The Walking Dead Season One was special because it took a global pandemic and made it all about one little girl. Over the course of five episodes, it slowly let us develop one precious, fragile relationship that we cared desperately about. As Lee Everett, we walked the line between teaching her what's right, and teaching her how to survive.
400 Days carries on the series ethos of continually forcing you to choose between what's right and what's easy, but crams five separate tales into the space of one regular-sized episode, and as a result, loses the clarity of vision that the superb first season possessed - the central characters simply don't have enough room to develop. Even so, each of the new characters - Wyatt, Bonnie, Russell, Vince and Shel - is a distinct individual with unique problems, and it's refreshing to get so many different takes on the same world in turmoil in such quick succession.
Each story takes place in and around the roadside café Red's Diner, and they can be played in any order, with stories you play earlier affecting the events in later chapters. The episode spends just enough time with each character to let you get a handle on their personality and circumstances, and gauge their relationships with the people around them, before pressing you to make a final, usually drastic decision based on recent events.
The short time you spend with each new character means that you'll never feel as close to or as invested in them as you did to either Lee or Clementine, or even Kenny, but it also creates an interesting dynamic in that you're free to make more radical choices without feeling constrained by how they might affect characters in the long term. Without the promise of rewards or the threat of eventual repercussions, they're almost like a series of morality tests to ascertain just how compassionate or cutthroat you are.
It's also appealing to see how other survivors of the zombie plague are coping outside of Lee's isolated little bubble - though the setting isn't too far removed, as a few specific locations and faces do reappear. Dialogue is deftly delivered throughout, and you feel like you've learned more about each individual and their motivations in 10 minutes than you learn about many game protagonists in eight hours.
During those brief moments you aren't selecting dialogue options, there are basic, short-lived action sequences, like those from Season One - in one instance you provide an ally with cover fire, and in another you shoot at a pursuing truck. These bursts of chaos aside, all-out physical conflict is kept to a minimum. This is a world still defined by shuffling, not shooting.
That said, guns shape the events of every story, even if it isn't always you that's pulling the trigger. It's how you react to that trigger-pulling that matters - you can stand by and hope you can live with the guilt, or speak out and probably pay a heavy price. Each story presents its characters with a moral dilemma, and each plays with the themes established in the first season - of trust and risk versus safety and selfishness, and of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few.
Wyatt's episode is the shortest but may well prove a fan favourite. Russell's episode has you on tenterhooks throughout, and Vince's presents you with a dilemma to which there's no right answer. Bonnie's episode is stark, raw and brutal. Shel's story has the most in common with Lee's, as it deals with her trying to set an example for her teenage sister Becca, who almost feels like an older, more cynical Clem who never had a Lee to guide her.
The possibility of different outcomes depending on the order you tackle the stories means you'll be tempted to come back for more. 400 Days is by no means an essential purchase - it unfolds so quickly that you don't have that much needed time to mull everything over. But for 400MP, it's a perfectly decent-sized bite that should whet your appetite for Season Two, adding welcome layers of intrigue and complexity to an already exceptional series.
The Walking Dead: 400 Days hits Xbox Live on 5th July.
All of the tension, only some of the emotion
- Difficult moral dilemmas
- Different outcomes will have you playing again
- Each character feels distinct and unique
- See this apocalypse from a fresh perspective
- Don't get enough time with each individual
- Some sections leave you slightly unsatisfied