The Walking Dead: Season 1: 400 Days
First posted on 15 July 2013. Last updated on 15 September 2014.
|Gil's Pitstop serves as the hub for the game's story.|
|A series of vignettes features a new cast of characters for the series.|
|Vince has a troubled past.|
|Wyatt is in trouble!|
|Shel just wants to keep her younger sister safe.|
The Walking Dead: Season 1
The season is comprised of 5 seasonal episodes and 1 DLC episode:
- Episode 1: A New Day
- Episode 2: Starved for Help
- Episode 3: Long Road Ahead
- Episode 4: Around Every Corner
- Episode 5: No Time Left
- DLC Episode: 400 Days
The Walking Dead: The Game was unarguably a resounding success for Telltale Games. The series was universally praised by both critics and gamers, perhaps proving not only that the adventure genre might be alive and well but that video games could be a competent medium for telling a good story. While Telltale Games had announced early on that there would be a second season for this series, it also hinted that fans might receive a surprise in the interim. This surprise was subsequently revealed to be the developer's first foray into DLC—The Walking Dead: 400 Days.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days is a compilation of 5 vignettes telling the story of 5 different survivors of the initial infection over the course of the first 400 days. The player will assume the roles of Vince, a convicted murderer whose backstory is alarmingly similar to Lee's (from the first season); Wyatt, a (possible) hippy who enjoys his recreational marijuana; Russell, a young college student with trust issues; Bonnie, a recovering junkie; and Shel, who just wants to do right by her younger sister Becca. The thread that ties all of these vignettes together is Gil's Pitstop, where each survivor seeks or has sought refuge at some point during his or her ordeal. Each vignette also has small connections to each other that—unless played in a specific order—are not readily obvious to the player who has not played the entire game before. For example, in one of the vignettes, the player is given a choice whether or not to kill an injured character. This has little to no impact in that specific vignette. However, it impacts later on a different vignette, where the injured character may or may not show up as a walker depending on the earlier decision made by the player. The little touches are nice and help to tie the seemingly unrelated narratives together. Additionally, the episode has some subtle (and easily missed) moments that overtly connect it to the first season—Kenny and Duck are seen very briefly in the prologue, the pharmacy owned by Lee's family appears the backdrop in a flashback—but also features several ancillary characters from the first season who, through some dialog prompting, fill in the gaps of various events depicted later in the first season. There is nice attention to detail all around.
The most significant difference between the earlier seasonal episodes and the current DLC episode is that there is a complete lack of puzzles in the DLC episode. While puzzles have never been prominent in the seasonal episodes, those episodes still deliver some easy inventory based conundrums to break up the pace between lengthy or tense dialog exposition and walker escaping or shooting action. While this is not a jarring loss, some gamers may find its absence disappointing. Instead, different context based action mini-games are included as substitutes for each character, ranging from running through a cornfield grid to escape murderous bandits, to playing rock-paper-scissors to determine who stays and who leaves, to simply shooting approaching walkers while dragging a comrade to safety. It is a refreshing changeup of gameplay after the worrying tendency of relying more and more on gunplay in later episodes of the first season.
The earlier seasonal episodes of the series have been successful largely in part to the developer's ability to craft an engrossing story and create a cast of characters that resonate with the audience. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the current DLC episode. However, it may be unfair to expect what has been achieved previously over a whole season to be achieved here over just a single episode—technically, a fifth of an episode for each character, given that the DLC episode spans about the length of a regular seasonal episode. To the developer's credit, at no point are tragic backstories shoehorned into the narrative, forcing an emotional response from the player. To the contrary, the dialog feels very natural, hinting at each character's past without overtly explaining it. However, this decision is not without its burden—even by the end of the episode, it remains unclear which (if any) of these characters will return in the second season. Because the player is not given the same chance to know each new character as for Lee and Clementine, the life-and-death decisions the player must make—the moral and ethical dilemmas the player must navigate—simply do not have the same narrative effect. That is not to say, of course, that this episode does not have its share of difficult decisions. Rather, these decisions generally end up being made as a result of kneejerk reactions to an immediate threat presented to each character rather than with any sort of concern for what they mean for each character's future.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days is a sort of an odd duck: is it independent or just a bridge gap between the first and second seasons for the series? If the purpose of this episode is simply a matter of showing how the rest of the populace struggles in the background while Lee, Clementine, and company deal with the apocalypse, then it has achieved its purpose and served to whet the appetite of fans who are waiting for the next season. However, there are instances peppered throughout the story—most notably in the epilogue—that hint perhaps some of these new characters may appear in the next season. If such is the case, then this episode needs to be reevaluated in the context of a prologue instead of as a standalone installment. Personally, I can only hope that the decisions made in the current DLC episode will really have an effect on the future seasonal episodes (as Telltale Games has previously teased). Regardless of whether this episode is an appetizer for more to come or simply an amuse-bouche, I am entirely excited for what lies ahead in the second season for the series.