We're barely a scene into the next The Walking Dead game — recently announced downloadable content for the first season of Telltale's fantastically emotional zombie series — before we're already forced to make some unfair decisions.
Warning: The scene I describe takes place at the start of one of the characters' storylines, but if you rather leave it unspoiled, avoid reading.
Will you shoot Justin's ankle or Danny's? Danny may have been convicted of raping a minor, but he seems to have the moral senses to care for people he sees in danger. Besides, you're all cons on this prison bus. And someone's ankle has got to get shot, because zombies are piling into the bus and you're all chained together by the ankles.
This is The Walking Dead: 400 Days. Here we go again, with the tough decisions. Either way, someone is getting left behind. Either way, you're betraying someone and, potentially, betraying your own moral code. And even though The Walking Dead game masquerades as a game that gives you choices, in the end you really don't have a choice, do you. Because in the end you're going to shoot someone's ankle to set yourself free, leaving him to bleed out and get gnawed on by zombies. The only silver lining? Maybe the fresh feast will slow those walkers down. You're a monster.
If you don't know, I'm a huge The Walking Dead fan. I nominated it for a Game of the Year award last year on Kotaku. I stared wide-eyed at the livestream for Sony's E3 press conference when Jack Tretton announced this new DLC. And yet, I can't help but feel like something is off, even after just 10 minutes of my viewing this demo.
400 Days follows 400 days of the zombie apocalypse. It features decisions you made in the first season of the game. It'll impact the second season of the game (which is coming sometime this year, I'm told). You'll follow the undead journey through the eyes of five different characters playing out five different stories. Your choices are Shel, Russel, Wyatt, Bonnie or Vince.
Our Telltale demo leader chooses Vince. I wonder if I would've winced less if he had chosen another character to highlight instead.
Vince is awkward. He makes awkward facial expressions and his voice actor reads his lines awkwardly. He even runs awkwardly. The other two featured characters, Justin and Danny, are less awkward. But when they're all interacting... Well, have you seen a comedy sketch go wrong? Where everyone seems to be missing their cues by even just half a second, but it's enough for the entire thing to feel out of place? That's how it feels to listen to the three interact as they joke or sulk about their sentences and crimes. Or the crimes they supposedly committed.
We're used to awkward and slightly janky animations coming from Telltale's The Walking Dead series, but the voice acting has always felt spot on to me. It was a disappointment, but I'm certainly still holding out for improvements as I'm sure the team has a lot of work left.
But the core concept of what The Walking Dead is all about still seems to be alive. The whole "holding people's lives in your hands while feeling completely helpless and kind of like an asshole" looks to be very much there.
And you're still making dialogue decisions that impact how other characters feel about you. Here's what I picked up from the very short demo shown at E3.
- While discussing the ethics of lying while on the stand during your trial, our demo leader chose to make Vince reply by saying that he'd say anything to get out of serving more time. Danny, the convicted and alleged pedophile who was very clear that he could never lie, made a note of that.
- When Danny protested his conviction and claimed that he was innocent, Vince replied, "You WERE convicted." Danny noted your mistrust.
- When asked about your sentence, you denied your guilt.
- Chained to the floor with a zombie precariously close to nipping at your toes, Danny and Justin both noticed Vince's imbecilic shout that they can't do anything with those damn chains on. Duh.
Obviously your relationship with Danny seems to already be straining. You don't trust him, you're a liar, and you say dumb stuff in the heat of the moment instead of being resourceful. But, hey, at least you didn't shoot his ankle off with the shotgun.
The DLC will be out in July and it'll be about as along as one episode in the first season (so about three to four hours, depending on how you play).