Telltale Games’ episodic Walking Dead series was one of my favorite titles of 2012, so the idea of playing a first person shooter based on my favorite redneck brothers from the AMC TV series enticed me. Unfortunately, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is so poorly executed that it’s difficult to appreciate some of the interesting features introduced in the gameplay. This is the perfect example of license whoring at it’s finest.
Acting as a prequel to the television series, you are placed in the shoes of bada** Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) as you lead him on road trip through the South in search of his brother Merle (Michael Rooker) during the uprising of the walkers. The backstory of Daryl and Merle are fleshed out a bit in Survival Instinct, but not in a particularly meaningful or gratifying way. Thankfully, both actors lend their voice to their respective characters with respectable zealousness, and developer Terminal Reality did a honorable job at recreating the actors’ likeness. Unfortunately, everything else about Survival Instinct feels rushed and unfinished.
The ghastly narrative loosely ties together a slew of boring fetch-style missions in hopes of elongating a rather short story. In light of the dull narrative, Survival Instinct manages to introduce an interesting survival-themed concept. Using your compass, you’ll drive to different locations on the map, scavenging for supplies like fuel, food and ammo along the way. In hopes of portraying an open-world feel, there are multiple paths to choose from, with their own risks and rewards. Driving on the back roads consumes more fuel, but you may come across more supplies while using the highways saves on fuel, but diminishes the chance of locating supplies. Regardless of which route you take, you’re eventually going to run out of fuel or need to repair your vehicle, forcing you to go into town to find resources.
Prior to performing a rudimentary fetch quest, you can ‘manage’ a small army of survivors with different task and equipment. The prospect of these survivors seems promising, but execution is crude. Once you have collected, you can arm them with a weapon from your inventory and send them out to scavenge for food, ammo or fuel. A percentage rating displays the likeliness of their survival, specific survivor’s weapon preference, condition level and personal traits. However, your relationship with each character is non-existent. It’s impossible to become attached to any of the survivors because of their lack of personality, so it’s never phases you when someone doesn’t make it back alive. It’s beneficial when they make it back with supplies, but more often than not they’ll end up dead, and you really won’t care.
Once you reach your destination, you’ll be faced with two combative options: fight your way through the walkers, or move stealthy without being seen. As expected, going through the streets firing off your guns is not the wisest choice as it will gain the attention of the undead — sometimes. Occasionally a fired weapon will alert an army of the undead, but other times you can fire off a shot and they could care less of your presence. The completely moronic AI allows you to easily run away when confronted, with minimal repercussion since they won’t bother to chase you. Decide to face a horde and each zombie waits around patiently until it is their turn to attack and an QTE I like to call ‘jab a knife in the head’ begins. No matter which combat technique you pursue, you’ll discover yourself reverting into the same patterns throughout the game.
Thankfully, Survival Instinct provides you with a decent variety of weapons to successfully perform some gruesome attacks. From hunting knives and hammers to shotguns, assault rifles and even his iconic crossbow, Daryl is ready to tackle any legion of undead that gets in his way. However, once you get your hands on one or two weapons that are good for instant decapitations, you’ll find yourself ignoring the rest. Adding to the frustration of the clunky combat is the lack of in-stage checkpoints. Most stages have at least one checkpoint to restart from if things go awry, but they are few and far between.
Despite all other shortcomings, it’s the shameful visuals and abundance of graphical issues introduced during the entire tiresome experience that significantly hinder the game. Each town looks identical thanks to a drab color palette and you’ll notice an obscene amount of repetition of store fronts and deserted truck stops. The characters and zombies themselves are not any better as they are composed of a copious amount of grainy textures reminiscent of what you would expect from last-gen titles. The game is extremely graphic and bloody, which is expected from this genre but I would love to meet the developer who thought that the best way to enhance your in-game experience would be to drench the screen with sweat from Daryl’s brow when he runs. Adding insult to injury, is an abundant amount of bugs and glitches – including walkers getting stuck in the wall, to severed limbs and objects mysteriously floating in air. Although minor, these glitches further the point of Survival Instinct being rushed onto store shelves.
Aside from a few unique yet poorly implemented features, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct undoubtedly fails to avert itself from falling into the category of yet another poorly, licensed title. As a huge fan of the series and the graphic novels, one can’t help but feel dispiritedly despondent by how this title turned out.
Editor’s Note: The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct was reviewed using a PlayStation 3 copy of the game. If further investigation reveals any differences between the PlayStation 3, Wii U and Xbox 360 version, this review will be updated accordingly.