existence of Season Two, it was probably for the best this dealt with a new cast.

    So what did I think?

The new cast of characters have some real gems.
    I have mixed feelings.

    I respect what Telltale Games was trying to do with 400 Days but I kind of feel this comes off like the "webisodes" from the Walking Dead DVDs. There's some really great moments and storytelling going on but it feels like there's only enough to wet the appetite versus giving a truly satisfying meal. With rare exceptions, I feel like I was just getting to know the characters involved when we switched them.

    If I had to choose, I'd say I would have preferred to have stuck with a single protagonist or maybe three with roughly twice the length. The odd thing is, any of the existing protagonists would have been a decent one to follow this format as nobody is boring. I do think that everyone is a trifle underdeveloped, though.

    You get just as long with them as to become intrigued by their storylines, only for whatever happened in your episode to become irrelevant by the end of the game. It left me feeling more than a trifle cheated as I never found out what happened to X character from Vinny's story, Y from Shel's, or Z's from Bonnie's. Yes, it's a zombie apocalypse and we can infer but that's just not the same.

There's some genuinely shocking moments in the game too.
    I think Vince, Wyatt, and Shel's stories are the closest to being "complete" though. Russell's story seems like we should have seen his original group and Bonnie feels like it ends before we find out some vital information about what happens next. The ending with Tavia also felt a little confusing as I was suddenly someone talking to "my" characters and unable to make the choices I feel they would make. Awkward.

    There is, however, one benefit to the 400 Days format, however, and that's the in media res nature of it. You're dumped into the middle of every story with very little to go on and have to decide, in an instant, "just who is my character?" I decided in very short order: Vince is a scumbag, Wyatt was a coward, Shel was a basically good person who'd do anything to protect her little sister, Russell was a normal kid dominated by strong personalities his entire life, and Bonnie was grateful but creeped out by her fellow survivors.

There's some very eccentric but likable characters in this game. Nate is basically Z-Day Trevor Phillips.
    There's a good deal of freedom to be able to play through the stories of the survivors and not be beholden to whether they're good men or bad. The consequences of my playthrough was a lot more diverse than with my Lee. My Lee was a good man who did everything in his power to stay the righteous path until he couldn't physically go on anymore. My attempts to do differently resulted in some powerful moments during my playthrough. Evil deeds, cowardly decisions, and pragmatic choices which would never otherwise be contemplated all happened.

    So there is that.

    Of all the episodes of 400 Days, I think I'd have to choose Shel's story as the most standout. We get a real sense of the community she and the other survivors in her group have built and get to watch it change dramatically in very short order. It was a short-story, doubly so because it's essentially two episodes in one, but the emotional weight of it was powerful.

    I also liked her and Rebecca's relationship with the former watching the latter's humanity slip away a little bit at a time. I'm going to be sad if I don't get to see Roman again as he was the kind of anti-villain I like. A guy who thinks he's doing the right thing by everyone. Plus, he dresses like a biker from GTAIV and V's the Lost MC. In Shel's story, my Shel did what she felt had to be done--which makes the ending doubly tragic.

    I recommend people pick up 400 Days if they've enjoyed the original Walking Dead video game. It's not up to the standards of the original but it's close. I just think it's more a supplemental material than a real expansion.

8/10

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