I loved the original Walking Dead interactive story by Telltale Games, in fact I am kept awake at night sometimes by my decision to choose Assassin’s Creed 3 over it as my runner up game of the year for 2012. So, naturally, when I heard that there was some DLC heading our way for one of my favourite games I was ALL over that shit. 400 Days which has been recently released is a small taster for those of us who enjoyed the game in order to keep us entertained and to “bridge the gap between season 1 and season 2”.
The 400 Days DLC is essentially more of the stuff from the full game. Dialogue where you are given a set time to make your choices, episodic sections, compelling characters and a depressingly realistic and gritty plot. The zombie apocalypse is about as dead a horse you can get when it comes to themes but I don’t think many other films or games truly capture the desperation and air of hopelessness that these games manage to achieve. That air of “we will do what it takes to survive” with humans turning on each other as often as on the walkers.
So, right off the bat it sounds easily worth the £4.99 it costs on Steam. It’s just more of that amazing game that you either love or haven’t played yet. What’s not to want about it, eh?
Well actually, and unfortunately, a number of things. The game focuses on, 5 different survivors who you see at various stages during the outbreak. With each separate survivor you play a section of what they have had to deal with during the zombie apocalypse, from escaping the very start of the outbreak, to nearly a whole year in and having to deal with other survivors and supply difficulties.
Each storyline is interesting and well written and, as I have already said, each of the 5 protagonists, and indeed all the other characters they interact with, are believable and unique and completely human. However, part of what made the original game so good was the deep emotional connection you developed to both Lee, Clementine and the other main characters of the game. In 400 Days you simply do not have enough time to connect with the survivors as you do not spend even an hour with any of them individually. This means that, no matter how well written, anything you do with them never has the same impact as with Lee.
On a similar level, because of the short nature of the whole episode (which could possibly have been 3 hours of gameplay at most) the decisions you make don’t have as much impact as those made in the original. In the original you knew that something you said could come back to haunt you a few moments or a few episodes down the line. It was a game where the big decisions were important but so were the small ones (or at least they felt that way). In 400 Days even the big decisions just don’t have that far reaching effect of the original and thus seem unimportant and that just makes them seem a bit disappointing.
Like I said the writing is great, because these decisions if they had been in the original might well have tormented me and kept me up at night. But in a game where you make the decision and then don’t really have to deal with the consequences, well it just feels trivial especially in the dialogue because it seems you could really say whatever you wanted.
And this same problem continues with the gameplay segments which ought to be tense, frightening or exciting but without the emotional connection they just don’t hit you in the same way.
Another couple of issues were present as well, I felt that too much of it was actually talking (something I never thought I’d hear myself say). Each character had a little action sequence (some better than others) and a talking sequence. And as the big decisions felt slightly unimportant that means that the dialogue choices felt infinitely more pointless, and so having so much talking was actually a little boring. I also felt there was a surprising number of loading screens in the game. In the original I remember that there were several times where the game would essentially pause in the middle of a sequence as it loaded up the next part (my computer is a slow motherfucker), but it was rare enough that you never felt like you were being kicked out of the action. And that is definitely how it felt in 400 Days. Now obviously this is my computer’s fault and not the game’s, but I also was a little surprised at just how often it happened and how removed from the game it lead me to feel.
See, do you know what the biggest problem is? It’s not really anything they could fix. The problem is that the DLC is in the unfortunate position of being compared to the original Walking Dead game. I loved the original so much that really comparing other games to it just put them in a bad light. So, genuinely everything I’ve mentioned so far is just nit-picking and frankly I don’t think that anything could really have lived up to the original without being a whole new series in it’s own right…
I do want it to be clear that everything good from the full game is still present in the DLC. The decisions, the dialogue (even if it is perhaps a little excessive), the story, the characters, the stylistic and good-looking graphics and the bleak hopelessness of it all. So in a way it’s still good and definitely worth considering if you were a big fan. However, even as a massive fan, it simply did not live up to the standards of the original, which is shame. If the characters make a comeback in upcoming instalments then it might well be worth it. But currently I have to admit to finishing the game and coming away feeling mostly just disappointed. I want more of it and I want more of the emotion and connection of the original. Essentially with the small DLC we are provided, purely to keep our appetite up, the biggest problem is that it is just too short…