Review

The Walking Dead: 400 Days

The Talking Dead

In The Walking Dead: 400 Days, Telltale quietly lays the groundwork for its next big story.

By Drew Toal • July 10, 2013

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.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days

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 Walking Dead: 400 Days

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.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Platforms: iPhone/iPad (Universal), Mac, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360,
Reviewed on: Xbox 360
Price: $5 (requires at least one episode of the original Walking Dead game)
Rating: M

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  • The_Helmaroc_King

    Definitely looking forward to picking this up eventually.

    I imagine that working in a “short story” format would make the developers more eager to experiment and surprise, since they don’t need to guarantee any characters will survive a given encounter. On the other hand, the original episodes weren’t exactly afraid of killing off most everyone but Lee and Clementine.

    Poor Carley…

    • PaganPoet

      WALKING DEAD SPOILERS AHEAD

      I tried to befriend and side with Lilley and her father (can’t remember his name) on my first playthrough, despite my initial judgment that Kenny and Katjaa were much better people. My thought was that maybe underneath their tough exteriors they were good people. Needless to say, that decision haunted me from Episode 3 onward.

      • DrFlimFlam

        I was really upset by how that arc trampled over the rest of my crew.

      • neodocT

         SPOILERS

        Lily was actually one of my favorite characters in the first two episodes, despite her asshole father. I even gave him food at the start of episode 2 because of her!

        I get why she freaked out later, so I wasn’t angry, but definitely disappointed with her.

        • JamesJournal

          I didn’t “like” her. But I’d deemed her a person in the group that I could count on. Even if her paranoia was out of control sometimes.

          But any and all sympathy was sapped when she killed Carly.

      • The_Misanthrope

        I kind of liked how it subverted the whole notion of “more effort now, reward later” built into most games.  We are conditioned to think–Saturday Morning cartoons might’ve fostered this attitude, too–that enough kindness and compassion will thaw the iciest heart.  And, yeah, you do get to see a sliver  of humanity in Lilly, but it’s buried underneath so much bitterness, and defensiveness that it barely registers.

        Without spoilers, 400 Days pulls the same trick on a much stranger level.

        • neodocT

          Saturday Morning Cartoons? Isn’t that Weber’s protestant work ethic?

          But I agree with your point. The game is so focused on choices and consequences, that it really makes you believe that you can change people, that you can make things the least bit better for your companions. And then it pulls the rug, ruins everything and leaves you to put the pieces back together, to find new meaning in your choices.

          In many regards, it’s a very existentialist game, and makes me pretty sure that The Plague would have been a zombie book if written nowadays (Note to self: check the copyright status for Camus’ books).

          TWD SEASON 1 SPOILERS

          I remember being really devastated in Episode 3, because I was sure that Lily’s actions and Duck’s death were my fault, somehow. I found out later that those happen no matter what you do, but I admire that the game managed to make me feel guilty for everything that happened.

          • The_Misanthrope

            I really think that it is the best way to implement a morality system: by making the player internalize it. I realize that not every game can pull off that trick; The Walking Dead really benefits from a narrowly-focused story and sharp writing. At the very least, games need to seriously rethink morality as a visible stat with a reward/penalty system. But I suppose this is a conditioned of our own conception of the way we think things work, since that kind of notion is embedded in many religions.

        • JamesJournal

          @neodocT:disqus I remember being really devastated in Episode 3, because I was sure that Lily’s actions and Duck’s death were my fault, somehow. I found out later that those happen no matter what you do, but I admire that the game managed to make me feel guilty for everything that happened.

          This is why Alpha Protocol is still the best “choice” based game. You can’t save everyone, but the game doesn’t funnel you down any path. Everything really is your fault

        • neodocT

           @jamesjournal:disqus I’ve added Alpha Protocol to my Steam wishlist. Don’t let me down, Gaben!

        • http://syntheticerror.wordpress.com/ Cyanotetyphas

          Re: To neodocT and JamesJournal

          Yeah in season 1 all roads led to Rome. It’s a magic trick that’s only good once. I hope they experiment a little more with alternate through lines in season 2 rather then just having everything be equalized by a bus crash or something right at the beginning. 

      • 2StoryOuthouse

        SPOILERS

        I tried to make Lee as much of a calming influence on everyone else as possible, but I definitely made a few decisions purely out of anger. Leaving Lily on the side of the road was one of those, and it was probably the one that shook me up the most. I actually had to put the game down for awhile at that point, pace around and compose myself.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

          I, on the other hand, was more than happy to leave her on the side of the road. After shooting Carley, she deserved it.

        • neodocT

           SPOILERS

          I still took her along, even after shooting Carley. I really believed in her redemption! And then she stole the truck and ran away…

        • lokimotive

          I hated her father and described him as a racist just to be a dick, however I did demure from bashing his head in. I genuinely liked Lily, and like everyone’s said here, wanted to let her redeem herself, but once she shot Carley, what else could you do but leave her there? She was clearly a danger to the entire group. Even if Carley did tip off the bad forest guys, you can’t just blithely shoot her. What a jerk she was.

          You know, even after all these months, this game still sticks with you.

        • 2StoryOuthouse

          @lokimotive:disqus I too called him racist, not necessarily because I actually believed it, but just because he was an old asshole who had to give me shit no matter what I did. Kudos to Telltale for having that come back to bite me in the ass and make me (real-life me) think about the implications of throwing that accusation around recklessly.

        • http://www.gildedgreen.com/ Girard

          How does accusing him of being racist eventually come back to bite you in the ass? I don’t think I did that on my playthrough, and you’ve piqued my curiosity as to how that dialogue choice is invoked later on down the line.

        • 2StoryOuthouse

          @paraclete_pizza:disqus Maybe “bite me in the ass” is a bit of an exaggeration… Basically, as far as I remember it, Larry chews you out as usual and Mark says something stupid like, “You’re right, Lee, this guy is a racist asshole.” To which I’m thinking “Shut up, shut up…” Larry seems genuinely taken aback by this, mad not in his normal “I hate everyone” mode, but mad that he’s being unfairly accused… even misunderstood, as if was trying to accomplish something all this time with general dickishness and was mad that it was being written off as petty prejudice. It was the rare moment when I actually kind of felt bad for the guy. As detestable as Larry was in every other domain, even he knew that “racist” is an ugly, ugly label.

  • Aurora Boreanaz

    I’ve played two characters so far (Bonnie and Russell).  Great little character moments in each, and some horrifying surprises.  Hope to finish the other three within a day or two.

    • The_Misanthrope

       SPOILERS

      That Russell episode really fucked with my head.  Nate is obviously some sort of -path, be it psycho- or socio-, but he is so competent that I was almost willing to forgive his asshole tendencies.

      • Aurora Boreanaz

        MORE SPOILERS

        Yeah, he was creepy, and I kept expecting him to ditch me during the firefight, and was surprised when he didn’t…then disappointed that I told him off and walked away, only to have him do what I asked him not to.

        Also, OH MY GOD, talking to Dee after the unfortunate accident…just stop talking already! Aaaaaagh!

        • Razz Matazz

          EVEN MORE SPOILERS

          GAAAAAH! Dee’s face is horrifying, and it just lasts forever! 

          One of the aspects that made WD so effective for me was the sheer brutality of it. You have seconds to make a decision and when said decision is one of violence the game makes absolutely sure that it viscerally smacks you full in the face with the consequences. I remember making a snap decision and chopping that guy’s leg off in Ep 2 of the first season. Having to continually click through the entire gruesome ordeal with bits of flesh, bone, and blood flying everywhere (and all while the poor man is screaming his head off) was horrendous and extremely disturbing. I really admire the game for attempting (and succeeding in my estimation) to drive home the savagery of this new world.

  • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

    I played this last week. I got the sense that it’s like the first 5 episodes but with all the fat trimmed. No stupid puzzles, no pointless subplots. I think it worked out for the better. [SPOILERS] Plus, that cornfield chase sequence was genuinely tense and thrilling.

    Good work, Telltale.

    • The_Misanthrope

       I really enjoyed it, too, though I do think the brief length did sometimes make it hard to get to know the character before moving on.  This was my issue with Wyatt, anyway, but he was also the first one I did, so maybe I just wasn’t acclimated to the style of storytelling yet.  All I know is that I had just gotten in his (presumably stoned) head-space and it was over.

      I’m also a little hazy on the chronology of events.  Specifically, I’m not sure where the old couple fit into the timeline of events.  I may have to play it through again just to figure it out.

      I do wonder how they will carry over into S2.  Obviously, they can’t prominently feature in it, since it is possible to leave people behind at the end (Shel and Vince in mine).  I imagine it’ll be some cameo role or fleeting reference.

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        For what it’s worth, Wyatt’s was the third or fourth story I played, and I think he’s the least fleshed out of the 5 protagonists. I’m still not quite sure what his personality was supposed to be.

        • Roswulf

           At least in my playthrough, Wyatt represented someone who was clinging to the last vestiges of his belief that the world, even if zombie infested, was still morally coherent. Wyatt knew tat he wasn’t a bad person. So he refused to believe that a person hit in the road was anything but a zombie, that he and his friend had any responsibility not to drive on.

          By the end of the scene, having abandoned his friend to save himself, that confidence was gone.

          I agree that it was the weakest of the scenes, but it worked for me on these terms.

        • The_Misanthrope

          From what I can tell, he’s a guy that owns several obscure band t-shirts.

      • 2StoryOuthouse

        SPOILERS AGAIN, OBVIOUSLY

        My theory is that Season 2 starts with Clem meeting up with whoever stays behind at the camp (in my playthrough, just Vince). Remember that at the last moment of Season 1, she’s walking through a field a little like the field the 5 player characters are using for their camp. But if it is possible to bring everyone along, I might be wrong about that.

        • Roswulf

           That’s…a really good guess. And I see no reason she couldn’t find an empty camp.

          This also makes me feel much less queasy about having Shell and her daughter left alone at camp. I want Clem to meet them!

        • M_as_in_Mancy

          I’m *pretty* sure the opportunity is there to take everyone away from the camp- Vince and Shel were left behind in my game too, but I opted not to try to play through again for 100% “perfect” completion, since I’m not really sure what that entails anyway. Maybe the people left behind at the camp will have some impact on Season 2? If so, it’ll be rewarding to be able to interact with them some more. And if not… well, the game feels more impactful to me if I don’t just keep going over and over again to get it right.

  • Roswulf

    As Drew writes, TWD is the best existing distillation of gameplaying as choice. The Walking Dead games may not have the greatest writing in video games, but they offer the most cogent argument for the distinctive literary power of games. None of this is original to me of course, but it’s worth restating.

    Almost entirely stripped of traditional gameplay, the Walking Dead smacks you in the face with the narrative power, not of watching a protagonist make an awful choice, but of having to make that decision yourself.

    Even more than Season 1, I found 400 days utterly ruthless in confronting the player with the brutal emotional whomping of those choices. And I was surprised at how effectively those choices churned my stomach without the emotional crutch of the adorable Clem.

    If you find video games interesting (and if not, why are you reading Gameological?), 400 Days is a required (and fortunately short, cheap, and good) text. In a better world where Roger Ebert was alive, this was the game he should have played.

    • The_Misanthrope

       It’s not like Ebert never played or liked games; I think that he just expressed an opinion–one he partially retracted–and was unfairly vilified for it.  Back in 1994, he even wrote a glowing review of a strange little game called The Cosmology of Kyoto for Wired:
      http://kotaku.com/5921865/the-video-game-roger-ebert-loved

      (The game can be easily downloaded off abandonware sites like Home Of the Underdogs, but I have yet to be able to get it to run in Windows 7.  If anyone can get it to work, let me know how.)

      I always found it a little funny that when people were pushing back on the whole “games cannot be art” thing,they would often the suggest the most pretentious video games like Flower or Braid.  Art can be ugly and unfussy, too.

    • Chum Joely

      Funny that you and @The_Misanthrope:disqus should mention Ebert here today– there was an article yesterday on an industry site claiming that “the industry will be legitimized if mainstream
      publications can offer regular critical analysis of games.”

      http://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2013-07-09-warren-spector-wheres-gamings-roger-ebert

      (The site may require sign-in, sorry if this link doesn’t work for some/most people here at GS.)

      I don’t quite get why the video games industry needs to be “legitimized” anymore now that it’s taking in more money every year than movies, but anyway.

      • Roswulf

        The idea that, circa 2013, advancements in the critical conversation must take the form of staff positions at the New York Times and paper-and-ink magazines strikes me as…odd.

        • Chum Joely

          Yeah, the bit about magazines in particular stuck out for me (first reaction: “Are there still enough bookstores with those big magazine sections?”) I do see his point about making “respectable/serious” games criticism more visible to the general public, even if they don’t actually read those magazines, sites etc.

  • NakedSnake

    Wait, is it the Dio dos Drew?