By Dustin Urness
* MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS *
It goes without saying that “The Walking Dead” from Telltale Games last year was a surprise hit. It won many GOTY awards, and not only shined a new light on the genre, it also set a standard for storytelling and character depth for video games. It was also a breath of fresh air for the “zombie outbreak” setting, which in my opinion is becoming woefully stale and flooded. While “400 Days” doesn’t come anywhere near the stellar character development of the original five episodes, it provides a capable glimpse into what may come for season two, despite its short length when compared to previous episodes.
When starting it up, we are treated to a gas station/diner that appears overrun with zombies. The camera then pans onto a public bulletin board, and focuses on the photos of five people, each marked with a name. This acts as a “story select” screen, and can be done in any order.
The photo screen is pretty creative. Most games go for plain, profile-like shots when doing something like this. Instead, the bulletin board’s photos show people with personality, and you’ll find yourself trying to gauge what kind of people they might be when selecting to play through their story.
There’s Bonnie, a recovering addict. Wyatt, a stoner in over his head. Russell, a wandering man who left his group. Vince, a convict who suspiciously looks like a certain character from the TV series we were treated to in the game’s earlier episodes. Rounding it out is my personal favorite, Shel. Out of all these characters, she is the one who probably receives the best story treatment, and is by far the most well-developed character in this episode. Shel and her sister, Becca put in my mind what Lee and Clem’s relationship might’ve been like if she was a stubborn teenager instead of a precocious, yet relatively obedient child.
Like the previous episodes, each story presents choice as a main driver of the plot. One advantage of its short length here is that you will see the consequences of your choices almost immediately, and with some of them rather profound, it won’t take a lot of time for you to give another playthrough to see the results of other choices. However, a glaring disadvantage of its length being some characters in this episode are given extremely short stories, which doesn’t allow you to connect with them on anything more than a basic scale, leaving you feeling about as attached to them as a guest star on “Law & Order”. Most players will be able to breeze through the episode in about an hour, and all the choices made will culminate in an ultimate decision for each and every one of them.
A couple other slight changes involved the cursor. It will now shake and quiver in stressful context, such as shooting or struggling with a zombie, upping the difficulty a tad. There are also a couple instances of “hold-and-move”, where prying something loose or dragging something will involve holding down an action button and moving the analog stick accordingly. While nothing major by any means, it’s nice to see something even remotely different instead of the sniper-steady cursor before that was wholly dependent on its target’s movement for difficulty.
$5 for an hour-long DLC is asking a bit much, but they really tried to get you excited for the next season, and they had a lot of ground to cover with telling the back stories of five very different people. While this was a great effort, I can’t help but feel if it were as long as a traditional episode, which usually ran in the two-hour range, there would’ve been so much more potential put to use, and would’ve lent a hand to the development of a couple of characters who I really felt I barely knew at the end.