Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead has just entered its second “season” with the first of five episodes released. However, we’re still waiting for this to come to iOS, which is where I have the game, so I contended myself to purchase and play through the intermission episode of 400 Days last night. It’s pretty good, if a little different.
400 Days takes its narrative structure from films and books like Pulp Fiction, where you have separate little stories that meet and intertwine in various ways. For 400 Days, it’s about the actions of five characters around a pit stop in Georgia at various intervals in the first year-plus of the zombie infestation. You can jump into their stories in any sequence, although you might find out later that your choice of the sequence can have a small ripple effect if your actions in a chronologically earlier tale cascade to a later one.
Instead of the slow build and concentration on a single group of survivors, 400 Days pretty much throws you right into the middle of several tales, often starting with action or requiring some measure of narrative catching up. There’s a couple of hippie guys on the run from a bad dude, an ex-junkie who is hitting on a married guy, a young adult looking for his family, a convict who’s right there at the start of the apocalypse, and a big sister who’s part of a group inhabiting the pit stop. Their stories start and stop somewhat abruptly, although there is enough stories there to provide an ending of sorts. Then, after you go through all five tales, there’s an epilogue where you see what happens on the 400th day in.
Like season 1, there’s much more narrative here than actual gameplay. You make quick dialogue decisions, do a little bit of investigation (and basically no puzzle solving), engage in a quicktime event or two, and chew on a major decision in each vingette. This series is well-known for giving you morally ambiguous situations and forcing you to make decisions with limited information, not knowing how it will pan out afterward. Sometimes I played a character like a jerk, sometimes like a saint, and I never knew whether or not it was the right way to do it. I just got into the moment and did what I thought the character would do, for good and ill.
400 Days is centered around the motif of abandonment. Each tale deals with abandoning people — friends, survivors, acquaintances, etc. — or being abandoned yourself and what that means for groups that do pull together. It was pretty interesting to look over spoilers after I was done to see all of the connections between the tales (many of which I missed) as well as a few links to season 1. I still felt like I was being forced down a pretty linear path, especially a couple of times when I made a big decision and the game more or less wussed out and didn’t allow it to really change anything.
I would say that it’s less of a poignant and wrenching experience than season 1, probably due to its length. Bonnie’s story impacted me the most for several reasons that were gruesome and mostly out of her control. Overall, it definitely made me look forward to season 2 and I’m wondering how these characters will play into it.