April 21, 2013
At Gamescom last year a polite gentleman ushered myself, and a few others, into a room to talk about The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. By that point the Telltale game had already been a rampant success so it was interesting to see what brave new direction Terminal Reality was going to take the series. Only there was nothing to see, only a bizarre Powerpoint-style presentation with a few random, still shots of scenery and a general sense of enthusiasm. Most questions could only be answered by “we don’t know yet” and a sense of unease started to creep in.
If anything, the final product that was thrust into the world still doesn’t have the answers. In fact it barely even knows what the question was anymore. I suspect it wasn’t “how do we set the benchmark for a high quality tie-in experience,” but I’m also hopeful it wasn’t “how do we deliver the worst game possible in a bid to strip fans of their hard earned cash,” even though that seems to be the only question that matches this particular answer, Jeopardy style.
Fans of the comics and show are pretty hard done by with this rather abhorrent attempt at a game. Considering the promise offered by the rich source material, and the developer's guarantee that it was working alongside the series makers as much as possible, it seems impossible to conceive of a title that falls so far short of expectations. With appalling graphics, voicework that seems to have been phoned in and gameplay that gives inadequate a whole new meaning, it’s hard to see why this game was so badly rushed and not given the care and attention it warranted.
Telling the backstory of the Dixon brothers and their quest to meet up during a rather vexing zombie (well, Walker) apocalypse this game flails from pillar to post without any real sense of purpose. The finely crafted storytelling of the Telltale game is ditched in favour of bland characters that you can ditch at a moments' notice and a road trip that is insipid rather than terrifying; a journey of bland backdrops, identikit enemies and dull fetch quests rather than one of exploration, soul searching and tough choices that elicit an emotional response.
Within five minutes you will have seen everything the game has to offer. You need to find supplies, fix up your car and have enough fuel to get to where you want to go. Along the way you'll stumble across survivors that usually need some minor fetch quest completing before they will trust you (clearly trust is easily bought at the end of days) plus a host of the undead, as you would expect. The problem is that neither group, nor any of the areas you find yourself in, ever impact your journey in a meaningful way.
Your enemies have, quite possibly, the worst and most random AI ever seen by man. Buy hey, zombies are unpredictable so that makes sense right? Well only to a point. In this game zombies might notice you if you are twenty feet away, not moving and they have their back to you. However, when you're blasting a different zombie with a shotgun, from a foot away, they might just stand their placidly. You can theoretically distract them by throwing objects, but half the time that has no effect or even has the effect of them perfectly finding where said item was thrown from. It makes any aspect of stealth or planning a completely unpredictable affair and you often resort to just legging it past zombies, finding what you need and then doing a runner back the way you came.
Should you choose to stand and fight, then things inexplicably get even worse. Weapons in the game seem to have no rhyme or reason, as you can kill an undead foe with just a few swipes to the head with even the most seemingly useless implement. Guns have woeful reloading times and terrible accuracy, plus come with the added caveat of attracting more enemies. That at least makes sense, but when melee weapons do the same damage then they guns aren’t even useful as a last resort. You can also stealth kill foes too, but it takes a while and you can easily be set upon while the animation is still playing out. Then you come to the grapple system, which lets you basically off zombies by letting them grab hold of you. Want to clear a room? Just attract everyone in sight, let one of them grab you and then go through a tiresome sequence of targeting their heads and pressing the trigger. Any sense of realism dies right there. It doesn’t help that all the zombies are pretty much identical, and it gives you a sense that you are fighting an army of clones in cookie cutter townships.
Rescuing survivors seems to confer no type of benefit either, as they can only be sent on their own anonymous quests which may result in some minor reward or may result in them meeting an untimely end off-camera. It’s no big deal as you can only fit so many people in your ride anyway, so at some point you get to choose which people to ditch and which to save. Only there is no real emotional choice or repercussion for doing so, making it akin to choosing which brand of beans you prefer (clue: always go for the beans…people, with the highest amount of health left).
As you progress between stages you can choose to travel on the highways or byways in order to reach your final destination, with you having a greater chance of breaking down on the better roads (for some reason) and less chance to scavenge for supplies. The back routes let you pick up more survivors and items, potentially, but you’ll often see the same locations reproduced and have to find the same few parts to fix the car should it decide to give up the ghost. Each area just feels like it is designed to prolong the agony rather than to give you a chance to find an interesting new person, with a viable backstory that you might actually care about, or experience some kind of well thought out event.
The only reason anyone will play The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct beyond the first few hours - which is about all it will take to muddle through the flimsy story and series of locations - is to snag a few achievements. Even then it feels like the rewards for your efforts are never entirely worth it. With so many quality games still to be released on current consoles, and a shiny new era around the corner, it’s actually pretty disheartening to see that such terrible, shamelessly shoddy games are still being made. This is a tragic insult to fans of The Walking Dead, and one that could, and should, have been so much more. Like the presentation that preceded it, Survival Instinct may have flashes of enthusiasm but it’s an unfinished, poorly presented mess.
Michael Rooker! If only the script wasn’t dire and the lines weren’t delivered in such a phoned-in a manner.
The ugliest game we’ve played in a long time, with shoddy animations, few character models and constantly repeated locations. It’s as if the game died and was reanimated via the ugly tree.
Survival Insinct is woeful. Combat is terribly handled, exploration is dull, travel is badly handled and even random events fail to surprise.
We literally cannot imagine the license for this series being handled in a more inept way. It sucks all of the drama out of the show and leaves a hollow, bland shell…..with zombies. Sometimes zombies are enough, but not here.
The list actually has more variety and imagination than most of the game but it also makes you play through multiple times which, with a game this bad, is a cardinal sin.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is terrible. It’s a waste of a licence and should be the poster child for a rushed, shameless cash grab. That is all you need to know.