Review: The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, from developer Terminal Reality, is a first person survival game set as a prequel to AMC's massively popular and fantastic TV series, The Walking Dead.
- Worth The Time?No, it's a waste of time and money.
- Things LovedThere are some good concepts, resource management is important.
- Things HatedThe game is immensely repetitive, it's extremely short, the story adds nothing of value to the TV series, the graphics are terrible, the crosshair is large and distracting, the scope of the game is really limited, it doesn't have an ounce of the suspense and compelling writing of the TV series, it feels like a straight cash-in almost at all times, the final portion is horrible.
- RecommendationI am practically in love with The Walking Dead. I hate this game down to its rotten core. That should say it all, so I'd advise pretending it doesn't exist.
- Name: The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct
- Genre: First Person Shooter
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U
- Developer: Terminal Reality
- Publisher: Activision
- Price: R454 (PC), R515 (PS3, 360), R435 (Wii U)
- Reviewed On: PC
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, from developer Terminal Reality and publisher Activision, is a first person survival game set as a prequel to AMC’s massively popular and fantastic TV series, The Walking Dead. We all knew of this game’s existence, but it was quite interesting, on a more suspicious level, how barely any information or media was shown about it prior to its sneaky release. Well, nothing speaks like the final product, so let’s get into it all. The game follows the story of series favourite Daryl Dixon and his brother Merle as they journey to Atlanta during the early days of the apocalypse. In an attempt to be
contrived meaningful, the narrative tries to show a little of Daryl’s past, such as his relationship with his brother and how he got some of his toys, like his famous crossbow. Given that, does it add more value to the TV series, or is it just a worthless cash-in? Spoiler alert: it’s the latter.
I’ll give it to you straight. This is a terrible game. If it were any other bad game, I’d just critique it, crack a lot of jokes and what I hope are witty insults, tell you to avoid it and move on to the next thing. But I despise this game, and I wanted to rip it apart right after playing it. Why? Because I love The Walking Dead franchise, it’s currently one of my favourite forms of entertainment, and generally it prides itself on high quality, powerful narrative, compelling characters, gripping suspense and shocks you wouldn’t see coming or wouldn’t believe could happen. The original comic is five stars, the TV series is five stars, and Telltale’s adventure game is certainly five stars. That’s why it’s so damn insulting to The Walking Dead to see such an obvious, low quality attempt to make money and little else. Maybe Terminal Reality did try to do the best with what they had, but that doesn’t change what this is.
First of all, this game fails with its narrative. While it does have the voice acting of the two brothers down fine, the actual story holds nothing of value for fans of the TV series. There are fun little quirks like the way the game shows you how Daryl got his crossbow and his red handkerchief, but these are tiny bright spots on an otherwise meaningless bore. It carries none of the tension, suspense or shocks you’d expect from The Walking Dead, in fact it has almost nothing in common aside from the zombies and the fact that a handful of them can be a huge threat. I know that many will defend it on the grounds that it’s a prequel, but being a prequel has little to do with how good something is or can be. At the end of the day it comes down to the quality of the writing and the story itself, and both are really weak points of Survival Instinct. This is the early days of the apocalypse, so there was a lot of scope to show a world slowly turned to chaos, and how things escalate, and as a prequel it could have given you some insight into what happened while Rick was in that coma, but there’s just nothing to show you here at all.
With its gameplay, Survival Instinct admittedly has some good ideas and concepts, but it all falls like a house of cards when it comes to variety, great execution and quality. You can either take an action approach, although without a strong melee weapon that could waste valuable ammunition, or a more silent one, where you’ll sneak around avoiding fights and stealth-killing the walkers. While this sounds like a formula for success and suspense, the game falls victim to serious cases of repetition and monotony. If it’s not a fetch quest, it’s get from point A to B and that makes up almost the entirety of the gameplay from level to level. There’s very little depth, very few things to break up the formula, and almost nothing to provide you with a gripping or entertaining experience in any form.
Now, there are some good ideas here, as I mentioned previously. I particularly liked that resource management actually plays an important role. Well, up to a point. You’re entirely dependent on what you find in the game world, whether it be consumables for health or distractions, ammunition and, very importantly, fuel for your ride. The game’s structure is mission-based, but you’ll need fuel to get to each new destination. Running out will cause you to automatically stop and start a mission where you’ll need to collect enough fuel in the area to carry on, and maybe grab some supplies as well. When you travel, you can choose to take back roads, streets or highways, and these dictate not only how much fuel you consume, but how often you’ll stop for supplies and the chance you have of breaking down. When you come across a chance for supplies, such as an abandoned house, the game will offer you a text-prompt asking if you’d like to stop or carry on, and if you suffer a breakdown you’ll also enter a mini-mission where you’ll need to navigate a small area to find a certain item, like a tire, to fix your ride. You can also encounter some random events such as road blocks due to abandoned cars, and you’ll have the option to either get out and move the cars or find an alternate route, which uses up more fuel.
Keeping on the good ideas train, throughout the main missions you’ll also have opportunities to help out certain survivors in side quests with the end result being them joining your group. You have a limited number of seats in your car, of which you can obtain new ones in the game, but having groupies allows you to send them out during missions to scavenge for supplies, food or fuel. You can store these either on your person or in your vehicle, both of which have limited space. Each survivor has certain basic characteristics, such as preferring blunt weapons or being reckless, and you’ll need to equip them with the appropriate weapon to decrease their risk rate, as they can die on these missions. They don’t recover health, and you’ll need to use your own healing items to help them recover between missions. It all sounds quite busy and complex, but it’s seriously straight forward in practice, and most of the time you won’t really need or care for your survivors, as they often aren’t all that useful.
All of the above may sound like a recipe for success on paper, but the execution is so lackluster and simplistic that it grows tiresome and valueless extremely quickly. The reason is because every single time your car breaks down, or you decide to stop for supplies, or you encounter a road block, the missions are one hundred percent identical, often down to the layout of the areas. They’re five minute distractions with barely any substance, and the really strange part is that they don’t add variety or break up the main campaign like they were intended to, for the very simple reason that what you do in these missions is practically the exact same thing you do in the main campaign. Fetch things, find things or walk from one point to another. Eventually, when you’re trying to progress through the main campaign, these breaks serve to irritate and bore rather than add real immersion and realism, like they were obviously meant to. Terminal Reality had some right ideas for the kind of game that this was meant to be, but who knows, a lack of budget, creativity, experience, talent, incentive or care could all easily be factors as to why the execution falls short. It’s a cash-in, so who’s to say, right?
I haven’t gotten into the actual core gameplay yet, so let’s do that. The best way to describe it would be functional, but unimpressive. It works and it’s simple enough, but there’s no real variety or strand-out moments in this game. If you just want to be Daryl Dixon, well, unfortunately you only get the famous crossbow towards the end of the game, so most of your early hours will be spent with guns and melee weapons. Basically, in each level you’ll navigate walker-infested areas to get to your goal. Sneaking is your best way forward, as getting behind a walker will allow you to quietly execute it. Making a noise will attract attention, and firing a shot or doing something loud will get you in trouble fast. You have two options for distraction though, and that’s either by throwing glass bottles to make a noise, or using flares you pick up to draw walkers. Stealth is definitely the wiser approach, because while one or two walkers are easy to deal with, once they gang up you could really find yourself in deep trouble, and then you’ll need to run and hide. In some areas, wooden doors can be broken down by walkers, so you’ll need to think and act. In others, you won’t have much room, so you can get overrun easily.
Doesn’t the above sound a little promising? It gives you the impression that this is cautious and tense and a thinking-man’s game. But here’s where I burst the bubble. It starts with the enemy AI, because I’m hard pressed to call it that. There’s no telling how or when walkers will detect you. It’s so erratic and nonsensical. Sometimes I’ve stood literally within poking distance of a walker, yet they paid no attention to me at all, and other times I was sneaking twenty meters away but one decided to spot me and run up and start making a scene. Turning corners can sometimes make them instantly forget you existed, and other times not. You’ve just got a roll with it and deal with it. If you do get swarmed by a handful of walkers, there’s a chance the game could enter what is one of the most silly mini-games I’ve seen. Basically, a walker will grab onto you and do a little damage, and you’ll need to aim your pointer onto their head and execute as fast as possible. If other walkers are around you, they’ll immediately latch onto you after one walker falls, bringing the mini-game back again. I once went through a chain of eight or even more of these mini-games in a row, and it gets so irritating you could be encouraged to just die and reload. It’s not a bad quick-time event in isolation, but when chained it’s a nightmare.
There’s also no balancing in this game either. It’s about pure escalation pretty much. What I mean is that, a sledgehammer or the fire axe are clearly superior to any other melee weapon and even some guns, and the rifle you later acquire is better than any other gun. When you finally acquire the crossbow, you’d think that it would make things better since you can retrieve the bolts and kill silently from a distance, but I eventually stopped using it because it lacks ammo and the fire axe is just strictly better by virtue of the fact that it’s limitless. If you stick to using a strong melee weapon and focus on stealth kills, you could end up like I did with over sixty shotgun rounds in one of the later levels. And I barely took the time to scavenge for extra goods. I had over forty rifle rounds as well. But at least I can commend the fact that bullets are a bad idea until you get closer to the end of the game. Still, since there’s nothing else to say about the gameplay, let’s leave it that it’s repetitive, boring and very limited.
The main campaign lasts just about five or six hours on average. I finished it in barely an afternoon, and walked away from it with absolutely nothing of value. I feel I need to devote time to criticizing the final portion and ending of this game because it’s on a whole other level of rubbish. Do you even care if it’s spoiled? If so, skip the rest of this paragraph and carry on reading from the next one, although I won’t say anything in explicit detail, just the idea. Basically, you’ll have a machine gun and mow down a huge amount of walkers throughout the level, until the final part. Here, you’ll mount an army vehicles’ machine gun turret and kill a whole lot more in a very boring and typical action set piece. But hey, turns out that’s actually the game’s idea of a finale, because after that it’s a cutscene and the end. Seriously, I know they fire a lot of guns in The Walking Dead, but never has a moment been so dull like the finish of this game. It’s like you’re playing some average set piece in the middle of a war shooter.
The game’s graphics are heavily outdated. There were games from six years ago that looked a lot better than this. It’s bland and repetitive with its visuals, and it lacks detail especially with its character models. It lacks polish, and it’s just far behind the times. There are also a few very distracting visual shortcomings that do well to break immersion. For instance, enemy bodies disappear in seconds, dismemberment is sporadic, body physics are stiff, animations are very awkward and the worst offender is the crosshair. It’s large and overbearing, and you can’t disable it so you have to live with its tendency to distract. I suppose I can give it a little credit for its soundtrack since it used some great themes from the TV series, but that’s about it. I guess I can also say that the voice acting is pretty alright, but I’d have to counter my own praise by bringing it up that I mentioned the dialogue is weak. On a technical level, at least it I can say that this game works, although I don’t see how that’s a bright side.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is classic cash-in, throwaway trash. It has some good concepts marred by poor execution, and while it isn’t the worse game you’ll play, you should definitely avoid it like the plague and pretend that it doesn’t exist, especially if you’re a big fan of the source material. Speaking as someone who is basically in love with The Walking Dead, I hate this game down to its rotten core. That’s because it’s insulting to have to deal with something as low quality as this when the franchise it’s based on, whether we’re looking at the comic, TV series or adventure game from Telltale, is always exceptional. At least, it was always, because until this it used to be guaranteed. Perhaps what’s more insulting than that though is that rubbish like this can actually go for full retail price.