The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Xbox 360 Review
Publisher: Activision Developer: Terminal Reality Genre: Stealth, Horror, First-person Players: 1
Age Rating: 18+ Other console/handheld formats: PS3, Wii U
Telltale Games’ Walking Dead games capture everything that a game of The Walking Dead should. The games have their action scenes, but they also have dramatic scenes and memorable characters. Activision’s Walking Dead game, in comparison, has a very shallow story and is played from a first person perspective, but that’s not to say that it completely fails to capture everything that makes The Walking Dead what it is.
The Walking Dead games from Telltale Games are based on the graphic novel in which the TV series was born from, but The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is based on the TV show, which means it makes use of some of the actors from that very show, borrowing both their faces and voices. Brothers Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker) are the stars, with Daryl being the only controllable character of the two. There’s a lack of drama in the story though, and all the characters are poorly written, which means that you’d have to be very easily drawn in to feel any connection to any of these virtual people. Even the brothers from the TV show have little to work with, and, being that this is a prequel story, it really is a missed opportunity with how shallow and uninteresting the storytelling is.
The game itself does fare slightly better, and it’s here where more of The Walking Dead is captured. Activision could have gone down the easy route and asked developer Terminal Reality to churn out an FPS that was basically Call of Duty with zombies (or Walkers, as the characters in The Walking Dead prefer to call them), but they haven’t actually done that. What we have in the end is a game that is played from a first person view, although it’s not simply an FPS at its core.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct does include guns, although you are discouraged from being too trigger happy, as the noise attracts the Walkers and ammo supplies are hardly up there with that of an army. With this said, playing more stealthily and using firearms more strategically is the best bet, and staying clear of the Walkers, or sneaking up behind them and stabbing them in the head with a knife, is the kind of course that the game wants you to take, or that’s how it first appears at the very least.
It’s a shame then that the AI is so poor. True, zombies are rarely an intelligent bunch, but the flesh eaters here don’t feel dangerous enough, and there are moments in which they should be able to see or hear you sneaking around, but they continue ambling about as if they have grown tired of eating all that living flesh. Walkers are also able to grab you, but they’ll only do this one at a time which, bizarrely, results in a group of them looking as if they are politely queuing up as opposed to attacking as an undead army. Limited animations certainly don’t help things, and seeing the same animations after striking a Walker down leads to a feeling of repetitiveness. There’s even a bug in the game in which armless Walkers are able to grab hold of you, which is amusing but embarrassingly bad for Activision and Terminal Reality at the same time, to have overlooked such an obvious error.
There’s a decent variety of weapons in the game, with a number of firearms and melee weapons. Blowing or knocking heads off zombies’ shoulders with the blast of a shotgun or the mighty swing of an axe is satisfying, and, as is the case with most zombie films and TV shows, it is the heads of the zombies that you need to attack, otherwise they just keep coming at you in a bid to rip all the flesh off your bones. But everything just feels so cheap and rushed, and such a famous and much loved licence should be treated with a lot more love and respect.
Along with a lack of ammo supplies and having to manage your inventory, at least Terminal Reality have also added in some other survival elements. As you move between levels, a vehicle automatically takes you to your destination, which requires petrol, and if you run out of petrol before you reach said destination, you then have to stop off somewhere on the way and find enough petrol cans in order to continue your journey. It’s a good idea on paper and one that is welcome, although it can feel a bit repetitive in the way that certain areas that you are forced to stop at look like some of the other areas you were forced to stop at, breaking the illusion of supposedly being on a journey. You can also choose the route to take; for example, choosing the highway option uses less petrol, but then there’s less chance of finding an area to drop off at to search for extra supplies, and there is also a higher chance of you breaking down on the way, forcing you to then go out and hunt for a conveniently placed vehicle part. It’s a good idea, but like the majority of the game, it just feels rushed and as if it would have benefitted from more development time.
Another survival element is the survivors that you come across in the game. You can only take the same amount of survivors in which you have seats in your current vehicle, which means that you have to be cruel and cast some survivors aside. There is absolutely nothing to the personalities of these characters though, and your decisions will only ever be based on how they compare to each other in their efficiency and how they impact on the survival rate, which is disappointing. The Walking Dead puts emphasis on characterisation, so the writers of the story here have completely missed the mark, with characters that have as much charisma as a shop window display dummy. Between levels, you are able to send out these bland dummies to find supplies for you, but, oddly enough, you can’t take any of them with you to help you kill Walkers.
Like the characters, the level design is very boring, and it seems that very little effort was put into it; it just feels completely empty and soulless. The visuals are also dull and boring, and you can certainly tell that the game was made on a tight budget.
In fact, the entire game just feels empty, soulless and cheap, which means that, while there’s some good ideas here and a modicum of fun to be had, everything sits in the shadow of a mediocre game that tries to be The Walking Dead in some ways, but fails in the areas that matter most.