As I’m sure many know, The Walking Dead has become quite the hit series these past few years. It all begin with the graphic novel that was beloved by many, and it then transitioned into an equally well received television show. A video game was obviously the next stepping stone in this sequence of events and Tell Tale took care of that last year as they released a point and click strategy game of the same name. This strategy game was one of the highlights of last year and even won my personal Game of the Year award. This all begs the question, why did Activision and AMC decide to release another Walking Dead game?
Even after playing through Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, I cannot answer that question. Its existence remains bewildering due to the lack of any kind of marketing push by Activision, which signifies even they do not show a great deal of confidence in this silent product. Thankfully, I can report that not all is terrible with Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, which is about as positive a statement as I can make. If you didn’t know, and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, you play as Daryl, the likable asshole from the show. The game was pitched as being a Merle and Daryl focused experience but Merle appears for hardly an hour before disappearing for nearly the rest of the game.
The choice of playing as Daryl seemed to be a good one to begin with but it became clear as the game trudged along that Daryl isn’t the most likable nor is he the most charismatic character. Sure, his character on the show is good, but it also relies heavily on influences from others around him. You spend most of Survival Instinct by your lonesome, which leads to Daryl whispering a whole lot of slightly offensive obscenities. It also doesn’t help that the voice work performed by Norman Reedus, a fine actor, is subpar at best. The cast around him is far below subpar however.as some border on unlistenable at times.
The story itself does nothing to rectify its middling characters as you march forward through environments, doing exactly what you expect in a stereotypical zombie game: Look for others, look for guns, look for vaccine, look for evacuation ideas, etc. My interest behind the story before playing the game relied solely on seeing the development behind the Merle and Daryl relationship, which as I previously stated, is nonexistence apart from one or two lines that reference how they lived before the outbreak. It’s a forced, convoluted story that never builds up any kind of momentum for its underwhelming ending.
Development on The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct has been quite the head scratcher ever since it was announced. Like I previously mentioned, there’s always been the “Why?” question floating around it but another questions leading up to its release is just how much time was given to develop The Walking Dead? A few months back, a “fan made” trailer for Survival Instinct was released and to put it kindly, the game looked like trash. The visuals are definitely better than what the trailer showed off but not by much. You could put these visuals against some Xbox 360 launch titles and hardly find any kind of difference between the two. The most frustrating aspect of the visuals is by far the constantly repeating environments. There seems to be around four different environments to search through, apart from the main story missions, and five or so set patterns for each room you enter. Lazy art design at its finest, there’s no excuse for the lack of visual variety in Survival Instinct. That all goes without mentioning the consistently bad frame rate and uninteresting art that does appear.
If you know anything about the Walking Dead universe, you know that making a full guns blazing action/adventure game was not an option for developer Terminal Reality. Instead, they had to turn enemy interactions into mostly stealth based experiences, sneaking around corners, executing walkers, and doing your best to never fire off a weapon around a large herd. This is when one of the more hilarious issues comes up as you unveil the horror that is the melee combat. In games similar to The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, like Dead Island, you have a weapon and can control what part of the body to attack, which means you must develop a strategy for nearly each enemy. Walking Dead throws that idea out the window and decides your best course of action is to simply bang on the walker’s face until he caves over backwards into a limp death animation that is sure to garner a few giggles. The banging on the face consists of taking whatever melee weapon you have equipped (hammer, bat, knife, etc.) and tapping RT until the previously mentioned death animation rears its ugly head.
That isn’t to say the combat is all bad however as once you begin to stockpile some ammo, you realize using the firearms is much more enjoyable than using the standard knife. Blasting through a ton of walkers with pistol, all while trying to navigate your way to some more fuel for your vehicle, is a lot more enjoyable than simply sneaking around until you get caught and are then forced to partake in the melee combat. My biggest complaint with the firearms, though I’m not sure it is considered a “firearm,” would be the lack of Daryl’s crossbow. Sure, you get it eventually but for over half the game you remain crossbowless. Which only becomes more frustrating once you realize the crossbow is probably the most enjoyable weapon in the game.
Arguably the most interesting feature Survival Instinct possesses is the group mechanic idea, an idea that never feels fully fleshed out. The concept is simple, you rescue people while you’re scouring around desolate towns and then add them to your group. Before going out a mission, you choose if you want these survivors to go out and find more food, gas, ammo, or simply stay at the vehicle. In Survival Instinct, supplies are everything and that becomes apparent by how hard the game pushes you to constantly search around your environment. While searching, you find everything from fuel (obviously very useful for traveling, which is done by a simulated sequence usually used to propel the narrative) to ammo or newer melee weapons if you become so lucky. The search for newer and better items is a lustful one but it is also one that has been done much more successfully in Dead Island and Zombie U.
I know this will surprise very few but The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is not a good game. It obviously had a very low production budget and was green lit simply to rake in some easy cash for Activision. That likely assumption is a bummer for developer Terminal Reality as I truly believe with more time and money, they could have made a fine Walking Dead experience. Instead, Terminal did their best with what they had, they produced a poor man’s Dead Island. A poor man’s Dead Island is a hard product to recommend but if you need your zombie fix and can’t wait until Dead Island: Riptide, I have a mediocre product for you.
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