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The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct

Score: 30%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Terminal Reality
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

I like The Walking Dead, but I don't love it. I like dark, but only if it's suffused with some amount of light. That light can be anything from humor to hope, no matter how small. I can't help feeling that Robert Kirkman's post-apocalyptic phenomenon lacks both; it's a black hole of bleakness and despair, and by design. There's obviously an appetite for this kind of fare, and I'm reluctant to chalk it up to the tired-as-hell zombie craze. Telltale's episodic take on the AMC property is a watershed moment for adventure games and licensed products, and you should play it. If you're less interested in the storytelling and simply want to put some walkers down the old fashioned way, you've probably had your eyes on The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct for some time. Now is the time to avert those eyes and do an about-face; this game is pretty lousy.

The world of The Walking Dead is an ugly one, but the world of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is hideous. It's like an alternate reality to the official canonical universe where the world is populated with clones. Either that, or the walker virus kills people and reanimates them to look like one of a few different people. Undead are undead, but there's no variety to speak of. Environmental design is dull as dishwater and unbelievably repetitive. I cannot stress this enough. Technically, this is an unsightly game full of jagged edges and boring textures. The loading times are unreasonably long for something that looks this dull. The best I can say about the visuals is that Daryl and Merle look like the actors who play them on the AMC show.

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct gets a few audio-related things right. It uses an authentic-sounding variation on Bear McCreary's famous theme, as well as a few twists. Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker reprise their roles as Daryl and Merle Dixon, and their performances are decent enough to earn a pass from me. Daryl is restrained and laconic while Merle is, well, Merle. Sound effects are mostly alright; the sound of a hammer/baseball bat/sledgehammer/knife connecting with a skull is appropriately disgusting.


Gameplay:

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct follows the events that led the Dixon brothers to cross paths with Rick Grimes and his not-so-merry band of survivors. It casts you as fan favorite Daryl as he makes his way south, encountering walkers and survivors along the way. The script keeps Daryl and Merle in character, for the most part, but it doesn't do a particularly good job of telling a story you might otherwise want to hear. And the gameplay -- oh, boy...

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct fancies itself The Oregon Trail, but with zombies. You are heading south on your road trip, and you must collect and manage resources while trying to stay alive. There are scheduled stops (story missions), but the routes you choose to take dictate whether you wish to stop to scavenge or simply get to where you need to get as soon as physically possible. I always choose the option that involved stopping only when the situation demands me to. Why? Well, to be honest, each stop means more of the same weak, boring gameplay. I know The Walking Dead has a lot to do with personal choices, but this is just plain doing it wrong.

Each stop involves consulting your compass, which almost always knows exactly where you can find exactly what you need. (Why doesn't one of these exist in real life?) From there, it's a simple matter of following the arrow, picking up something or interacting with someone, and returning to your vehicle. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is an exercise in poor level design. Most of them simply feel like they are at least mostly copy-pasted from each other, with the differences being found in hard-to-find nooks, invisible walls, and uncertainty as to which doors can be opened. It's a slog.

Of course, there are invariably going to be walkers between your starting point and your destination. Daryl can be stealthy or violent, depending on your mood, but it's generally not advised to piss off mobs. As long as you stay quiet and clever, you can get past them without much of a struggle. Other times, you won't have any choice but to incur the wrath of the horde. In those situations, running is pretty much your only option.


Difficulty:

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct lies at the two extremes of the difficulty spectrum and rarely dabbles in the highly-sought middle ground. For the most part, it's easy to the point of being boring. Some missions have you sneaking past groups of dimwitted walkers only to find a single item and return. Angering the mob too soon in your mission is an incredibly stupid thing to do, but if you decide to play that way, you're going to have a very hard time of it. If you're grabbed by a walker and there are more than two or three others around you, you might as well reload your game, because you're not getting out of it.

Survival Instinct is not a long game, but if you want to lengthen the experience for some reason, there are collectibles to find. Frankly, nothing in this package offers a compelling reason to spend any time with it, but I suppose it's nice that they tried.


Game Mechanics:

Given Activision's modus operandi these days, you might be fooled into thinking that The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a Call of Duty-esque take on AMC's popular series. To be fair, this game has higher aspirations than that. But the unfortunate truth of the matter is nearly every aspect of the delivery is fundamentally botched in some way.

The game loosely encourages you to be stealthy instead of reckless. Daryl can sneak pretty effectively, provided he's not running at a full clip. Getting the drop on unsuspecting walkers rewards you with violent stealth kills that involve knives and skulls. You don't have to take the violent route; you can find items that you can use; besides the normal restoratives, glass bottles and flares can provide diversions. At least, they should; most times I've used them, walkers were already too occupied with me. Sprinting is ideal if you want to make good time, but you will sweat (a gross effect, actually) which makes you more noticeable to walkers. If it must come to violence, Daryl can use melee or firearms. Neither is handled well, even when Daryl acquires his trademark crossbow.

If you find yourself overwhelmed with walkers, you will end up in grapple mode. A single walker grabs you, and the camera goes hog wild in the chaos. If you manage to center the camera on the attacking walker's head and pull a trigger (RT), you will dispatch it in gruesome fashion. Or at least, you should. This mechanic only works when it wants to, and it rarely wants to. Even if you mash on (RT) with wild abandon, the game will ignore a huge majority of those inputs while the walker chips merrily away at your health. And what's worse than putting up with grapple mode? Putting up with it ten or more times in a row. Yes, if you find yourself set upon by a few walkers, you will go into grapple mode over and over and over again. This isn't fun.

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is priced at $49.99. To release such a poor product at such a high price point would be laughable if it wasn't insulting. If you're a hardcore Walking Dead fan and simply must have everything walker-related, don't say I didn't warn you.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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