Broken. Dull. Hideous.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is not a good game. It’s not even average. It’s plain bad, almost as bad as games get. Based on the AMC TV series and published by (the wealthy) Activision, we should be expecting far better. This isn’t a patch on the excellent Walking Dead series by Telltale Games. The warning signs were there, though. Developer Terminal Reality (Ghostbusters: The Video Game, Kinect Star Wars) were rumoured to have been given just 11 months and a tiny budget to work on the game and it shows. While the developer could and maybe should have come up with something at least mechanically sound, we wonder why Activision didn’t put more into this franchise – there is clearly a fan base for it and the series isn’t going away – this could have been a strong, new gaming franchise. What we have here is a broken, dull, hideous mess – a mess that AMC, Activision and Terminal reality must be embarrassed to be associated with.
You play Daryl Dixon (voiced by Norman Reedus, from the TV series) as he journeys to find his brother, Merl (Michael Rooker) and find refuge from a zombie outbreak. Set before the TV series, the narrative is a non-starter and doesn’t shed any further light on Daryl or Merl or the universe of The Walking Dead. The character interactions are limited to brief “cut-scenes” (in quotation marks as these “cut-scenes” are literally one character stood in front of some nondescript scenery as they give you your objectives for that mission – they last 30 seconds at most) and Daryl will occasionally comment on the action in-game. Every so often, you’ll come across another survivor who might ask you to find some food to trade for keys to a new vehicle or weapons.
Beige. Brown. Blank.
There is no attempt at any world-building. A zombie out-break is a rich setting for personal stories,drama and social commentary – as seen in Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil and Romero’s zombie films. Audio-logs and diaries are often seen as being lazy; no, THIS is lazy. The only collectibles in TWD:SI are stuffed squirrel statues and random posters. Why? Who knows! It would have been an improvement to have done away with them. Audio-logs and such would have been welcome here, a distraction from the utter tedium of the game and a chance to explain what has been happening since the zombie outbreak – they could have even featured other characters from the TV show. Another much-seen (maligned) trope in gaming, which would be welcome here, are messages written on walls, as seen in Dead Space, Dishonored, BioShock and such – there’s none of that here. Practically every wall in beige, brown and blank; which sums up the game quite nicely.
Mechanically, the game is a shambles. Zombies will constantly phase in and out of scenery, doors will pass straight through them, trees and buildings pop up at will, the frame-rate drops constantly – anything that has blighted a game that you can think of you’ll probably find here. We’d be a bit more forgiving if the game was a beauty but it isn’t. It looks eerily like Condemned – a very poor man’s Condemned (a game that came out 8 YEARS AGO!). All the scenery and buildings have the absolute bare-minimum amount of textures on them, making TWD:SI’s streets, towns and countrysides look like they’re made of paper – paper-thin is a fine description of just about everything here actually.
The gameplay isn’t much better. Each main mission is practically the same. Daryl will be given an objective such as “Find a new vehicle” or “Find some fuel” and be set at the start of a small sand-box style area, usually the suburbs of a town or a police station. Each town will have a survivor in it that needs help, triggering a side-mission that will enable you to recruit the survivor to your group. This serves no real purpose. At the start of each mission, you can heal your group and give them weapons and send them out to forage for food, ammo or fuel. A good idea in theory but these items are so plentiful in the main-game, it’s rendered pointless.
The only time this mechanic becomes interesting is when you’re forced to change vehicle – some cars can carry more or fewer passengers or items – and you must dismiss someone from the group. Another interesting idea but there are no repercussions to this – there isn’t even a token cut-scene or feedback of ANY kind, the character simply disappears. Once you have finished your objectives, a zombie herd will usually appear and you have to run back to your vehicle. Rinse and repeat. In between the main missions, your group will travel by car to the next destination. Occasionally, your vehicle will breakdown or car’s will be blocking the way, meaning you have a small area to “explore” and carry out a small objective to continue. Sounds interesting? In reality, there are only 3 or 4 different environments for these and sometimes one single car journey will force you to experience all of them.
There is very little here to enjoy. Daryl’s crossbow is executed quite well, all bolts can be retrieved and it can be used silently at short or long-range, and a grapple mechanic when fighting walkers is OK, but the simple fact is that the combat is no fun. There is no weight to any of it, the melee feels weak and every weapon has the same effect as another. There are some good ideas buried beneath the sloppy controls, horrific mechanics and poor execution, but, like everything else in this package, they are underdeveloped and go nowhere. The game is crying out for some kind of moral quandaries; the survivors you add to the group NEED a background and some interaction – choosing which one to dismiss HAS to mean something! Any kind of upgrade or XP system would have been welcome too. Ultimately, TWD:SI is nothing but a huge misfire.
There is no reason why The Walking Dead series couldn’t be made into an excellent FPS. We’re not sure why Activision, AMC and Terminal Reality didn’t at least try with this. It is the very worst kind of game; lazy, unambitious and an insult to gamers and gaming in general. Please, don’t buy this – it will only encourage Activision and the rest further. When you see the heights Telltale have hit with their series, Activision should be ashamed.
FUCK YOU OUT OF 10.
– Dave Green. Become part of the herd and follow him on Twitter @davidpgreen83