Remember not so long ago, when Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequel, Batman: Arkham City, were released to critical acclaim? Remember when Telltale made a Walking Dead game that was nominated for multiple Game of the Year awards? Forget those times. Remember when licensed games were like Men In Black and Superman 64? Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct.
The bottom line is this - the game is terrible. Details will of course follow, but after Telltale's heart-warming point and click outing, this disappoints more than it initially would have. It would never be classed as an all-time great, it would never even be classed as an all-time meh, but when you consider it's in the same family as the award-winning show, the award-winning game and the award-winning comic book, it fails miserably in nearly every way you can imagine.
It is a first person stealth-shooter, taking place before the TV show it's based on and serves as a prequel. You control Daryl Dixon, making your way across Georgia to Atlanta via the highways and backroads. Here lies Survival Instinct's one interesting feature: on your travels, you'll get to choose whether you want to go along the highway, where there's a high risk of breaking down, but a low fuel consumption, the backroads where fuel consumption is high, but automobile risk is low, or a middle ground. Fuel can be found in levels, as well as scavenged by your party members though, so you can literally go whichever way you like, rendering the interesting system pointless.
When in a level, your task is usually to scavenge something, be it fuel, ammo, whatever. You are of course surrounded by the horde of walkers you would expect. Now what? Sneak by quietly hoping they don't become aware of your presence? Nah. Fire a gun in one location so you can move peacefully to the next? Nah. Run up to them all and stab them precisely four times in the face to make them fall over? Sometimes. Sprint right past them ignoring them entirely? Most of the time.
As an example, in the very first level after the prologue, you, as Daryl, must find fuel for your car to properly begin the journey. You can choose to send your companion, Jess, off to scavenge fuel or ammo while you're gone, then you're thrown into the level. First time, I stealth it up, using empty glass bottles as a distraction as I throw them to lure the walkers away. I got caught at the very end of the level, about half an hour later, and was subsequently killed. Later, I retried. I sprinted to the gas station, spoke to the survivor there, sprinted to the trailer park, stabbed a walker four times in the face, picked up the keys he dropped, sprinted back to the gas station, got the fuel, sprinted back to my car, finished the level. It took just under ten minutes and it would have been quicker, had I not been forced by the game to stop sprinting every three seconds.
Graphically, it's passable at best. Those kind of creepy characters that some licensed games have, where they look vaguely like hollow representations of their source material are what you get; the levels themselves can look okay from a distance, but get close and you'll notice horrible texture quality on near everything. This goes nicely with the horribly optimised engine itself, which seems to cap at 30 frames per second, and halves that when you look anywhere with smoke billowing.
Occasionally repeated levels are another issue; when you choose to ride by highway, chances are your car will mysteriously end up damaged and you need to find a replacement part. You'll sometimes end up scavenging what seems like very familiar terrain, maybe you scavenged it an hour ago looking for a replacement hose but now you're just looking for fuel. While not identical, the levels are similar enough to give that impression, which completely drains the idea of moving forward.
The actors who reprise their roles from the TV show, Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker, sound bored while reading their lines. The new characters are bland and sound worse and give absolutely no emotional attachment through their dialogue. At its heart, The Walking Dead is about characters tolerating and getting along with each other to survive a horrible fate; the fact that the game misses this point entirely is perhaps its worst failure.
The walkers themselves are nothing to shout about, either. Their brain-dead (I know, I know) AI will ensure you can just run by them without a care. Sure, sometimes they'll waddle after you; but if they do, hey, four face stabs later you're fine. If you see a horde? Believe it or not the best course of action is to run right into the middle of it. When you're in range of a walker, a silly mini-game will initiate where you place a circle over its face to kill it in one hit. The rest of the horde will politely wait their turn to initiate the same mini-game, repeat until they're all dead. Don't worry though, you won't feel bad because you're surrounded by corpses of those unfortunate enough to have been turned; they all despawn after a few seconds, fading into nothingness right before your eyes.
So I guess you'll be looking for the positive stuff now, right? It has to have some, right? Right? Okay, here goes: it's funny when you hit a building with your knife and hear the sound of metal hitting brick, then hit the building's window and hear the sound of metal hitting brick while the window smashes.
If you're the biggest Walking Dead fan on the planet, sure, give it a go - later, when it's cheaper. If you're a fan of making zombies get re-dead, sure give it a go - later, when it's cheaper. If you're a fan of first person stealth, go play something better. If you're a fan of first person shooters, go play something better. If you're none of the above, do yourself a favour and avoid it like the plague.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct (Reviewed on Windows)
The game is unenjoyable, but it works.
Remember not so long ago, when Batman: Arkham Asylum and its sequel, Batman: Arkham City, were released to critical acclaim? Remember when Telltale made a Walking Dead game that was nominated for multiple Game of the Year awards? Forget those times. Remember when licensed games were like Men In Black and Superman 64?