Developer: Telltale Games Publisher: Telltale Games UK Price: £3.99 US Price: $4.99
NB: We have taken efforts to avoid major plot spoilers in this review, from both 400 days and The Walking Dead Season One, but some elements of the story are discussed. If you want to go into 400 Days completely blind, don't read this. In fact, why are you even here?
The Walking Dead: 400 Days must rank as one of the most unintentionally ironic game titles since Final Fantasy. While it refers to the game's sweeping coverage of the first year-and-a-bit of a zombie apocalypse, your experience of undead America's initial 13 months will clock in closer to 400 seconds. Episodes of the first series (the first The Walking Dead game is split up into episodes) are rarely lengthy affairs, but 400 days is fleeting even by their standards.
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If you've played The Walking Dead before, however, you'll know that quantity is no measure of quality, and 400 Days features some typically first-rate drama in its meagre length. It doesn't leave an awful lot of room for much else, however, and consequently the series' weaknesses are considerably more pronounced than they have been previously.
400 days is intended to be an interim episode between the first and second series, though precisely in what manner it is supposed to bridge the gap isn't entirely clear even after playing. There doesn't appear to be any continuity with the first series in terms of characters or location, so the obvious conclusion is it is designed to introduce the new characters for the second series, although we won't know for certain until that is actually released.
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At first glance, 400 days looks no different from the earlier episodes. As before it uses those highly stylised comic-strip visuals which largely succeed in masking the limitations of Telltale's ageing in-house tech. Only the small environments reveal the wrinkles on the engine's face. It quickly becomes clear though that 400 days works very differently from the first series. Whereas series one centred around a single main character for its entirety, 400 days tells the stories of five different characters, which interweave in a way we shall be deliberately vague about. Each brief tale lasts around twenty minutes, and focuses on a defining moment in that individual's survival story.
To relate so many stories in such a short space of time requires seriously sharp writing, and Telltale's pencils must be so pointed they could poke a hole in empty space. Characters are established with an economy of narrative that makes Hemingway look verbose. Their traits, their motivations, and their relationships are all made clear in a few lines of dialogue, and just the right amount of information is related to make their situations compelling, without any clumsy exposition dumps.
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A good example of this is the third of the five stories, which focuses on Shel and her younger sister. They're part of a group led by a friendly-seeming fellow named Roman, and due to their previous survival experiences have an almost obsessive-compulsive attitude toward their own protection. Much as with Lee and Clementine in the first series, the decisions Shel makes influence her little sister's behaviour, and as Roman becomes increasingly autocratic and unforgiving in his "protection" of the group, Shel faces some tough choices which will not only affect her but her sister as well. Pretty impressive for less than half an hour of game time.