Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct (Review)

    The Walking Dead franchise seems to be made out of gold. From the highly popular comic books to the AMC series and the recent adventure game by Telltale, Robert Kirkman’s version of the ‘zombie apocalypse’ has had success written all over it. Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is the newest gaming installment of the series, and this time it comes in the form of an action/FPS game, which initially might seem even more fitting of the franchise than a classic adventure game with minimal action.

    Of course comparing Survival Instinct with Telltale’s earlier Walking Dead game would be unfair on a number of different levels; Survival Instinct is a first-person-shooter, developed by a different studio, and where Telltale’s game followed the comic book canon, Survival Instinct is directly connected to the AMC series’ storyline.

    The game serves as some sort of prequel to the series so people who haven’t watched every season, or who are not familiar with the series at all, will not have any problem playing it. Of course, if you’ve never watched the series you will have little familiarity with the two starring characters, and you won’t be able to understand the importance of certain things that happen in the game. On the other hand, not many important things actually happen in the game anyway, so you will not be missing on much in any case.

    On the plus side, the game follows the storyline of the fan favorite hillbilly character Daryl Dixon, and his not so popular brother Merle. Perhaps the biggest highlight of the game is the inclusion of Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker, who do an excellent job in reprising their roles from the series. Unfortunately, this is where the good things about Survival Instinct end. The game suffers from the unavoidable curse of every prequel; as we know the characters from the TV series, there is little to no suspense about what’s going to happen to them in the end. And true to that, not much happens during the game’s events anyhow.

    The title throws you right into the action, providing an extremely short tutorial which explains the basics of the game’s controls. The tutorial is also supposed to serve as some kind of backstory with a twist at the end, which fails to deliver the desired dramatic effect, mainly because it comes way too soon, and it involves a character we never actually get to see. From then on things continue to remain simple, as there is not much of a plot to keep the game going. Daryl trying to survive the outbreak travels from place to place, doing some mandatory tasks, meeting a few people and collecting items. Unfortunately the opportunity to explore the relationship between the two brothers is lost, as Merle basically serves as a supporting character and not nearly enough dialogue takes place to justify the inclusion of the two main actors from the TV cast.

    The title’s gameplay also rivals its storyline in simplicity. It follows the basic FPS mechanics as Daryl can crouch, use a variety of melee weapons and firearms, and sneak behind the walkers, finishing them off without much hassle. Following the Walking Dead universe’s ‘rule’, the player will find it preferable to use a melee attack, as firing a gun will draw the attention of the walkers. Much like in the series and the comics, Survival Instinct suggests that it is better to hide, sneak and attack than go into a full-on killing spree. Of course ‘suggests’ is the key word here, as the title never forces you to follow that strategy. Daryl can run, jump, slide and glide between enemies, easily avoiding them, so strategic planning is something you can almost completely avoid if you don’t feel like doing it. Even if attacked and cornered by a number of walkers, you can still make it out alive by delivering some easily executed knife attacks.

    As it is extremely forgiving of almost any battle screw-up, Survival Instinct fails to deliver the feelings of agony and despair that the Walking Dead franchise is so well known for. Even though there are numerous firearms and weapons to be collected, including Daryl’s famous crossbow, very few of them feel satisfying to use. Additionally, the game’s quest system seems to follow a single pattern. Even though there many characters to meet during the game, and the idea of equipping them and sending them do certain tasks is rather clever, its execution is poor to say the least.

    Moreover, when Daryl has to travel by car to a different area, we are given the option of using the highway, a back road, or a regular road to get there. This supposedly affects how many stops you will have to make, or how many supplies you are going to stumble upon, but in the end there is not much difference between the three options. The game’s scavenging system, forcing you to collect fuel, ammo and supplies from several locations, is not bad as an idea; in fact it could have made the title more interesting and challenging. Unfortunately once again the idea is not very well executed. While supplies are not scarce, you get very limited storing space. Daryl can only carry a handful of items so you’ll be finding yourself worrying about running out of ammo not because there isn’t enough of it, but because you can only carry a limited amount. The hunting knife, which serves as Daryl’s main weapon cannot be unequipped, even when more efficient weapons are unlocked.

    When it comes to the atmosphere, Survival Instinct is plain mediocre to say the least. The game locations are large enough but the graphics seem rather dated and lacking in any sort of detail. Most of the places we get to visit look more or less the same, making the title feel rather dull. Unfortunately the same can be said about the characters we meet. Besides Daryl and Merle, you come by several different people who either need rescuing or have something to offer if you feel like performing an optional quest for them. The game also gives the player the false sense of choice by allowing you to equip the secondary characters, send them on missions to retrieve supplies, or chose to leave them behind to face certain death. Of course as these characters are not the least bit developed, you never come to care about them enough. Furthermore, whatever the player chooses to do, it has little to no impact to the game’s main story.

    Even though Survival Instinct’s battle system does not suffer from any major glitches or bugs, it feels rather rushed and uninspired. Although the Walking Dead universe is not ideal for a zombie slasher title, the game would have been forgiven for taking that route, if only the battle didn’t feel so unsatisfying. Evidently the name of a super-popular franchise and the inclusion of two very talented actors are not enough to make a game enjoyable. Survival Instinct had many good ideas but sadly all of them fall short. There is very little plot to get the game going, and putting it simple, even though it’s not in any way broken, the title is not very entertaining or rewarding. It would be hard to recommend Survival Instinct even to big fans of the series, as it does not add much to the overall canon. If you are a fan of Daryl (or Merle for that matter), or if you are curious to find out how the two brothers begun their journey, then give the title a try when its price drops significantly.

Overall: 51/100

Originally written for New Game Network

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