The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Review
The latest title to join the increasingly popular franchise, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct promised to offer players a new, action-driven experience in the world of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. The game was hounded by controversy before it was even released. Critics and players launched attacks on the leaked trailer and with fair reason. The graphics seemed dated, the combat lackluster and the zombies about as simple as you can get.
Adding to this controversy was the announcement that Activision would not be sending out review copies to the press, an honor usually reserved for lowest standard of games seen this generation. But negative press aside, does the game offer anything substantial and deserving of a title belonging to such a fabled franchise? Or is The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct a game that will mark the first major disappointment in The Walking Dead saga.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Trailer
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Review
As quite a big fan of The Walking Dead I was really excited when Activision announced The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. Although I thoroughly enjoyed TellTale’s adaptation of the series, I do feel zombies in general belong in a more action driven setting. Cue the FPS game from one of the biggest FPS publishers around. I’d read some reviews prior to playing so I wasn’t expecting all that much although I do feel many of the bigger sites lower scores for attention so I was at least expecting some form of entertainment.
The beginning of the game sets the pace well. You’re introduced to basic mechanics before experiencing a very short cut-scene in true Walking Dead style. The tone was set, the characters introduced, I was ready.
Your first mission sees you in a quiet town just after the zombie outbreak. You’re introduced to a few characters before you have to explore the town for supplies. This is pretty much the tone for the entire game, making small pit stops on the way to finding your brother. Each pit stop involves similar objectives, either finding food and ammo, or locating fuel to continue on your journey. There are also some interesting optional objectives along the way.
Several survivors that you meet will join you on your travels should you complete their basic task. These usually involve finding items or looking for a lost (lost? yeah right) person. Although easy they quickly become mundane as you spend 30 minutes searching a small town for one glowing object. What makes matter worse is the spawning system. The zombies spawn everywhere, all the time. You can literally clear out a room, move 1 building over and everything is back again, sometimes even in the exact same spots. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the combat.
Being a game based on The Walking Dead you would expect the zombies to play an integral part in the overall experience, and they are featured for practically the entire game. So, a zombie game filled with zombies, sounds great right? Actually, I would have enjoyed this more without any of the zombies at all. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct features AI without any of the “I”, it’s really that bad.
The zombie detection range doesn’t display any regularity whatsoever. One zombie would turn and chase me when I was 15ft away and crouching, while another would display zero signs of life until I could literally see the pieces of skin between its teeth. To top that off, they actually get dumber when they spot you. They start off running at a decent pace, although slower than your jogging speed so easily avoidable, but then things get crazy when get get within 5-10 ft. They slow down. Instead of darting straight at you, they stop, outstretch their arms and then exert the stereotypical zombie groan while stumbling towards you at the speed of Stephen Hawking.
Adding to the utter disappointment with the AI is the inability displayed by zombies as soon as you jump on anything more than 2ft off the ground. Right near the start of the game I was surprised by my first horde. A moment that should have been filled with suspense and horror was instead plagued by petty giggles as I slaughtered over 30 zombies simply by standing on the bonnet of a car. So they can smash through doors, chase me out of sight through an entire city block and chew through bone with their teeth. However, attacking someone elevated above them by 3ft is an impossibility.
But wait, there’s more. As if that wasn’t bad enough the zombies feel like they were stolen from a poor 1960s zombie flick, over that of current generation technology. Each attack that lands a hit results in the exact same zombie animation, and it takes longer than the swinging animation. In short, every single fight results in either a swing or a push, followed by 2-3 seconds of stationary melee attacks that pose zero risk or threat.
No, I still haven’t finished. Accompanying the lackluster combat animations are further lackluster combat animations involving head shots and grenades. I picked up my first flare and a tutorial let me know that they can be used to distract zombies, awesome. So grenade and flare in hand I find the biggest cluster I can and throw a flare; sure enough they gathered around it like a fat guy to an all-you-can-eat KFC buffet. A dastardly grin spread across my face as I tossed the grenade, waiting for the inevitable flying of body parts that would follow. Sorry, what? The entire thing was over in a single second as every zombie burst into a puff of blood suitable for the original Duke Nukem 3D game. Head shots are just as disappointing, resulting in a 100% decapitation each and every time. I was craving half a leftover jaw or maybe a dangling ear, but nothing.
To ruin the immersive experience even further, add poor sound effects and music; and that’s exactly what they did. The music in itself isn’t all that bad, but the cue’s are nothing short of amateur. One minute the heavy music starts and a zombie is chasing you then within a few seconds the zombie stops for no logical reason and the music quits. Then within another few seconds the zombie spots you again and well…you get the idea.
There are other features and mechanics that hold some true potential, but these are totally overshadowed by the aforementioned issues. When you leave the first town you’re able to select how you get to the next location. You can use a lot of fuel exploring the back roads, or use minimal fuel with a high risk of break downs on the highways. Breaking down basically results in a poor cut-scene before returning to the previous location, basically a game over.
The travel and driving are both automatic and the chance of discovering a town to loot is random. If you are lucky enough to find a place to scavenge it’s usually a tiny area with a few bits of ammo and maybe a survivor. Grabbing the survivors is tedious in itself but if they join you, you’re able to send them out scavenging at the start of each new area. Depending on the type of survivor, the weapon you give them, and the amount of people searching, you’re given a risk level. I found this a really innovative idea and quite enjoyed choosing which survivors I would send to their potential doom. But soon after making my choices I was faced with exploring yet another similar town for yet more fuel and ammo before discovering yet another survivor.
However, it wasn’t long before that aspect grew tiresome. I once encountered 3 identical locations to scavenge during one trip, one after the other. Lack of imagination, lack of effort and lack of variation. Three aspects that spread across the entire game.
I was bored of the combat within the first 10 minutes of the game, it’s really that mundane. This resulted in all future towns being nothing but a marathon run as I dodged the ridiculously stupid AI, searching for more flashing objects. As soon as things got heavy, I’d jump on a car and yawn as I sliced apart each and every zombie.
There’s a decent variety of weapons in the game. There’s a few guns, Rifle, Shotguns, Pistols, and there’s a few melee weapons. None of them really standout as a best choice as it all depends on the amount of ammo you’re able to find for each specific weapon. There are instant kills available if you’re able to get behind a zombie. The combat is slow enough so that you can knock them back in a fight, run to their rear and execute them. They’re gory but get boring fast as it only uses the pocket knife.
The one saving grace, the one thing that I knew could make me forget all of the issues that plagued this game; the iconic crossbow. Now, I promised myself I would avoid exploding into a rant form during this review but I’m unable to talk about the crossbow in any depth while still keeping that promise. It’s as bad as the rest of the game and I’m sure we’ll discuss it in full during this weeks Suck My Controller podcast.
All in all, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is the biggest disappointment since Duke Nukem Forever. The few innovative ideas are ruined by a complete lack of effort and rushed mechanics. My instinct is to avoid wasting my time, sadly I didn’t listen to it on this occasion.