At the end of Karate Kid II, Daniel-san holds the life of his rival, Chozen, in his waxy hands and puts a question to his prone and beaten opponent. “Live or die, man?” he asks. Chozen chooses death, but Daniel-san isn’t quite ready to spend the rest of his days as a diminutive foreigner in an Okinawan prison. Rather than deliver the fatal chop, he gives Chozen a good-natured nose honk, and everyone’s prickly honor is satisfied. In every mini-chapter of The Walking Dead: 400 Days, your characters are faced with the same question—live or die? But there is no such thing as honor in the zombie apocalypse, and in 400 Days, those on the losing end generally have their nose (or eye, or leg) tweaked clean off their person—often by a bullet.
The Walking Dead was originally released in five episodes, each continuing the story of a small group as they fight for survival and against one another. As a whole, The Walking Dead’s most memorable characteristic is the fact that it offers players a very limited time to choose between a daunting number of options—ranging from fairly bad to horrific—and a whole game to deal with the mostly terrible consequences.
400 Days is, with a small caveat, a standalone affair. It looks and feels similar to the original. From a story standpoint, it’s not necessary to have completed the main game, but players must own at least one of the previous episodes in order to access the new material. It’s not really a sequel, although passing references are made to certain familiar characters. And 400 Days is condensed, essentially five episodes in one, each a different story set somewhere along a 400-day timeline that begins with the first infected humans.
In such short bursts, it’s all but impossible to build up the same intense emotional connection that tethered the original story together, but 400 Days serves its purpose well as an easily digestible zombie snack to whet fans’ appetites for the inevitable full sequel. Aside from introducing at least a dozen intriguing new characters for future use and dismemberment, 400 Days does some amusingly original things, like forcing you to play Rock, Paper, Scissors with a friend to see who has to venture out in the zombie-infested fog, or having you stumble through a cornfield while you’re chased by gun-toting maniacs.
The quieter moments between crises that spelled The Walking Dead’s action sequences are necessarily truncated in 400 Days, and the life-or-death decisions here are so relentlessly presented that they do lose some of their urgency and shock value. Rarely, though, has a series made me feel like I’ve gone through so much by doing so little. You’ll fire a gun, walk down a lonely highway, or run for your life, but the action mainly occurs within your own head, and in your verbal interactions with other survivors. (In one episode, your character doesn’t move out of his seat until the very end.) But it always comes down to this: Should a person live, or should they die? There’s no Mr. Miyagi around to provide an answer.