The lights are on
The Walking Dead: 400 Days is not just more of the same, nor is it simply a bridge that has not yet been burned- bridging the gaps between what is the first season of Telltale's TWD, and the soon-to-come second season. 400 Days is an experience in its own right, and one that is not only worthwhile, but just as exciting and harrowing as Lee and Clementine's is at their most intense moments. True, you may not be as emotionally invested as you would have been while witnessing firsthand Lee and Clementine's developing bond, but this episode's glimpse into the backstories of five different developing characters also provides fertile ground for harrowing and terrifying choice and consequence.
Often, the choices that made the first season so difficult to stomach and justify at times appear in new and familiar forms, and are still just as hard to comprehend and get a handle on in the short time given to reach a decision. The worst part of the TWD games- this one included, is that there are no single obvious right or wrong choices. All choices are morally grey, very dark, or pitch black. There are very, very few lighthearted consequences to be found, and this particular TWD excursion is one of the darkest episodes yet to date. As with the other episodes from season one, the game is at its strongest moments when you must make a critical decision about the fate of a group of people, enemies, or survival. These acts of desperation and survival are what makes the zombie apocalypse seem even more insurmountable and realistically impossible. The story is grim, as usual, and not everyone will walk away in one piece- or at all.
Each individual character has an intriguing story, short though many may seem, and each fleshes out the world even more and showcases a different perspective on prior events as well. The stories further break from the norm of what has been established in the last season worth of episodic gaming, not just by creating new dilemmas but by crafting new character to character interactions and experiences as well. One of the stories has you exploring the realms of insanity and darkness, while others have you focusing more heavily on your companions more so than yourself, much as Lee did with Clementine and his crew. The dialogue is still one of the finer and stronger points of the series, offering a resounding and refreshing mix of somber and semi-forced lighthearted conversations, as well as terrified and gut-wrenching ones as well. While a few of the final, climatic choices lack a real punch, others easily make up for the lack of feeling with an over-the-top finale. And one you won't forget too soon, even if it isn't as gut-wrenching and heart breaking as that of Season one's Episode five.
One of the best things about 400 Days is that it adds in its own taste and ideas for the series, but also includes some subtle and noticeable homages to the first season, as well as allusions to what may be in store for the second. It is really hard to get to know some of the new characters in such a short amount of time, however, that strategically enhances the experience somewhat, as well as making you wonder just what might be held in store for them later on, if they even appear in the second season, as they most likely will. Each character is very grey indeed, many even taking some pages from Lee's book, which is by no means a bad idea, but also establishing their own sense of character and being as well. There aren't really very many Larrys right off the bat, and most of the main characters seem amiable or likeable enough for the meantime, which is never too bad to hope for anyways.
One of the finer aspects of story and scare tactics that this TWD installment plays around with is mental degradation and sanity, as well as the fact that it somewhat plays into the writing as well. some other hard to grasp feelings and tensions are thrown in as well, and work to add to the overbearing sense of oppression and confinement of an ominous world. There are some cases when the atmosphere falls through a little bit, but for the most part, it remains desperate, tense, and bleak throughout- as any good zombie apocalypse story should. The gloom and doom and dark atmosphere of the show and comics permeates this installment as much or more so than particularly dark episodes such as season one episode two, and certainly makes for some interesting challenges to the sanity and state of the main characters and their companions alike.
What gameplay there is is still a pretty minor portion of the story, being more meaningful and symbolic than anything else, and really only there to emphasize the gritty, dark, and realistically depressive story more so than action and adventure. The tension created by the harrowing gameplay is often adrenaline inducing and tense stuff- meaning it works very well in most cases. While some of the gameplay always feels a bit unpolished at times, it is the speed at which you are required to adapt and work with what you have that makes the game a success even though story is its first choice of gameplay. Sure, some of the dialogue choices seem to be forced upon you at times, but the freedom of decision and choice is definitely the best part of this episode as well. Some situations play out in ways that you might not agree with, or might not have anticipated, and aren't always the best scenarios to deal with- but they are almost always filled with choice and consequence, which can hardly be faulted.
400 Days is an excellent expansion of TWD's universe, and definitely something many fans would and should enjoy given the chance, however it is also a somewhat unpolished experience at times, and something to be enjoyed as the first season was- enjoyed for conversation, not for action. At the ends of each portion of the story, it sometimes attempts to justify or wrap things up too quickly, which adds an unnatural quality to the story, and kind of goes up against what has already been established at times. These are hardly major complaints however, and as with the first season, 400 Days is still quite an enjoyable experience, even if it still has some minor issues and a rating that would be considered A- or B+ among most reviewers. However, that was the same deal with the first season's episodes, which often received (at least around here) between 8.0 and 8.75 scores.
400 Days is definitely worth the time to put into another grim experience, for fans and newcomers alike, especially in the wake of what is sure to be an equally grim and exciting second season releasing in the near future. Telltale knows how to really pull at your heartstrings, as well as how to get your heart racing and make you question your morals and humanity. 400 Days is an excellent bridge between two seasons, and makes up for everything it fails in by succeeding beyond reason in other areas, as well as prepping us for the upcoming season- one that is sure to be as memorable and explosive as the first was.
Concept: An episode that offers up some new stories, but mainly serves as an introduction to the second season and an interlude set after the first.
Graphics: The same graphic visuals as the first season are showcased here once more, and the comics look still pulls it off perfectly fine.
Sound: Between intense musical scores and the accompanying voice overs, characters sound great, and the intense moments on screen are accompanied by some really fitting tunes as well.
Playability: As with the first season, the pointing and clicking mechanics work perfectly fine, but some action segments are a little more rough around the edges when it comes to doing something in a timely manner, whilst trying not to lose your head or be killed.
Entertainment: The entertainment value is still high, as the writing is on point, and the characters are believable and interesting to boot. Sure, the action sometimes falls through, but it is always exciting, which is what is really key in worlds such as this.
Replay Value: Moderately High
Overall Score: 8.5