Telltale Games surprised many of us with their take on The Walking Dead. It was something of a departure from their by-then-established point and click norm and an invention – or at least massive refinement – of a new kind of control mechanic that assisted the story-driven gameplay perfectly. They managed to take a universe that many had grown to love via comic books or television and improve upon it – add to it – with a deep, character focussed narrative adventure.
The first season of The Walking Dead consisted of five episodes and stormed many Game of the Year lists. It was an outstanding achievement for an episodically delivered, downloadable game from a relatively small studio. But now there’s a pressing weight of anticipation for Season Two and Telltale is working hard on piecing together an experience that can match up to the first season.
That work is ongoing, of course, but the developers are keen to explore new possibilities for the upcoming season. That’s where 400 Days comes in.
The downloadable content for Season One of The Walking Dead is set for a simultaneous July release on all available platforms (though Android is still not being considered). The PS Vita, yet to see Season One, will get a downloadable bundle with all episodes of the first season and this DLC pack in August.
So what is it?
400 Days is five characters and five stories. It charts the first 400 days of the outbreak through the eyes of Vince, Shiel, Bonnie, Russell and Wyatt. You can play any of the five stories in any order and they will all have overlapping elements with certain events in Season One as well as with each other. Even the decisions you made in Season One will (if you’ve got the save on the same machine) impact certain events in 400 Days. Telltale has evidently tried hard to weave these stories together in a way that knits them into the game so far and also in a way that feeds back into Season Two when its episodes start to be released.
They said that they saw 400 Days as a kind of connective tissue between the two seasons and that it allowed them to experiment with new techniques and methods of storytelling that would then inform what directions they take with Season Two.
It’s set around a truck stop and diner in Georgia, taking place over different time frames within those first 400 days. Although you can play as any of the five characters, the hands-off demo they showed us focussed on Vince, a convict who shoots a man pleading for his life in the opening scene before stashing his gun and, obviously, being caught by the police.
He’s chained to two other prisoners on a transport bus. In front of him is Danny, a paedophile with a jarring sense of honesty and decency. Behind him is Justin, a white collar criminal who sold pyramid schemes to defraud millions of dollars. The bus has stopped and there’s a bit of a drama in close proximity that leads to some conversation between the three and a typically gruesome decision to make.
We’re obviously tip-toeing around potential spoilers here – however light they may be – because that’s what makes The Walking Dead so endearing. It exists within its narrative in a way that most other games don’t even consider. Almost any other game could have its underlying plot handily swapped out for another and the core gameplay and character interactions wouldn’t need to be changed all that much. The Walking Dead – and this 400 Days DLC seems to further reinforce this – is as much about its character development and narrative as it is about its gameplay, if not more so.
400 Days’ five stories should take a roughly similar amount of time to play through as one episode of Season One. Although what was shown of Vince’s story was only about fifteen to twenty minutes in length, it was all conversation and decision-making with no puzzles to take up the time. We also didn’t see much in the way of a resolution to his grander character arc (the shooting at the start) so it’s perhaps reasonable to assume there’s more to come from him later in 400 Days or even into Season Two.
400 Days runs the risk of offering such short insights into these character’s lives that it’s difficult for the player to form that emotional attachment that was so competently played upon in Season One but it also allows Telltale to engage in a kind of Pulp Fiction or Short Cuts style of narrative delivery that it will be very interesting to see them do. So it might be worth sacrificing a little bit of lasting emotional investment in order to see the writers stretching themselves in a new direction.
After all, that simply makes Season Two an even more mouth-watering prospect.