I am going to review the recently released game, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. This game is very close to my heart as I am extremely fond of the T.V. Series The Walking Dead. But before you grab the pitchforks and yell “fanboy”, I will try to be as unbiased as I can. With that said let me start reviewing.
Do you want to hear the good or the bad? …
Regardless of what you just emphatically screamed at your monitor, I am going to tell you the bad first.
I should probably mention that based on the TV series, and the graphic novels, I was expecting gritty realism. Survival Instinct didn’t quite embrace the spirit of this realism. The zombies (usually referred to as walkers or biters ) quite often glitch. Although this can be amusing at times, it does somewhat ruin the survival horror atmosphere. For example, I was walking down a dimly lit back alley (no surprises there), when suddenly a zombie, hidden behind a destructible wooden fence, decides it fancies a nice slice of hillbilly pie and tears down the fence! This would have been tense and possibly scary if he hadn’t got stuck pawing at the ghost of the destroyed fence, unable to get through it. It looked like the walker was doing the undead funky chicken dance.
Another example, I was in a saw mill and a walker was standing in front of a circular saw and it didn’t get chewed up by the blades into monster mush (usually you can push zombies onto circular saws and watch them explode in a shower of gore!).
The game designers attempt to add tension to the atmosphere by positioning corpses around the levels as potential threats, where only a few of them actually animate and become a real threat. It does mean you spend a significant amount of time checking these “scenery corpses” for a reaction – which can be a bit of a time sync. Also, when you attack these scenic dead, they don’t react to physical interaction whatsoever.
In the very last cut scene there is some extremely bad lip syncing, it was like an animated Punch and Judy show, it took away from the supposed gravity of the final situation.
When you are grappled by a zombie you perform a Quick Time Event (QTE) to kill it, sounds simple enough but usually, by the time you’ve killed it, all his buddies have noticed you casually sticking your knife in Grabby Bob’s eye socket and they all want a piece of you, this tends to takes away a lot of the tension and realism away from the scenario.
When this kind of thing happens often, the zombies seem quite content letting you finish them off one by one before they tuck into their man sandwich. This makes group fights significantly easier than fighting walkers normally. Therefore it is quite strange that the zombies frequently insist on group fights.
Repetitive zombie graphics
It seems the game designers at Terminal Reality decided to only create around 20 different zombie faces and bodies, because of course no-one would notice killing the same guy 100 times every mission, this takes away from the realism due to the fact that no two people look the same. On the other hand, they could all just be twins. If this is the case, then for the sake of realism I’ll just pretend their parents got sick of playing chess all weekend and ran out of other ways to kill time (If you get what I am saying).
Hide and seek with crossbow bolts
One criticism of the crossbow is that if you miss a target you fired at, you can quite often end up playing the ‘find the crossbow bolt in a dark grey area’ mini-game. This becomes very irritating, as it is vital to your survival to have a plentiful supply of crossbow bolts. You shouldn’t have to feel like you have lost someone close to you every time a bolt goes missing.
Also, if you go for a head shot (which is the only way to kill them in one shot) and miss, it can be quite difficult to recover it as it may have gone out of reach, or through an invisible wall that Daryl cannot get to.
In Survival Instinct the path you can take through a level is very linear, giving you very little freedom to do what you want. You can almost hear Terminal Reality saying “you play it my way, or you don’t play it at all”. The area you play in is always quite compact, even when the map promises a vast landscape to travel through.
In Survival Instinct there is only one type of zombie, this makes combat quite a repetitive process (although sometimes still heart pound-ingly exciting). When Terminal Reality decided they’d like to make a more difficult level, they just added more zombies because that is the only thing that would give more challenging gameplay.
If you’re looking for a well crafted, genius storyline you may be disappointed as Survival Instinct just does not deliver on this front (Personally I believe that the story is the driving aspect of the game, which is why this a bad point). Well, that isn’t exactly true, Daryl does supply you with reasons as to why he fancies a road trip across Georgia. But, these reasons tend to be completely inconsequential.
For example, Daryl decides he needs to risk his hide in a zombie infested hospital/city (depending on which route you take) to fetch his brother (Merle) some medicine. “Medicine” you say. “Dear god what disease has this poor, unlike-able redneck got” you say. Well I shall tell you that this man has sun stroke!!!
Wait a darn second, Daryl mate, I don’t think anyone’s ever died of sun stroke. Maybe I am not telling the complete truth here as he had gone crazy from lack of human contact, presumably. (It never says what exactly is wrong with him!)
As well as poor plot, there were threads of plot that never got tied up, that was a little disappointing as they could have actually done something with them to coax the story out a bit more.
One mission I couldn’t decipher
On one mission, I had to collect boxes of fireworks from alleys and rooftops to blow up a church (don’t ask). After I had collected all but one of the strangely placed boxes of fireworks, I realised I hadn’t got a clue where it was. I had searched the whole area. After a another couple of hours wasted searching for it, killing re-spawning zombies and consuming precious health boosting sports drinks, I gave up and consulted my good friend Gamefaqs.com. The elusive final box was out the window of a second story house, along the top of a bus, across a ladder leaning up against a window. Sounds easy enough doesn’t it? In my opinion, if a player has to give up and consult gamefaqs, the objective is too well hidden. Either that or I was having an off day.
Before I acquired the crossbow, I needed every single consumable I could get my hands on, to regenerate health. Due to the fact that you have to creep about stabbing zombies in the back, you often get into fights with one or two lone zombies, (it’s strange how I often found two zombies were more challenging than 20!). Fighting more than one zombie at a time is challenging with the hunting knife as it takes three whole power attacks to the head just to take down one of them. But the minute I had acquired the crossbow I suddenly had mountains of food that I rarely needed as Daryl regenerates health after every mission. Towards the end of the game, I had enough food to open up my own hillbilly restaurant.
Characters not involved
Throughout the course of the game you can acquire survivors that will travel with you. Oh great you may think, but alas the only use they have is fetching you meagre amounts of supplies, while you go questing. As well as holding the weapons you want to keep, but can’t be bothered with, essentially taking the role of your personal pack mule. It would be nice to have seen them integrated into the gameplay a bit more.
The last mission and end of the game
I know what you’re thinking, is the game really worth playing if you have a sub title dedicated to how bad it was? Well I think it still probably is. One thing about the ending, that was a bug bear clawing at my brain, is that you are not allowed to access any supplies (Weapons, consumables etc.)
or survivors in the last mission. Although as a concept this is clever, more realistic and mega tons more challenging, it still annoyed me, due to the fact I had a grenade stashed away in the car for just the occasion.
But, the most diabolical, goading aspect of the end game is by far the final achievement “you’re not doing it right”.
It was my understanding that achievements are in place to give the player a feeling of accomplishment, not infuriate them. You receive this achievement once you have died 13 times in the whole game. The reason it is in this section of my review and the reason I hate it with so much vigour, is because I received this achievement in the last mission after dying five times in a row.
Perhaps if I had received this achievement at some other point in the game it wouldn’t have frustrated me so. So, Picture this moment with me. You have been playing this game to chill out for a few hours in the afternoon. You have just died four times in a row and are completely enraged. You die again and the game gloats about how bad you are and how you can’t play the game properly! No game ending satisfaction to fall back on.
It was the first time in a long time that I have felt so angry and shamed. I am telling you, I was a Katana away from committing Seppuku!
So enough with the bad lets look at the things I actually enjoyed about the game.
One thing that really impressed me about Survival Instinct, was the tense survival atmosphere. This was largely down to the rarity of finding supplies, as well as sneaking through the dark brandishing a knife that longed to be bedded inside a zombie’s head. The atmosphere created a tense feeling of unease as you crept through bloodied corridors. The tension created was almost palpable and you felt like you were the star of the TV show.
I couldn’t live with myself, if I didn’t tell you all about the wondrous character of Daryl Dixon. The first thing you should know about Daryl is he is an ass kicking machine. Second he is a layered, more complicated character. I personally like complex character design, as I feel it makes empathising with them a lot easier, when they show more than one solitary emotion.
For example, Daryl being a hunter, is a very violent person, but has a softer, caring side to him (Although I am not sure you see this side to Daryl within the game). As well as an undying loyalty to his antagonistic older brother Merle, who essentially would win ‘ass of the year’ trophy at least five times in a row.
Generally I feel no reason to save a character (besides completing the game), because to be Frank I couldn’t care less about them, but as I mentioned just moments ago I care about the character of Daryl, and actually enjoy playing as him in particular, largely down to him being my favourite character in the T.V series I suppose.
Crossbow mechanics and physics
Although I stated earlier that Survival Instinct shows no realism, there are a few specific exceptions to that statement. The crossbow mechanics and physics are very impressive and act like a crossbow would in real life. When a bolt is fired from Daryl’s crossbow, it has a time delay before hitting the target. This makes zombie hunting extra fun and realistic, as you have to lead your target.
Another realistic aspect of the game is the limited capacity of Daryl and his vehicle. This provided a welcome change from games where protagonists can store a couple of rocket launcher’s between their buttocks.
The music throughout the game, generates a very tense atmosphere. But the game developers occasionally stopped playing the music, in favour of complete silence. Which made the dark, dead infested corridors so much more eerie, as well as making you feel so much more alone.
Although I previously stated that the zombie graphics were repetitive, it doesn’t mean they aren’t good. The zombie graphics were very sharp and helped build the tension and immerse the player in the game. The zombies portrayed the definition of hunger and looked reminiscent of me the last time I tried fasting.
Obvious where next objective is
Due to the linear gameplay, it is quite obvious where you have to go (I put emphasis on the word have because there are some places in the towns that you can loot, that are not necessary for completing the game).
Survival Instinct is able to boast a range of destructible scenery, like wooden fences that zombies can stand behind, awaiting your arrival. The destructible scenery, adds an element of the unknown, which us humans find so scary. The destructible scenery is relatively easy to detect due to the fact that wooden fences are the only type of destructible scenery, but this does not take away from the tension built. The destructible scenery also builds tension this is good because it puts you on edge at all times .Tension is created because you don’t know if there’ll be a zombie behind it waiting to pounce. Like the one behind you right now!
Finally, possibly the best thing about Survival Instinct is the immersion you feel when playing this game. Once I’d picked up the controller, I was no longer a teenage boy playing on the Xbox, I was Daryl Dixon “bad-ass extraordinaire”, hunting zombies in a dark, gloomy hospital with a crossbow. You get sucked into the game to the degree that when you see a zombie, your heart beats double speed. Survival Instinct draws you in like a moth to a light, and doesn’t let you go ’til you’ve sat through the whole game.
The ugly… I mean conclusion
When you first start playing Survival Instinct, you get a feeling it was a fanboy creation, made to capitalise on a license currently in the public’s consciousness.. But I strongly believe Survival Instinct should be credited as it’s own title, not a scheme to squeeze extra cash out of gullible consumers.
Despite all the games short comings, I still liked the game and am currently playing it again and will play it in the future. The fact that I’ve said I will play it again is a big deal, because those who know me will get that I generally will not play a game twice. Maybe the relics had a hand in this or the promise of alternate paths (Relics are basically unlock able cheat codes that become open to you after you’ve completed the game).
In summary, Survival Instinct is not a bad game, as many critics have been saying, it is more a good game prospect that wasn’t quite finished, long enough or polished.
But that’s just me.