The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct – video game review

Publisher: Activision

Platforms: PC, PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360

By Brian M. Sammons

If you’re a rabid fan of The Walking Dead, if you love the TV show, have all the comic books memorized, have TWD t-shirts and hats and maybe have the “make me look like a zombie” app for your smart phone, and you live and breathe all things zombie, you still do not want to play this game. For everyone else, just stop reading right now. This game is horrible, don’t waste your time on it. If you’re looking for a good The Walking Dead video game, check out the one made by Telltale Games. That one is very good and was my game of the year last year. This new one by Activision is a cheap, crude, buggy, and unimaginative cash grab looking to exploit the TV show’s massive popularity and take advantage of zombie fans. Since I consider myself a fan of the shuffling dead, I’m not cool with that, so the rest of this review is for them. Their all-consuming love for all things zombie may convince them that this game couldn’t be as bad as they might have heard, that it might be worth it to pick up if only for some cheap undead fun. Nothing could be further from the truth. So if you even have the slightest inclination of buying this game, keep on reading, and hopefully I can save you a couple of bucks.

The game starts off with a good idea. Take the breakout character from the TV show, the crossbow shooting redneck everyone loves, Daryl, and explore his backstory and his relationship with his big, bad brother, Merle. They even got the actors from the show, Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker, to voice their characters in this game. And how cool would it be for two badass bicker bros to travel across the land, kicking zombie butt? Yeah, too bad you don’t do that here. For some inane reason (could it be a rush to get this license game out the door as quickly as possible?) what seems like a no-brainer and golden opportunity for some fun co-op play is not utilized at all. Yes, this game is thoroughly and completely single player. What? Why?

Strike one.

This is game also remarkably dull and repetitive. While surviving a zombie apocalypse can make for good movies, books, and television, smacking the same shuffling corpses in the head for hours gets old really fast. That’s why other games that have zombies in them have “special” undead to add some much needed flavor and variety. They’ll have fast zombies, slow but tough as hell zombies, zombies that spit acid, zombies that blow up, zombies that call other zombies, and so on and so forth. While that variety may be upsetting to some zombie purists out there, in a game you need that diversity to lived things up. This game has none of that going for it.

Strike two.

Now if you wanted to do a “realistic” and traditional zombie game, that could be achieved if you have compelling characters and focused on the daily struggle to survive. Running out of food, needing to get medicine, or dealing with a total jerk in the party are all situations ripe to add variety and drama to the game. Sadly, Survival Instinct does none of this. Oh sure, you can find, save, and recruit a few NPCs (non-player characters) in this game, but they have the personality of cardboard and they never really adventure with you, so you never get to know them. They just sort of hang around in between your main missions that you must play solo. You can send them out to scavenge for supplies (you know, survival stuff!) while you do more important things, but that all happens off screen (yawn) and more often than not, they either come back empty handed, die, or return so beat up that it takes more supplies to heal them than the stale cupcake and one half can of gasoline they brought back was worth.

Strike three.

The AI (Artificial Intelligence) of your life impaired opponents in this game is just laughable. Sure, zombies are never meant to be the sharpest knives in the drawer, but this is ridiculous. Zombies run into walls, walk in place, don’t see you if you’re more than three feet away, get stuck on the slightest obstacle, or you can lose and confuse them by moving ten feet away or by jumping over a small obstruction like a table or a sawhorse. The whole thing starts getting rather comical after a while. Or sad. Or anything other than thrilling, exciting, or scary.

Strike…four?

The graphics look to be last generation and that’s being kind. The landscapes are dull as dishwater. The first person shooter controls and interface are serviceable at best. And for the icing on the cake, the whole sorry game can be complete in five to six hours, max. At least developers or the marketers realized how little they were offering the players here, and so decided to price this Grade-C game ten bucks less than the usual new game price. But even if it was half the regular price it would still be too much for what you get here.

Strike five! You’re out!

Now the game does try to do one thing right. Taking a cue from the source material, gunning down zombies is not the main focus of this game. Well, not until the abrupt and totally unsatisfying ending. In Survival Instinct it’s all about avoiding the hungry dead when you can, taking them out quietly and individually if possible, and engaging in hand to hand combat when you must. That’s a nice change of things from the normal zombie game play and it works here, more or less. However the grapple mechanic is repeated over and over and over and them some more on top of that, so even that gets old really fast.

So Need I say it? Oh wait, I already did at the start of this thing, but I guess I’ll do it again here: do not waste your time or money on this one. It’s bad, bad, oh so disappointedly bad. Even if you are a diehard zombie fan, give this one a pass because playing it might just get you to start hating zombies and no one wants that. Final rating: The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct gets a big time pass.      

About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has penned stories that have appeared in the anthologies: Arkham Tales, Horrors Beyond, Monstrous, Dead but Dreaming 2, Horror for the Holidays, Deepest, Darkest Eden and others. He has edited the books; Cthulhu Unbound 3, Undead & Unbound, Eldritch Chrome, Edge of Sundown, Steampunk Cthulhu, Dark Rites of Cthulhu, Atomic Age Cthulhu, World War Cthulhu and Flesh Like Smoke. He is also the managing editor of Dark Regions Press’ Weird Fiction line. For more about this guy that neighbors describe as “such a nice, quiet man” you can check out his infrequently updated webpage here: http://brian_sammons.webs.com/ and follow him on Twitter @BrianMSammons.

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