Is The Walking Dead 400 Days more fiction than game?
The Walking Dead 400 Days begins at a missing persons billboard. A breeze sweeps through photographs of anonymous loved ones who we wouldn’t expect had a story worth telling. These are the stories we assumed ended day one. At the very least, we assumed that these stories are about survival; the same story we’ve experienced in every zombie fiction. Telltale subverts these assumptions by broadening a genre exhausted by the survival narrative.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days
Publisher and Developer: Telltale Inc.
Platform: iOS (Reviewed), Android, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Release Date: July 11th
These five stories are like flash fiction. Each ends on a cliff-hanger, and like all good fiction, when they end, I feel this tug at my chest, this yearning for more. Telltale accomplishes this by creating five unique stories with dramatic hooks in the first few minutes of narrative.
Immersion is reached by Telltale refusing to bog the player with info-dumps. The movement of the narrative is as if the player had grown with the characters since the very beginning of their story. Characters dispositions, histories and opinions are revealed through the slightest details. For example, in the opening scene of Bonnie’s story we are exposed to her history of drugs abuse by the lines in her face before Leland alludes to it through dialogue. It’s obvious that Leland had something to do with Bonnie’s departure from a culture of drugs, and more obvious that a romantic connection grew between the two, which sets up the conflict between Bonnie and the wife of Leland, Dee.
With Bonnie, Telltale positions us perfectly to make believable choices. Do we chose to allow those romantic connections to grow at the expensive of Dee’s emotional sanity, or do we try to glue together a crumbling marriage as well as a fracturing group dynamic? Even though the full effect of our choices are never revealed to us, we believe that when our view into these peoples’ lives ends, our choices continue to resonate. I hope that we are able to catch a glimpse of these characters in season two.
Storytelling may be 400 Days strongest pursuit, but it is also a drawback. Compared to the first five episodes of The Walking Dead, there isn’t much room for exploration and lengthy conversations with side characters, or inspection of world objects that lead our noses to the bigger picture. It’s an incredibly linear experience, and as such one play through lasts less than two hours.
It’s an incredibly linear experience, and as such one play through lasts less than two hours.
As such, there is minimal interactivity with the world and characters. It would have been satisfactory if 400 Days existed as a mini-series on the Internet, but that would have denied the chance at choosing the characters’ fates. In 400 Days there are no puzzles to be solved, or a correct sequence of events before progressing. In fact, one story is contained entirely inside a prison transport bus where the cast of characters are chained to the floor.
Characters are not only fleshed out in their respective story arcs, but Telltale has crafted some of the best looking characters in the series. These characters are memorable on their looks alone, and like their subtle dialogue choices reveal who they are, so does their appearance—yes, Telltale doesn’t spare the details.
Wyatt stands out for his neanderthal-beard, which provides the impression he is a young adult—further supported by the fact he and his body blaze in their car as they drive down the road. There is a certain level of immaturity embedded in his character. Vince has the look of a man lost in life—his hair is a mess, and he always looks out into the distance as if he could see redemption. Bonnie has a cracked face and premature wrinkles as well as a sickly frame, playing with her indecisive attitude and being on the brink of giving up hope. Russel, the youngest character, has the brightest morals in the apocalyptic world, but he also has a baby face and a passive attitude. Finally, Shel posses the features of someone who lacks confidence, someone easily swayed by a powerful voice, someone the wind knocks over; her shoulders slouch, her hair is flat and she wears boring clothes.
Due to such an attention to character detail, the set pieces lack the thematic pull and symbolism that the previous five episodes had. Most scenes are close-ups of characters faces; rarely is there a scene where the characters are engulfed by the turmoil of the work, allowing our brains to ponder a setting’s reflection of character.
The soundtrack suffers the same problem. It seems that the music’s only purpose is to serve as a backdrop—a white noise so to speak. 400 Days would’ve have been a masterpiece if it had one memorable song to tie every fateful moment in these stories together. It needed a song to be remember like how Clementine and Lees summons the horror, sadness, beauty and nostalgia of The Walking Dead season one’s ending.
Score 8/10 – Review Scale
The Walking Dead: 400 Days is a unique experience compared to the first five episodes of season one. It exceeds in expectations of character development, but lacks the whole thematic package that Telltale won over its audience with season one. Still, this is a must play for fans of The Walking Dead series because it provides unconsidered prospective a on the zombie apocalypse.