Thursday, July 4, 2013

Walking Dead: 400 Days Review & Annoyance

Spoilers below the fold, but first: For a $5.00 DLC on Steam, this was well worth the investment. It isn't very "gamey," sort of like the original five episodes. It is much more narrative in scope. Because of the shorter vignette structure, as opposed to a more cohesive story, it lets us have wildly divergent choices where we're left to imagine the outcome that brings our five characters from the end of their snapshot (if you've played the game, you caught the pun, I hope), to the epilogue.

I'm actually a fan of this style of game, and while a lot of people say you don't get a feel for the characters, I think they're just not paying attention. Vince is a protective leader-type; we're not sure WHAT he was helping his brother with that lead to his story, but throughout his story, no matter what choices you take, he comes across as a can-do leader that both of his companions come to trust.

The other characters are a bit more divergent in their growth, but that is based solely on your final decision. To get into to much detail there is spoilerific, so be warned.

Given what we know about Russel, for example, there's only one logical in-character decision to make at the end of his story: Standing up to and walking out on Nate. I felt his final choice was probably the weakest. We already know Russel had walked away from a safer group of people because they offended his moral sensibilities, so staying with Nate doesn't seem to fit, at all. The argument you could make is that Russel is becoming hardened (or was lying earlier), but you're given the option of drawing the gun on Nate, so I just don't know what to make of even having the possibility of staying with him.

Bonnie's story probably has the most interesting final decision, because it isn't actually like the others. This is a moment where we actually see a character make a moral decision that is rather ambiguous, and where her previous choices don't seem to almost direct where you have to go. Russel and Shel's stories up to their final choice pretty much dictate the way a consistent player will go. Shel killing or not killing Stefanie seems to almost logically follow your earlier decision (and I'm curious on the stats on that one!) Wyatt, while building up his relationship with Eddie very well, ultimately has a fairly disappointing finale that is based on rock, paper, scissors. Literally.

Though, this leads me to another problem I have with a lot of choice games; it is the problem I'll call the Schizophrenic Shepherd, or SS. Play Mass Effect, and during the same conversation, go from Paragon-like compromise, to Renegade-like kill-them-all. No one questions why you're doing this; everyone just accepts that you have an on-off switch for your angry. To give players complete control, you need to allow this, but I think it would be interesting if you have a range of choices in dialog/action at the start of the game, that starts to narrow as you go forward. Part of the game is developing your persona as well as your mechanical character; one can influence the other, so, you could burn experience to allow you to pick a choice that your character has evolved to not normally choose. The XP burning showing that your character has started to view the world a bit differently, or to re-think their priorities/life. Either way, that's another issue entirely.

The epilogue seems to me where the game pays off the short vignettes. We get to see how the decisions changed our characters (except apparently Russel, who is always a justifiably paranoid guy.) Everything flows rather well, except for one point which you'll only notice if you play twice through and change Vince's ultimate decision in his story. Except for Vince, everyone coming with you follows a natural, logical flow. For him, it seems like he comes to a realization after his short talk with Tavia. Namely, that whatever path you choose with him was the WRONG way to approach life.

Saving the rapist who may have changed and was willing to protect others at risk to himself teaches Vince that: "I learned that above all else, we must stick together with people and protect each other, even bad people might have the chance to change. Therefore, I am staying in the camp whether you all go or not."

Saving the white collar criminal who is out for himself and only himself teaches Vince that: "The man I saved chased a hopeless pipe dream of finding other people until he abandoned us to an unknown, probably grisly fate. Whelp, let's get a move on to Mystery Happy Town!"

My working theory is that Telltale wanted to make it so that if someone played consistently, they would not end up getting Vince (since if you save the guy who seems like a team player and is willing to change, you're probably not going to kill your friend, kill the old couple and you'll probably tell the truth to Leland.) This was a sort of safety valve so that, for most players, there would always be one person staying at the camp. Though, if they wanted that, there were other ways to do it. For example, as far as I can see, there's no way to get Bonnie to stay; they could have simply made it so there was no way to get Vince to go if they needed one of our characters in both places for Season 2. As it is, it feels sloppy and rushed, but it is really the only "problem" with the game as a whole.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, wait. I think I get what Vince is saying better now. He's saying that he learned he shouldn't be trusting people, like he trusted Danny, and that you can only look out for yourself. Whereas, with Justin, he's saying that it is important to not lose sight of your dreams.

    Granted, that requires you to take some liberty with the performance the voice actor gives (at the camp, he gives a sort of conflicted reading when talking about Danny, and he came across as almost hostile when reflecting on Justin leaving.) It also doesn't square with Russel feeling like he needs to remind Vince that Danny was a jerk and it was a good thing that he was dead before they met the girls [note that Russel only mentions Shel and Becca; I guess the idea that Bonnie might've been targeted didn't register for Russel or the writers of that scene?]


Are you commenting? Thank you! Please be nice; I'm lazy and would hate to actually have to moderate things.