There are two different videogames based on The Walking Dead, both are based on the same franchise but inhabit two completely separate universes and different genres. The first was the critically acclaimed episodic title The Walking Dead released by Telltale Games with a deep story and emphasis on characters and the struggles of humanity in a Walker filled world. The second is The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, a First-person shooter released by Activision and based on the popular AMC Studios television; The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instincts follows the Dixon brothers Daryl and Merle, with players taking control of one of the TV shows most popular character; Daryl. The events of the game are a prequel and show the events leading up to the Dixons meeting up with their fellow survivors in Atlanta. The purpose of the game is to give a richer origins story for the Dixons, leading up to their introduction in the TV show.
You’re thrown straight into the action head first, with no story, no narrative or cut-scene to introduce you into the action. The tutorial level ends with you being overrun by the Walkers, bitten and left dying. It turns out that you have been controlling the Dixons father. Daryl, unable to bring himself to kill him and overcome with emotion, lets his uncle finish the job. The game wants you to have an emotional reaction to the death of their father, only for it to play out with zero impact. You feel no connection to his death as this is the first and last time he is referenced.
After this sharp introduction you travel to various areas, both unique story driven locations as well as a handful of repeating localities, which offer little other than procuring extra supplies and meeting the occasional survivor. Your route and the method of travel to any specific destination is entirely your choice but when you come to unique locations but the story beats stay the same throughout.
On the way to your next destination you can travel via back roads, streets and highways, all with different advantages and disadvantages. Fuel consumption for the numerous vehicles you can acquire plays a factor when travelling so you have to find and acquire more fuel within the various environments that you come across. You can take fellow survivors along for the ride as well, in which you can assign them weapons and send out to scavenge for fuel, food and ammo which proves to be a fruitless task, as all of these things are in abundance within the locations, meaning using fellow survivors tends to be completely pointless.
Throughout the 6-7 hour story there are a few different weapons to dispatch your shambling foes with. Both melee weapons and guns are at your disposal, all with differing attributes from hammers, hunting knifes, to heavy sledgehammers that can kill in one blow, to the more traditional long distance weapons, handguns, rifles, grenades, and finally the crossbow – which fans of the TV Show will know as the staple of Daryls zombie killing diet. The crossbow, being a silent weapon happens to be the best long distance weapon of the game as all of the other guns draw in enemies out of nowhere from the sounds of the gun shots.
Melee weapons prove to be the best way to kill your enemies. Unfortunately this can get quite tedious over time and when faced with an enemy you can just stand there pressing the right trigger three or four times until the enemy drops dead. Rinse and repeat as this is the basis for the melee combat in the game. If you approach a zombie from behind you can kill them with a single stealth blow to the head with Daryls hunting knife. The power of the stealth kill and the crossbow make it plainly obvious that the game wants you to take a slow, stealthy approach through the levels. This is better helped with the distractions you can use from flares to glass bottles.
Enemy behaviour can be questionable at times whereby enemies will be staring directly at you but not engage you at all. At times they can be relentless and chase you into a blocked off corridor or into a group of walkers grouping up to attack you which can be terrifying at times.
When an enemy grabs you, you have to try and centre a moving reticule over their face and press the right trigger to stab and kill them with your hunting knife. Ironically, this proves to be one of the easiest ways to overcome a group of enemies, letting them grab you one after another and kill them without losing too much of your health. Considering that in other zombie games, when overcome by a zombie horde you’re quickly killed in what proves to be an overwhelming and frightening experience, whereas in Survival Instincts it proves to be the most effective way to kill a group of enemies without really breaking a sweat.
On top of its basic combat and lacklustre story is the fact that the game is just plain ugly, with visuals reminiscent of early Xbox 360 release titles. There are about 5-6 different looks to the zombies faces which proves to be comical when you see 4 of the same zombie shambling towards you with little to no differentiation between their clothing. Environments are bland and literally start to repeat over time. Throughout a single play-through of the game I came across the same parking lot section three times and a street section twice, with the exact same layout and item locations. At one point I entered a level that I had encountered before only this time with no enemies at all. This didn’t feel intentional at all as every other location before and after that was littered with walkers.
Despite all of this though, on rare occasions the game can be atmospheric and legitimately made me jump. Going through a level under cover of darkness can prove to be terrifying as you sneak around the environment searching for items or to get to specific destination only for a zombie to attack or grab you without seeing them. These moments however, don’t make up for the rest of the mediocre action in the game.
Although the The Walking Dead TV series is a gripping story about mankind’s survival in a zombie apocalypse, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is anything but that. Sure it’s nice to have the voice talents of Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker reprising their roles for their digital counterparts, but there is little to no character development, no real story to speak of, with the focus being more on the action than developing an interesting narrative. At times though the game has its moments and although AI can be spotty it can be quite entertaining.
Overall, Walking Dead: Survival Instincts is meant to be an easy cash grab for fans of the TV show and that’s clear to see. It has the feel of a budget title with a £35 price-tag. The Walking Dead: Survival Instincts had the opportunity to be a great, story driven adventure but unfortunately is more of a shambling mess of a game than the crossbow wielding badass it could and should have been.
MLG Rating: 5/10 Format: Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 / PC Release Date: 22/03/2013
Disclosure: Community Member Foxhounder01 purchased a copy of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. The title was reviewed over the course of 1 week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.