I should begin this review with a public warning announcement. This Walking Dead game has nothing to do with the multiple award-winning downloadable series The Walking Dead by Telltale Games. Whereas that game was based on the comics, this is based on the AMC TV series and is a first-person action game.
Seeing as the critically acclaimed one that features multiple story choices and plays more likeHeavy Rain than Dead Island has just been released at retail too (review incoming), we wouldn’t want you to pick this one up by mistake.
Oh dear, it looks like I’ve spoiled the rest of my review. Well is it really a surprise that The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a festering sack of giblets? About as much a surprise as it was that kid turning up inside that barn. There, I’ve saved you half a season of fucking awful TV too. SPOILER! [You’re doing that wrong – Ed]. No, I’m not.
Dead Island had one of the greatest concept/viral trailers gaming had ever seen to convince millions of zombie fans to buy its tropical melee mess. This has a successful brand encompassing comics, TV and elsewhere in gaming to lure fallible purchasers. There’s a reason Activision were being a bit stingy with press copies around release. Don’t worry, I only rented this one.
This TV tie-in acts as a prequel to the show, putting you in the mainly unlikable boots of Daryl Dixon as we discover his story when the outbreak began. He spends the first third of the game looking for his brother, Merle who as we know later ends up tied up on a roof for zombie chow. Merle’s the same ungrateful, inbred redneck we already know and is still about as likable as a fart in a jar.
Stuck between a survival game and an FPS, you’ll find ammo is scarce, so you must rely on melee weapons like knives, pipes, hammers, machetes and so on. Tapping R2 swings them, while holding it builds up a stronger attack, with an average of two heavy swings enough to smash a walker’s skull. R1 shoves them away, an essential first move to give yourself time to charge a stronger blow.
When more than two zombies come along things become overwhelmingly difficult. When grabbed you get thrown into a QTE minigame where you have to centre your frantic cursor over the zombie’s head and press R2 to deliver a killing blow. Initially it appears to be a great way of making you crap yourself and forcing you to try to remain calm in order to escape. It’s certainly a better idea than just bashing a button. Sadly, it becomes apparent before long that you are conned out of many successful escapes.
While melee combat variety is minimal to say the least, we can be thankful that the game doesn’t copy Dead Island’s ridiculous deteriorating weapons. So you don’t have to worry about steel pipes or solid metal hammers breaking after splitting open a few skulls. What the hell were Techland thinking?
Pistols, rifles and shotguns handle well enough, but they’re always a last resort. The noise draws in walkers and ammo is scarce. If you’re still playing when you eventually unlock Daryl’s crossbow there’s a good chance you’ve lost it.
Stealth, or an attempt at it, is how you’re forced to play most of the game. If you can sneak up on a zombie you can perform an execution move with R1, which is also the shove button. You can imagine all the fun japes I got into when the ‘execute’ prompt disappeared at the last second so I could playfully push at the back of a walker’s head.
Bottles and flares can be used to distract the flesh-munching masses, which in practice works well, but your inventory is so miserably small you’ll be inclined to fill your pockets with medkits and weapons instead.
Mid-mission checkpoints are spread so thinly it takes a huge amount of willpower to keep going. The ones that do exist don’t save when you turn off your console either, making taking breathers to avoid man-tantrums problematic. With only one difficulty available, this is a tough game, with even the mildest of borderline affectionate fey face touches from a zombie causing considerable damage. Ladders are keen to take a third of your health too thanks to the face-first approach you randomly take down them sometimes.
But hey, they’re zombies; surely you can outrun them out in the open at least? Usually that would be a great tactic. Unfortunately, Daryl seems to weigh about 400 pounds and smoke 60 a day as he can only sprint for about 30 feet before almost collapsing. His sweat literally drips down the screen to indicate he’s had enough. The zombies don’t sprint but they randomly generate behind you all the time and they get a bit of a shuffle dance of excitement going on when they get within a few feet of you.
Finding fuel plays a part in the game as you need to decide whether to take back roads (uses more fuel, but more chances for salvage), highways (less fuel, but more likely to breakdown), or the streets (in between the two). Sadly, I can’t tell you which one gets you through the game quicker as they all seem to involve the same number of stops, often for nigh-on identical gas stations, diners and homes. There’s no real story to speak of and the survivors you can pick up and discard don’t actually join you on missions.
There are no multiplayer options, which is a shame as if there was a co-op mode where you had someone to watch your back, many of the game’s clunky mechanics and rough edges could have become almost bearable. Hell, I may even have been able to recommend it as a rental. But no. No to all of that.
- Nice crunching noise when you really connect with a lead pipe
- It’s only five hours long
- You don’t have to review it too
- Unlikable cast
- Repetitive settings and tasks
- Poor checkpoints
The Short Version: At about five hours long (it’ll seem like more), this is poor even for a tie-in. There’s nothing even remotely likely to make you want to see it through to the end either. If someone buys you this instead of Telltale’s story-driven series we insist you chain it up in the barn and burn it back down to hell, trading it in will only spread the rot.