When it comes to The Walking Dead: 400 Days, following in the footsteps of greatness can be a tricky thing.
Telltale Games eases the pain of waiting for Season 2 with this DLC episode, telling five short intertwining stories that form a possible prelude to the upcoming sequel. Each 15-20 minute shot of narrative adds an extra layer of detail to the world around you, through masterfully realised characters that surpass what most games achieve over many hours.
As you look over five photos pinned on a bulletin board, each of which represent a story that can be tackled in any order. Exposition is almost completely removed, as upon selection you are dropped into a moment of subtly heightening tension (often including zombies, thank God).
From this point on, it's the standard practice that The Walking Dead is famous for: a series of difficult choices that shine a harsh light on the ever-reducing humanity in the zombie apocalypse, and an even more brutal commentary of your own morality.
Will you protect a child's innocence, or familiarise her to this kill-or-be-killed landscape? Will you lie for your own personal benefit? Will you let someone live, or kill them for the mistakes they made? All of these sudden, hard decisions make for some unexpected reprecussions, which you're subtly reminded of through the following storylines. Be it a passing cameo from the previous character you played, or an ominous bloodstain that will confuse your current protagonist but leave you remembering another story arc.
Showing the struggle between maintaining group politics and the survival instincts of the self, leading to the downfall of civility & human innocence is something that Telltale executes almost theoretically. What's been made clear is their storytelling ability has certainly improved since season one, forcing you to immerse and care for an entirely new cast of characters in the space of just a single episode.
However, through that same metric, it has also exposed a flaw in the dynamic. Knocking off the technical issues first: there's some occasional graphical glitches, including some poorly synced audio and hard cuts between different scenes. Telltale's small experimentation with the gameplay mechanics does give a new life into these rather clunky controls; but the abbreviation of the scenarios kind of removes your sense of place within them.
And this lands on my key problem with 400 Days. I completely understand and applaud what they have done here, creating a stop-gap with one hell of a great story. But that very same story is a downfall of sorts. The Walking Dead has always merited upon it's slow construction of emotional connection: Lee Everett's story arc of season one is (and will be) one of Telltale's defining moments, and shows their strengths in telling a long story through small moments.
Without that overarching place within longevity, these stories feel abstract. Without that time to connect, these characters, no matter how well developed they are, don't sustain a lasting impact. And through these combined, you sometimes don't feel the consequences of your actions throughout the episode.
This is not to say the game isn't good. It's a relief to see the return of who is, in my opinion, one of the greatest video game storytellers of recent years. Some of you will love these quickfire rounds of narrative, painting this small (metaphorical) tapestry of trials & tribulations. But this just goes to show that Telltale, for all their episodic panache, needs that flush out these events and tell a longer story over-the-top to truly achieve the levels of true emotion achieved in season one.
Following in the footsteps of greatness can be a tricky thing; but it just makes me all the more excited for season two. 7.5/10
I am the Founder and Editor-in-chief of New Rising Media. You can follow me on Twitter @MrJasonEngland.