Before the initial release of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct – a first-person action survival game based on the insanely popular AMC television series, early warning signs continuously sprung up in the form of scarce gameplay trailers, last-gen-looking screenshots, and limited advertising before snowballing into dangerous territory via the absence of early review copies. Regardless of frightening pre-launch occurrences, we desperately wanted to see Daryl and Merle’s walker-plagued journey through to its end in hopes of obtaining critical information pertaining to the development of each of their respective characters. However, the story we received instead was far more discouraging than we could have previously predicted.
Developer: Terminal Reality
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U
Release Date: March 19th, 2013
Start the Apocalypse
Perhaps The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct’s greatest downfall in terms of telling the anxiously awaited tale of the Dixon brothers’ trek through a zombified Georgia may be the lack of story actually supporting the game’s 5 to 6 hour campaign. After a brief time playing as papa Dixon, you receive the welcome opportunity to assume the role of crossbow-wielding hillbilly, Daryl Dixon (one of the fan-favorite characters designed specifically for the television series) during the initial start of the devastating zombie apocalypse. In search of his arrogant sibling, Merle during the first act of the game and later, pursuing some sort of escape from the walker-infested countryside of Georgia, Daryl must reach the presumed safety of Atlanta in hopes of surviving the undead plague.
…The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct’s greatest downfall…may be the lack of story actually supporting the game’s 5 to 6 hour campaign.
However, instead of diving deep into the personalities of Daryl and the unfavorable Merle, highlighting an intriguing storyline set within their undead-filled journey or even detailing any sort of enthralling event surrounding their unfortunate circumstances, Terminal Reality’s horrific narrative loosely strings together a boring chore list filled with seemingly limitless fetch quests in hopes of lengthening a story that could have been properly told in mere minutes. Assuming you already know all about the Dixon brothers’ exploits, hardships and struggles every step of the way, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct fails to properly provide any sort of meaningful details or depth surrounding our favorite backwoods characters’ and their prequel-based tale of survival.
Daryl “the Errand Boy” Dixon
Aside from the aforementioned fetch quest-style story missions, most of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct’s campaign is filled with good ideas that fail to develop into anything more than tacked-on experiences. For instance, the implementation of mid-mission travel map segments was a thoughtful concept that grants you the opportunity to select a specific route and one of three methods in which to reach your destination – ranging from the fuel burning, high scavenging, low breakdown option provided by back roads to the completely opposite highway alternative. However, thanks to the inevitable occurrence of a breakdown or empty fuel tank-related situation, we oftentimes found ourselves forced to complete repetitive “grab n’ go” tasks that revolved around acquiring items such as coolant, tires and fuel within tiny, sometimes recycled levels resembling truck stops, street alleyways, vehicle-filled parking lots and other fairly bland environments. Ultimately, what may have served as a relatively favorable feature on paper ended up only incorporating a noticeable amount of padding and dullness to the campaign in practice.
In order to avoid these tiresome nuisances for as long as humanly possible (at least the gasoline-related breakdowns), you must obtain enough fuel during the course of each story-based mission to successfully reach your next location. Tying directly into The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct’s integrated resource management system, fuel and other precious necessities – such as food and ammunition – are significantly limited during the entire campaign, and must be horded and utilized only when necessary in order to survive.
Considering the need for these valuable resources, the ability to have survivors join your ranks and help search for these useful supplies with you should have been a welcome feature to the overall experience. Usually accompanying you after you have completed some sort of optional side mission for them (and provided you have the room in your current vehicle), each survivor that joins you on your apocalyptic journey presents their own set of traits that can affect the risk level of the group.
…the ability to have survivors join your ranks and help search for these useful supplies with you should have been a welcome feature to the overall experience.
While making sure that level remains relatively low, viewing each specific survivor’s weapon preference, condition level and personal traits, and then properly preparing them for their player-assigned tasks, keeps these seemingly invaluable companions from meeting their untimely demise. In retrospect, equipping and sending out allies to acquire useful resources while you continue to progress lone wolf-style through the story-driven campaign should have been a helpful concept. However, the fact that these survivors never speak nor offer even the slightest signs of personality beyond your initial introduction with them made their dismissals and occasional deaths meaningless affairs. Worst yet, we oftentimes found ourselves actually devoting more resources (usually from our food supply) to these survivors than we received back, causing us to forget about the process altogether at times and resort to collecting all the supplies we needed ourselves. Ultimately, this wouldn’t have been considered such a problem if Terminal Reality had polished up the flawed combat system.
Remove the Head, Destroy the Brain
Staying true to the The Walking Dead universe, walkers can only be eliminated by inflicting significant trauma to their brains via blunt force, a well-placed bullet or any other form of skull annihilation. Thankfully, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct provides you with a decent variety of weapons to successfully perform this gruesome task, allowing Daryl to wield anything from hunting knives and hammers to shotguns, assault rifles and even his iconic crossbow (which became our one-stop weapon of choice during the second half of the game). Since ammunition is fairly scarce and firearms only further attract hordes of bothersome biters, combat relies on a more realistic, melee-based approach that focuses on defeating one or two zombies at a time.
Instead of presenting the sort of satisfying dismemberment and intense, close-quarters fights seen in titles like Dead Island, however, Terminal Reality’s take on skewering, bashing and stabbing rotten skulls manages to be a boring and tedious affair. Walkers will literally allow you to strike or bludgeon their faces in without making so much as an effort to stop you while other times, when they do make a conscience attempt to fight back, attack so slowly you’ll think you’ve engaged Max Payne’s Bullet Time mode.
More annoying yet, grappling with an entire horde (and yes, due to specific moments in the campaign, it’s inevitable) dives you into a slapped together minigame that has you frustratingly playing some kind of disorientated form of “impale the zombie”. While up-close-and-personal with your horrendously textured enemy, you must position a juddering reticule on their decomposing face and tap a certain execution button in order to eliminate your zombified foe. Serving as perhaps the most aggravating addition to The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, walkers will oftentimes line-up and continuously grapple you in order to engage this horrific minigame from hell unless, of course, you perfectly time a shove to knock them off balance.
…Terminal Reality’s take on skewering, bashing and stabbing rotten skulls manages to be a boring and tedious affair.
It can also be noted that one of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct’s main draws – the fact that the undead can see, smell and hear you coming – may have been integrated in order to warrant the use of stealth over unrestricted gunplay, however, it is severely inconsistent and poorly implemented within the walkers’ behavioral AI. Oftentimes, walkers yards off in the distance would smell us coming, turn around, and stagger towards us before those that were three feet in front of us even moved, seemingly staring at us the entire time in wonderment. Even worse, those mulching down on fresh corpses consistently were unaware of our existence, even while we stood inches from their rotting body in an attempt to perform an instant, one-button execution.
An Undead Nightmare
Despite all other shortcomings, it’s the dreadful visuals and abundance of graphical issues introduced during the entire tiresome experience that significantly help The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct fall under the distinct category of “utter disappointment”. With next-generation consoles on the horizon and current systems reaching the peak of their full potential, it’s quite astonishingly just how ugly and bland Terminal Reality made the southern state of Georgia look.
…the dreadful visuals and abundance of graphical issues…help The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct fall under the distinct category of “utter disappointment”.
The dull, uninspired level layouts offered during the course of the campaign exhibit nothing close to visually pleasing locales, and the obnoxiously noticeable “copy and pasting” of environments such as deserted truck stops and abandoned stores will undoubtedly leave a bitter taste in the back of your mouth hours after the credits roll. Better yet, the zombie (character) models themselves present some of the most repulsive, undetailed textures we have had the misfortune of viewing in a long, long time, and showcased the same recycling issues as the game’s dreadful settings themselves. Adding insult to injury, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct also contains a wealth of bugs and glitches – including everything from enemy clipping issues to mysteriously floating objects – that unforgivingly strip away any remnants of immersion you may still have left.
Unfortunately, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct undeniably fails to deviate itself (aside from a few poorly implemented good ideas) from countless other generic, undead-slaying titles and instead, demonstrates the sort of unpolished, bargain bin-worthy material seemingly commonplace for cash-grabbing licensed games. While we didn’t necessarily expect Terminal Reality to reproduce the same drama and emotion-fueled template utilized by Telltale Games’ magnificent, episodic adventure, the poor quality, lack of story and horrendous presentation displayed throughout the entirety of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct’s more action-orientated approach proposed more of a disastrous train wreck than we could have ever prepared ourselves for.
BOG’s The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Review Score
|4.0||Why so high?
Excellent voice work from Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker, travel map and survivor management system show potential, wielding Daryl’s crossbow is satisfying
|Why so low?
Pointless story, lackluster secondary characters, tedious combat system, subpar visuals, recycled enemy models and environments
For review purposes, we utilized an Xbox 360 copy of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct.