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Human Drama, Suspense, Intrigue, and Zombies in a $5 Package

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Telltale’s Walking Dead game was one of the most character driven stories in any medium. I still shed a tear for the fate of Clementine and Lee. A few months have passed since we got through the last episode of season one and our cynical gamer hearts should be hardened like ice to anything a follow up episode could throw at us, right? Wrong, Telltale just gave us five new reasons to experience heartbreak all over again and see how the world of the Walking Dead destroys lives through human drama and not just the undead nipping at our heels. This is short story telling at its finest.

Walking Dead: 400 Days is the bridge between season 1 and this fall’s season 2. We don’t pick up after the events of season one but if you really know your Walking Dead you’ll see a few familiar faces. Here you play as five different characters in a Pulp Fiction like non-linear narrative. Wyatt, Vince, Shel, Russell, and Bonnie each respectively go through a particular scenario that revolves around a Georgia truck stop over the course of 400 days in the apocalypse.  Gamers can play through the five stories in any order. There is a single plot thread that ties the stories together and if you’re quick on the thumbstick, in certain parts, you can see other characters you will play or have played as in moments that fill in their gaps.

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In Walking Dead season one we saw the Lee/ Clementine relationship grow and gamers slowly develop a real love for these characters. What’s different and amazing about Walking Dead: 400 Days is how quick we’re thrust into the internal workings of these new characters. The human drama of these characters is what quickly makes us care about them. Shel’s trying to keep her kid sister from letting this world turn her cold, but has to choose between family and surviving. You’d think you could hate Vince after he’s sent to prison, but his motivations of family make him human. Bonnie having an affair with a married man under the wife’s nose makes me feel like I’m watching an episode of a Melrose Place/ Zombieland hybrid.

The juicy drama makes the return of Walking Dead’s choice based gameplay feel pivotal, more so than in the previous games. While you play through the game your mind starts thinking of the alternate scenarios from the choice you just made. Such –on thin ice– feelings make you want to jump right back in the game after finishing it.

Each of the five characters feels like they have their own unique style of gameplay. I expected five versions of Lee rummaging through drawers, and while there’s definitely one arc like that, the rest feel like the developer is experimenting and stretching its creative legs for what we might see in Season Two. One scenario even feels like a classic game of Pac-Man trying to avoid the ghost, while another feels more like solving a mystery.

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While Season One had more of the scary moments; 400 Days relies more on suspense and the unknown for its jump out of your seat moments. Which depending on what you enjoy more could be a strength or a weakness for the game. The only flaws I’ve come across are the same hiccups from previous games; abrupt cuts between scenes, out of sync voice at times, and slow controls.

Ultimately the problems are not enough to deter me from the game. This is the best $5 you will spend all summer. Walking Dead: 400 Days has an abundance of replay value for a game that will only take you less than 90 minutes to complete your first play through. Telltale up the excitement and give us an awesome appetizer for Season Two.

8.5 out of 10

Short but so much fun packed inside.

Follow David on twitter and he might just send you something nice from Comic-Con later this month.