|System: Xbox 360*, PS3|
|Dev: Terminal Reality|
|Release: March 19, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore Intense Violence Strong Language|
by Joshua Bruce
I really wanted to like Terminal Reality’s take on a Walking Dead game. Being a fan of the AMC television series, I was hopeful that we’d see another winner, like we did with Telltale’s version. Sadly, my hopes were crushed by a mediocre, weakly structured, and sparsely featured title.
You start the game as Daryl’s Father, on a hunting trip in the woods of Georgia. The opening sequence is muddled and confusing, and launches directly from the title sequence (which is very similar to the show intro) into the gameplay. The next scene is a poorly constructed and immensely boring tutorial stage that has Daryl’s dad dying a scripted death at the end. It’s just completely unnecessary. The worst part of all this is that the game doesn’t really get any better from here.
The premise of The Walking Dead: Survival Instincts sounds great on paper. Set as a prequel to the AMC TV series, the game puts you into the shoes of fan-favorite character Daryl and sends you off to find your brother in the zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, as in most licensed games, Survival Instinct just takes advantage of the Walking Dead name and makes little attempt to offer anything of value. It’s just another cookie-cutter FPS, capitalizing on the success of the show it’s based upon.
Daryl is voiced by none other than Norman Reedus, and Michael Rooker reprises his role Daryl’s redneck brother, Merle. Unfortunately, the voice talent is the best part of this entire game; if it weren’t for the occasional quips from Darryl and Merle, Survival Instinct may have had no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Graphically, this game doesn’t hold up to current industry standards, looking almost like it came from the PS2 era. With Activision’s endlessly deep pockets backing this one, there’s just no excuse for visuals that are this downright lazy. Character models were re-used to the point of being ridiculous. The levels were littered with stale, generic set pieces. Light tore through textures in corners of rooms that were supposed to be entirely dark. Walkers were able to magically show through walls, sometimes leaving floating arms or half a head sticking through a barrier. It’s all so cheaply done that it becomes almost painful to look at.
And the gameplay is a chore. A major game mechanic is an execution-style knife to the head, which can only be executed from behind, forcing you to sneak up on your prey. Apparently, Daryl forgets how to use his knife effectively as soon as a zombie turns to face him, and it will take three or four slashes to take down an eater. If the show has taught us anything, it’s that penetration is everything, and not being able to take down a zombie with a single stab to the eye-socket just feels wrong.
The stage layouts are extremely linear, with very few places to explore and find supplies. Invisible barriers show up everywhere, and being unable to skirt around dangerous areas to avoid the zombie horde forced me into decisions I would never have made otherwise. For example, I often had to forego stealth altogether and just sprint past the undead toward my objective. This may have been an effective strategy, but it’s also an intensely boring one.
The saddest part about the game design is that there are some interesting features that just never become useful. When completing a level, you have a choice between paths to your next destination. There are just two choices, and the differences between them are trivial at best. Ultimately, these choices don’t matter at all, because they only affect that particular leg of the journey and have no long-term consequences. In short, it’s a deceptive structure designed to make the stages feel less linear than they actually are. And it doesn’t even work.
One thing that sounded cool to me at first was that players have the chance to break down or run out of fuel on the open road. Basically, you have three choices when starting a road trip: taking the back roads, normal streets, or the highway. If you choose the slower travel type of back roads, you have a higher fuel consumption rate but a lower chance of breaking down. Highways use less fuel with a higher chance of breaking down, and normal streets lands somewhere in the middle. This seemed like an excellent game mechanic, until I actually experienced it firsthand.
Somehow, every time you break down or run out of gas, you do so within 50 feet of a gas station or a highway campsite. These side levels are tiny, containing everything you need to move on, and they take very little effort to complete. Not to mention that they all look eerily similar.