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‘The Walking Dead: 400 Days’ Review: Missed Connections

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Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead: The Game ended up being one of the best video games of 2012. It set a new standard for storytelling in games, all while sending us on an intense and often emotional roller coaster ride. As we all patiently wait with twiddling thumbs and sweaty palms for season two to arrive, Telltale has generously offered a (painfully brief) reprieve from the Walking Dead withdrawal so many of us are currently enduring.

The Walking Dead 400 Days is a transitional episode that bridges the gap between the first and second seasons of their fantastic episodic series. It promises more of what we loved from the first game, only this time it’s been divided up into five easy-to-digest tales of survival.

Read on to find out if 400 Days is worth surviving.

As soon as you boot it up you’ll see a missing persons board with five photographs tacked on it. This is the hub, and you’ll be returning to it after each episode. The photos are of the five playable survivors in 400 Days — Shel, Bonnie, Russell, Wyatt and Vince. Because 400 Days is divided into five short stories, you’re given the ability to choose what order you play them in.

I kicked things off with Shel, a woman who’s trying her best to protect her younger sister after the zombie outbreak turns their lives upside down. I’m glad I chose this one first, because of all the stories, this one shares the most thematic connections with the first season of The Walking Dead: The Game.

You’re protecting a girl named Becca, a girl who is a little older than Clementine from season one. She’s tougher than she looks — this becomes evident later on — but even still, Shel is trying her best to keep as much of the bad out of Becca’s life as she can. They’re members of a small group of survivors, including a few familiar faces from the cancer support group Lee met in episode 4.

It doesn’t take long before Shel’s thrust into a difficult decision, this is The Walking Dead after all, and tough choices are a staple of this series. If you enjoyed the diplomatic bits from the first game, where one decision can turn half your group against you, you’re going to love this.

After Shel’s story, I jumped into Bonnie’s. Her’s was immediately more interesting to me, because it introduced a new element into the mix: forbidden love. All right, not really, but there’s definite chemistry between Bonnie and Leland — who, I might add, is totally married.

It’s a little dialogue heavy in the beginning, but things quickly ramp up as an intense chase begins and Bonnie is injured. A mysterious group of survivors armed with guns and flashlights chase Bonnie, Leland and his wife into a corn field where they’re split up. This was absolutely terrifying, and in a way, it felt like a homage to the scene in Alan Wake where our favorite author is being chased by police with flashlights into the woods at night. Only this time, the people doing the chasing aren’t afraid to shoot first and ask questions later.

The anxiety I felt during this sequence led me to do something a little… unfortunate. Overall, I really enjoyed this story. Where Shel’s tale shared themes with the first season of The Walking Dead: The Game, Bonnie’s adventure felt different. It was genuinely frightening, I only wish it would’ve lasted a little longer.

The third story I picked followed a young man named Russell, who’s in the middle of a lengthy journey to find his family when he — I — decides to accept a ride from an obviously unhinged stranger. Apparently, hitchiking is a bad, bad idea, because it doesn’t take long for things to go south.

There’s a bit of gunplay in this story, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome as quickly as it did in season one. Overall, this was an above average story that wasn’t become really interesting until the very end.

I chased this with Wyatt’s story. Honestly, I’m still a little torn on this one. On one hand, I really enjoyed the banter between Wyatt and his amigo, Eddie. On the other, the ending was horrible, and left me feeling completely unfulfilled.

It begins with the two being chased by Nate (you never see him, but it’s obviously him) — the guy who picks up Russell in the previous story — after Eddie murders his friend. There’s a short chase, an even shorter bit of gunplay, then Eddie runs into someone, or something, because it’s foggy and he’s spending far too much time not looking at the road.

Since it’s a zombie game, it’s decided they need to investigate. Naturally.

Because I lost the game of Rock, Paper, Scissors — after a humorous minute where we chose the same thing five times in a row — I had to leave the car to see who it was Eddie hit with it. Because it’s dark and foggy out, and leaving the relative safety of a vehicle for any reason is entirely stupid, stuff goes down and the episode ends. Abruptly.

The final episode I played followed Vince. He did something bad to help his brother and this act landed him a bit of jail time. You can tell he’s a decent enough guy, and his story is a little reminiscent of Lee’s, as he finds himself in the rear of a police vehicle at the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. He and several other inmates are trapped on a prison bus when things start to go terribly wrong, as they do in zombie games. A little man-bonding happens, then Vince is faced with a gruesome decision to make before he can escape. This is another episode that’s driven mostly by dialogue, with little action.

That’s not a bad thing. In fact, Telltale did a wonderful job in balancing the action with the storytelling, I only wish I would’ve been given more time to really care about these characters before I was forced onto the next.

If you’re paying close attention and you’re still very familiar with the events and characters from the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, you’ll notice subtle references and nods to that in 400 Days. Even with that loose connection, this is still very much it’s own story, and the way it’s presented makes it feel like the beginning of a brand new adventure, mostly disconnected from Lee and Clementine’s adventure.

Outside of how short 400 Days is — it took me a little over an hour to complete — my biggest problem with it is that it lacks any real impact. There are tough decisions to be made, sure, but the entire episode lacks any real emotional punch. I wasn’t given enough time to develop any real connections with these characters since each of them had about 15-20 minutes of screen-time. I’m not ashamed to admit I had to whip out the Kleenexes at least twice during my time with the first season of TWD, but this episode, while intense, lacks any of that impact.

The Final Word: It’s not the best episode in Telltale’s stellar series, but it’s still more engaging than most games, and for $5, it’s certainly worth your time. The emotional impact is gone, but much of that has been replaced by some incredibly stressful scenes that prove equally as unforgettable. This is something you’ll want to play more than once, too, if even to catch all the subtle threads that tie one story to the next.

  • weresmurf

    “my biggest problem with it is that it lacks any real impact.”

    I don’t know if we can fairly say that honestly at this point. This is a transitional episode and thus should be treated as an ‘incomplete’ one by choice, not by fault.

    HEAVY SPOILERS IM WARNING YOU NOW DONT READY AHEAD IF YOU HAVENT PLAYED IT OK?

    …………..

    LAST WARNING. THIS IS YOUR FAULT IF YOU KEEP GOING:

    There are plot elements in it that tie story to story, the people in the cornfield seem to be the Quickstop survivors, they had the bag stolen from them, so what’s in the bag??? We saw the cornfield right across from the quickstop a few times, we know they all happen within the vicinity of each other. Vinces Bus gets run by by the junkie for instance, the guy that the car runs into in with Wyatts story, is the cop from Vinces bus, who ends up chained behind the quickstop as a zombie… I found it amazing how it all tied together. Nate appearing in one way or another in what… 4 out of 5 I think stories in one way or another? There’s many more ways.

    At the end we hear about a town they can go to, where there are survivors. In the end of chapter 5 Lee told Omid and Christa to find a town (one of the options) after he dies. I’ve got a feeling they’re going to have Omid, Christa and Clem all living in the town now, having been rescued and taken there.

    There’s even the chance these are not the final survivors for the new group? There may be more to add yet, as we’re joining a community, or it could be the JOURNEY to join the new community we’re about to embark on, who knows. All I know is that I really enjoyed the change of pace to the story, having just played straight through all 5 eps of the first season.

    SPOILERS OVER

    Personally I found it outstandingly good, it wasn’t meant to be a main course, it was just an entree, something to whet the appetite as such. I’ve heard people complain so far but myself? I found it quite a delight. If there was any fault? Some of the characters kinda seem like ‘repeats’ of the first season ones. That’s about it.

  • Miikesmama

    I found this episode a little…underwhelming

    First of all, you couldn’t invest in the characters bc you simply don’t know them, you don’t know of their background, or of the relationships within the group, you simply don’t spend enough time with them.

    Then the game introduces people and right of the bat asks for decisions. A lot of times I was thinking “how the hell would I know?”…something that NEVER happenend in Season 1.

    I really loved Season 1, and yeah maybe 400 Days is just a bridge for season 2, but I really hope in Season 2 they let you play 1 character only, and show you their earlier life as well.
    All in all I would rate 400 Days 2/5, simply bc it’s too short and felt underwhelming. It was definitely the worst episode of THW coming from TT yet.

    • weresmurf

      “something that NEVER happenend in Season 1.”

      yes it did??? In the store where you have to choose between Doug and Carly, there was only a minor amount of character exposition, in line with the two criminals realistically, infact there was close to ZERO for Doug (I think thats his name). Then you’re asked to choose which one to save? It only really had the emotional impact of ‘shit Ive never been in this position before!’ not ‘I HAVE TO SAVE A LOVED ONE!’

      Before that, you had to decide between Duck and Herschels son. There again, was *very* limited exposition for Herschels son and you only really knew Duck as his dads quirky kid. So it happened at least twice.

      • Miikesmama

        You misunderstood me.

        Througout the whole first season you made decisions based on what you knew of Lee. You knew who he was, and you knew where he was coming from. All decisions (even the ones you mentioned) were based on trust, solidarity and/or empathy.
        Lee (in my playthrough) chose to save Duck because that’s what I would do.
        If I would have to decide between a child and a teen I would try to save both, if I couldn’t, I would go for the child.
        As a man (both Lee and me), I went for Carly, also, because it seemed Lee bonded a bit with her before the attack.

        So that’s what I meant: In season 1 I knew the character I was playing and based my decisions on that (not to harm him or clem, be loyal to strong people etc etc), here I have no idea who these people are, besides the asian guy (who gets a tiny little bit of character exposition) no one is introduced, we don’t have background, etc.

        • Miikesmama

          400 Days changed (the playable) characters so fast I really felt like I was missing something. Who were the 2 guys in the car, friends? Co-workers? Husband and husband? Why did Tattoo guy shoot someone? Who is chasing them? Who is chasing the guys in the “Love-triangle”-scenario? Why does the Roman group split up in the end? How do these 5 people end up exposed on a hayfield, convinced it is safe (when even an old lady in a car can sneak up on them)? and and and

          More questions than answers! Damned, this feels like a fucking episode of Lost

          • willie

            -Eddie, the tattoo guy, shoots someone out of panic because I believe they were being attacked. Although I must admit it is a little ambiguous
            -Nate is chasing the two weed buddies
            -Shel’s group chases after Bonnie, Leland, and Dee.

            I think you are right about the length of the stories but I think youre making the wrong move by comparing it to season one in its. It’s like comparing a seed to a Redwood tree. This how I see 400 days, its the equivalent to the pharmacy in episode 1. Remember how you walked around hearing the dialouge of each character just to know their backstory? Well 400 days is just that except you play through those experiences. I dont think 400 days was meant for you to become attached to these characters rather this special episode was meant to familiarise yourself with them. I think a lot of people are trying to restablish that closeness we had with Lee and they were goping thses characters would fill a void… well idk maybe I’m just ranting here

          • weresmurf

            Willie you’re on the money. 400 Days isn’t meant to be a complete episode in itself. It’s not a self contained story, it’s a bridging episode, it takes elements (the basic setup) of season 1 and elements (characters? elements to be resolved?) for season 2 and leaves you hungering for more.

            I think it’s useless to complain about it realistically until it’s assessed as part of the whole season 2 when that’s finished honestly.