Ever since episode three of AMC’s The Walking Dead, the lovable, if a little coarse, anti-hero Daryl Dixon has been a fan favorite With his rough southern accent, torn battered clothes, and slightly sweaty bad-boy attitude, what’s not to love? Every woman wants to be with him and every man wants to be him. Well, now’s your chance, for Activision has released The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct – your one stop shop for all that is Daryl Dixon. But, for all its zombie bashing, crossbow wielding, survivor saving, and Dixon brother based fun, game developer Activision has still managed to drop the ball with this hotly anticipated but overly disappointing Walking Dead title.
The incredible success of Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead: The Game set the bar pretty high for Activision and Terminal Reality combined. Granted, they didn’t attempt to replicate the playing experience that Telltale offered – they instead took their own path through The Walking Dead universe. Perhaps we should start with the things that they did well? Don’t worry though, this won’t take too long. Firstly, the zombies looked good. Their torn skin, various horrific, bloody injuries, and general shambolic state gave a real sense of horror to the playing experience. On occasion, they would jump out from around a corner or grab you from behind whilst you’re skulking around, assuming your relative safety. Sometimes they might gang up and form a wall of rotting corpses, slowly edging towards you like an undead conga line. The AI is relatively intelligent at times – well, as intelligent as the dead can be; though often, they will glitch out and attack doors and fences rather than going for their usual tasty treat of human flesh. But, in a game based on the horrors of a zombie apocalypse, you would assume that they could get the zombies right.
With all of these zombies roaming about the place, you would have thought that Terminal Reality would give you a hefty arsenal to help hold off those undead hordes. Well, they did a pretty good job. Weapons are common and varied, with Daryl being able to wield pretty much anything from a hunting knife to a baseball bat and shoot anything from a pistol to an assault rifle. Ammo is difficult to come by, but this gives an air of realism to the game that often goes amiss in the zombie apocalypse genre. Sparing those precious bullets is a good idea in Survival Instinct, though not just because rounds are like gold dust. The use of firearms attracts those pesky biters from around the level. They will come bursting through doors and windows, pile down corridors and alleyways – most of the time you are better of going for the quiet approach and using a melee weapon. This is a theme adopted across the entire Walking Dead universe where Rick and his rag-tag gang of survivors would prefer a knife to the head than a bullet to the brain.
Here comes Survival Instinct’s final success: the voice acting. Survival Instinct really brought in the big guns for this game, using the voices of both Dixon brothers, Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Michael Rooker (Merle), along with some other fantastic talents. The story was, at best, pointless, if a little laboured, overly simple, and pretty unnecessary. But there was a saving grace – even if the story was terrible, the voice acting of said story was fantastic. The relationship between Reedus and Rooker is as brilliant as it is in AMC’s television show, and Reedus’ portrayal of Daryl is just as good in the virtual world as it is on TV. But Reedus and Rooker could only do so much to save this game. It’s a shame that the rest of the title didn’t live up to the stellar standard that the duo set.
So, there are your reasons for playing it. Here are your reasons for avoiding it like the zombie plague. Where to begin? The graphics are, well, appalling, considering that we are just a few months away from the next, next-generation of gaming. The surroundings were repetitive and incredibly plain – it is impressive how boring and ugly Terminal Reality managed to make Georgia seem. But it appears that Georgia isn’t just plagued with zombies; it’s also plagued with graphic bugs and glitches. Zombies will occasionally become stuck in doors and fences, walls and ceilings won’t always connect up, leaving an ugly white line of nothingness between the two, and objects will sometimes float mysteriously above surfaces. Though in a world full of the living dead, who’s not open to a bit of witchcraft?
However, modern games aren’t always about how pretty they are – just take a look at Minecraft, for instance. Sometimes the storyline or gameplay is enough to keep you fixed on the screen and immerse you in their slightly ugly world. This, however, is not one of those times. The story is incredibly pointless, at best. It doesn’t really make that much sense when, at one point, Daryl even seems to be searching for a cure to the disease. Not only is this out of character for the slightly selfish and shy Daryl of season one, but it is also a confusing detour from the original task of reaching Atlanta. Yes, that’s right; here lies a disgruntled fan of The Walking Dead. Not only this, but one of the best parts of the game (the relationship between the Dixon brothers) is incredibly short-lived, with Merle appearing to both ruin and save the day in all but half an hour of gameplay. The rest of the game is spent guiding Daryl around apocalyptic Georgia in what seems like the pointless endeavor of finding other survivors who refuse to join you in your exploits, preferring to lone-ranger it around looking for either food, ammo, or fuel and leave you to the dirty, gritty zombie killing business.
On occasion, a bad storyline can be saved by various side quests, with game developers opting to throw quantity at you rather than quality. Sadly, this isn’t one of those times. Not only is the story disappointing, but it is also painfully short. It feels like half of the game is spent waiting for Daryl to get his hands on his famous crossbow – which, by the way, is one of the redeeming features of the game, as there’s nothing more satisfying than nailing a zombie in the head with a crossbow bolt. Furthermore, the game has no replay value. It was relatively fun to play at times, but not worth playing again. The collectibles won’t draw you in, and exploration was taken up mostly with looking for crossbow bolts rather than hidden gems.
Exploring could have been a saving point for the game with the title apparently being heavily focused on survival. Yet, scavenging was incredibly repetitive and often felt more like a chore than an addition to the underwhelming story. There are only four locations to scavenge, but scavenging happens more than four times. Thus, Terminal Reality decided to recycle the locations, but make them seem slightly different by placing cars in different places or having a slightly different layout to the same diner. To be perfectly honest, it was a little insulting. It felt like they assumed the player was too stupid to notice that the locations were the exact same aside from minor changes. Well, the only reason we wouldn’t notice is because we’ve already seen that diner, that alleyway, that highway, or that town on a number of occasions and, to be honest, we weren’t impressed the first time round. It’s like Terminal Reality served you a plate of cold roast dinner and, after you have returned the disappointing meal, complained about its temperature and asked for it to be reheated, they instead re-arranged the vegetables, chewed up the potatoes, and then regurgitated it on the plate before you. Then they expect you to leave a tip in the form of pre-ordering the game to get ‘Herd’ mode. This addition is a mere one level of facing off against repetitive waves of zombies. The map is small and difficult to navigate, making surviving past wave six unnecessarily complicated and relatively un-enjoyable.
That probably sums this game up pretty well, actually: ‘unnecessary’. The game wasn’t needed; Telltale had great success with their version of The Walking Dead; Activision and Terminal Reality really didn’t need to throw their two cents in here. The game was disappointing to a fan of The Walking Dead universe, and I would imagine, disappointing to those who spent their hard earned money on it. This game does have some minor redeeming features. If you are a casual gamer and you haven’t had the chance to play Telltale’s The Walking Dead: The Game, then you might not hate playing this title. If you are a massive fan of Norman Reedus or Michael Rooker, then this is probably the game for you. Otherwise, avoid this game; it could have been so much more, but instead, it has been rushed and they have inevitably settled for nothing much.
This review is based on a retail copy of the XBOX 360 version of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct by Terminal Reality distributed by Activision