Months after the end of the first season, we’re still talking about The Walking Dead. For many (including myself) it was the best game of last year, an incredibly memorable experience that won out by prioritising characters and choices over puzzles, and which managed to brilliantly expand upon the universe created in the comics. Right now, even as Rick and the gang deal with the psychopathic Negan in the comics, the game remains the most intriguing thing with the Walking Dead branding on it.
If Season 1 was (to use an appropriate comic analogy) a full, satisfying arc, then 400 Days is more akin to a series of one-shots, introducing characters who may or may not appear in Season 2 and quickly throwing them into horrible situations. Each story is self-contained; you pick from one of the five characters available, play through their story, and then move onto the others in any order you choose. They stand alone, but feature visual links between each other that ultimately, once you hit the epilogue, flesh out a bigger picture.
Each episode is short, taking between 10 and 20 minutes to play through, and some have a much greater impact than others. Vince, a criminal on his way to prison two days into the outbreak (not unlike Lee was back in Episode 1, although Vince is getting the paddy wagon treatment), is more interesting when you’re simply sitting back and listening to him talk than when you’re called into action.
Part of the problem here is that you’re being asked to make decisions for a man who has no idea what’s happening, but by now players are very well acquainted with this world. The same goes for stoner Wyatt, whose vignette plays out like something from a 90s slasher flick, albeit one with far, far better writing than most of those movies had. Neither of these stories quite feel like they’re in tune with the spirit of The Walking Dead, but are still enjoyable.
The other chapters are a little stronger and more focused, but one really stands out. Shel’s story directly ties into the events of the first season (in ways I won’t spoil, suffice to say that if you skip this you’re not missing anything crucial), jumping between two different time periods so that the choices you make in the chapter’s first half ostensibly affect how things go down in the second half, or at least how characters react to them. In a short space of time several character arcs play out, and the sense of desperation and loss at the series’ core is keenly felt.
The decisions you have to make are harder here than they are elsewhere. The Walking Dead has, in all its media forms, always been big on the dissolution of black and white morality, and the final decision in Shel’s section is as difficult and upsetting as any the series has asked players to make up to this point. In other chapters, there were occasional instances where the characters took the dialog choices I made further than I intended to - these stories move so fast that you can’t get into a character’s head like you could with Lee – but taking a part in how things play out is still never less than compelling, and the guilt I’m feeling over some of my choices is likely going to stick with me for a while. Interesting, a few stories barely even contain zombies, which can lead to a few heavy-handed ‘other people are the real monsters!!!’ moments, but mostly works.
It remains to be seen how well 400 Days ties into Season 2, although it’s certainly implied at the end that your actions here will have some impact. As the epilogue messily ties everything off, it’s hard to say for sure whether 400 Days is an absolutely essential part of the Walking Dead experience, or whether it’s mostly a fantastic reminder that Telltale knows exactly what they’re doing. We’re inclined to be optimistic though, and believe that those little pop-up reminders of who will remember what will resonate further. And even if the next season drops these characters entirely, 400 Days is only $5 – less than the price of two of the comics – and gives you exactly what we’ve all been crying out for - more torment in this world that we’ve come to love getting our hands dirty in.