Walking Dead: 400 Days’ terrible burden of choice

Tuesday, 9 July 2013 12:57 GMT By Dave Cook

The Walking Dead: 400 Days delivers some of the most gut-wrenching moral choices in gaming, and shows TellTale at the peak of its game, argues VG247’s Dave Cook.

”In these times of big blockbuster flash, collapsing skyscrapers and gung-ho bravado, it’s comforting to know that well-written, personal pieces of art like The Walking Dead still have a place among the industry.”

It’s hard to talk about what goes on in The Walking Dead 400 Days without sending the spoiler klaxon spinning uncontrollably. Despite being less than an hour long, the DLC is dense with plot-twists, shocking revelations and tantalising glimpses of TellTale’s next wave of survivors.

Arguably, The Walking Dead is TellTale’s opus. It’s a true showcase of mature story-telling with wretched consequences and difficult decisions peppered throughout that not only spark emotional engagement in players, but stay with them along after each episode’s conclusion.

In these times of big blockbuster flash, collapsing skyscrapers and gung-ho bravado, it’s comforting to know that well-written, personal pieces of art like The Walking Dead still have a place among the industry, and that they can enjoy commercial prosperity without compromising integrity.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days shows a studio at the peak of its game, delivering many of those dreadful moments that see you forced to choose between a pair of binary options, completely unaware of how they will impact your journey further down the line.

Without saying so explicitly, the game makes it abundantly clear that whatever route you choose will bear grave consequences on your tailored path through season two, but you’re never told exactly how your decisions will bear fruit. This is TellTale’s master-stroke, and it sends the brain into speculative overdrive throughout the experience.

It’s easy to write off 400 Days as too short to justify a purchase but if – like me – you are a staunch fan of season one, this teaser into what lies next will send your hype levels into the stratosphere. The plot divulges enough that you start to make your own conclusions about what will happen next yet it’s largely threadbare to keep you wanting more, and at the heart of it all lies the terrible burden of choice.

While it follows five new, racially and ethnically diverse survivors in Robert Kirkman’s bleak world of survival horror, they all have one thing in common. They each shoulder demons that will likely hound them for the duration of season two.

One character abandoned a close friend to save himself from walkers, another is a convicted murderer. These people each have their secrets and their own crosses to bear, but you will empathise with them whenever they have a difficult choice to make.

Some of these people have done deplorable things, yet you empathise with them whenever a difficult conundrum presents itself. That speaks volumes about TellTale’s ability to stab you in the heart and pull you into its world, and in the end, as this is a world that has seen judicial and sociological rules collapse, who’s to say what’s right and wrong when survival takes precedent?

Most of 400 Days’ choices are morally grey and trick you into thinking you’ve done the right thing, others result in acts that you wish you could undo but can’t, while crossroads can make for truly uneasy decisions that bring feelings of trust, betrayal, love and mercy to the forefront.

So while 400 Days is short, it shows that – if anything – TellTale’s ability at getting players emotionally invested in its plot has improved since season one concluded. It bodes well for what lies next, and it’ll be interesting to see how each of the game’s five new stars progress as people based on our choices made under immense pressure.

The Walking Dead: Season Two launches later this year.

Disclosure: To write this piece, Dave bought his own copy of The Walking Dead: 400 Days. No promo code or advertising were offered or accepted.