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The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Review

1
  • PS3

This is not the Walking Dead game you're looking for.

You aren't likely to see a starker, more immediately relevant example of the differences between a thoughtfully produced licensed game, and a cheap, barely thought-out cash-in, than you will between the two games currently bearing the name The Walking Dead. We all know by now (hopefully) about Telltale's rightfully revered episodic adventure game based on Robert Kirkman's zombie apocalyptic comic series. But now we also have The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, a game that takes its story cues from The Walking Dead TV series. While the two aren't quite canonically related, they feature the same overarching notion of perpetually put-upon survivors fighting to continue their meager existence in a terrible, rotting world. But where Telltale's Walking Dead offered up characters, mechanics, and storytelling that all worked in almost entirely harmonious concert, nothing about Survival Instinct feels properly executed, let alone coherent or thoughtful.

The stories of Daryl and Merle are fleshed out a bit in Survival Instinct, but not in a particularly meaningful or entertaining way.

I suppose it's worth noting that the two games are also of entirely different genres. Survival Instinct is a far more action-oriented game than Telltale's traditional adventure, and also is told almost exclusively from the first-person perspective of the show's favorite survivalist, Daryl Dixon. The story is something of a prequel to the events of the TV series, showing the early goings of the outbreak that slaughters the majority of the human race, as well as Daryl and his brother Merle's early misadventures in a now post-apocalyptic society. Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker appear to voice their respective characters with decent enthusiasm (if not particularly authentic acting), and the developers at Terminal Reality did do a pretty good job of capturing both actors' likenesses and expressions for the purposes of the game. Unfortunately, those are probably the last nice things I'm going to say about Survival Instinct.

Where to begin? Pretty much from the opening seconds, Survival Instinct makes minimal effort to immerse you in anything resembling an even moderately living world. Environments are bland, linear, and haggard looking in a way that seems less the fault of the apocalypse than the environment and texture artists tasked with trying to make this thing look halfway decent. And that's before you've even killed zombie one. The second those god awful-looking creatures start shambling up to you, the whole thing just falls the hell apart.

Nearly everything else the matter with Survival Instinct can be traced back to the undead hordes shuffling their way around the game's various areas. They're ugly, though again, not in a way that's so much frightening as it is deeply disappointing. Zombie AI is one of those things I'm always somewhat reluctant to criticize, since trying to program the purely instinctual, largely thoughtless behavior of tattered ghouls can't be an exact science. But in Survival Instinct, the science seems to have been abandoned altogether. Zombies are terrible at finding you in the most bizarre of circumstances. Walk past a certain fence or doorway, and they'll just lose complete track of you, or worse yet, still know where you are, but find themselves unable to traverse the corner of the door they've somehow become hooked upon. In open spaces they'll certainly come at you, often in large groups that can't really be fought, in which case your best bet is often just to flee.

Zombies are inconsistent about how aware they are of your presence. This guy might ignore you as you creep by, or spot you from 20 feet away. You never know.

That is maybe the one germ of a good idea Survival Instinct is infected with. Instead of turning the game into a zombie killing bloodbath, Terminal Reality at least tried something different by making the encounters with the undead more overwhelming than predicated on endless zombie killing. Little details, like the game's focus on silent, hand-to-hand weaponry, and the fact that you actually sweat when running for too long (which looks awful, but apparently alerts zombies to your presence via their sense of smell), are nifty concepts that just don't play out very well in execution. In reality, the game focuses so much on non-shooting weapons that guns border on useless. They're incredibly noisy, for one, and also aren't really any fun to shoot. Even Daryl's trademark crossbow, which the game goes out of its way to fuss over when you first get it, is downright awful to use.

So instead of running around like a zombie killing machine, you'll find yourself creeping around quite a lot, sneaking up on hapless walkers when they're by themselves, and creeping past groups whenever you can. Of course, you can't always avoid a conflict, in which case you must run to the blazes, lest the horde catch up to you. However, any real sense of fear one might feel from having an active football roster's worth of cannibalistic corpses pursuing you is largely negated when you actually find yourself up close and personal with a group. This scenario enacts a "grapple" mechanic where, one at a time, zombies will get all up in your face while you try to steer your knife in the direction of said zombie's face to pull off an initially brutal-looking kill move. Then you do it again. And again. And again. And again and again and again until you either screw up enough to die, or have actually killed an entire horde of zombies with only a knife and a severely broken game mechanic to thank for your life. I think I maybe killed off at least five or six major groupings of zombies this way. The rest of the time, I either managed to escape to the random green box I had to find to end the current mission objective, or died.

I died a lot in Survival Instinct, which maybe makes it all the sadder that it only took me five, maybe six hours to finish the whole damn thing. The storytelling is spartan to the point of very nearly not existing, which means that much of the time you're spending in the game revolves around annoying resource gathering and errand missions that are not only not fun, but incredibly frustrating as the game's difficulty progressively climbs higher. Which is to say nothing of the completely pointless, and utterly unpleasant side ventures the game saddles you with between story sections. In between these sections, you are asked what route you would like to take to the next area. Taking the highway, for instance, is a faster route that also provides few scavenging opportunities for supplies, like gas and food. You need those things, because without gas, you can't get to the next destination. Whatever route you take, you'll eventually have to make a stop between missions, and these all take place in the same handful of recycled environments, with the same recycled objectives again and again. They are awful, pointless padding that offer nothing beyond a way to extend what would otherwise be a mercifully brief playtime.

As awful as Survival Instinct is mechanically, the really depressing thing about it is that it offers no meaningful information or commentary on the characters it revolves around. Yes, Daryl and Merle's lives are a bit more fleshed out, but nothing you learn is anything you couldn't have gone the rest of your life not knowing. Even worse are the various side characters you'll pick up along the way, who you can actually chose to bring with you, or leave behind, depending on your affinity for them, and the kind of room you might have in your current vehicle. These characters exist, but that's about all they do. They're given few, if any opportunities to endear themselves to the player, and not a single one of their various death scenes elicited more than a casual shrug from me. It's hard to feel much for people who you never make any meaningful connection with, you know?

Actually, this represents the final visual quality of Survival Instinct quite nicely. So shut up, screenshot disclaimer.

This is perhaps why this Walking Dead was always going to suffer in comparison to Telltale's. Telltale found a way to make you care about even the most minimally present characters in your group. It crafted relationships that became increasingly complex as the episodes went along. Survival Instinct's limp attempt at similar survivor relationships doesn't even compare.

I realize comparing what are obviously two very different games, mechanically speaking, isn't entirely fair. I also realize that Terminal Reality was likely saddled with a thankless, under-resourced task in making this game, one that has been quoted as coming together from conception to release in less than a year's time. The thing is, you can see the basic framework of a completely competent zombie game in Survival Instinct. With a stronger budget, more time, and a bit more care and craft, I could almost see this game being good. Sadly, what's ended up on shelves benefited from no such factors, leaving players with an abysmally rushed game of barely connected ideas that brings the player little more than frustration and disappointment.

Alex Navarro on Google+
220 Comments
Edited by Phatmac

It's like people don't remember bad licensed games.

Edited by davo

Bad reviews like this always leave me feeling deliciously moist and content. Well done.

Posted by huser

Best part of this? The weird, apologist positive reviews on Metacritic. Great games get review bombed by screeching fanboys, this piece of trash gets hardcore defenders.

People want to be different. Also, people get tribal. If they didn't hate it, then they have to defend it, otherwise their taste, intelligence and/or upbringing are clearly flawed.

Posted by Majkiboy

It is funny how bad games (and movies) get lengthier reviews. I guess it is because of the will to explain why something truly is bad and to steer people away from it. Leave no doubt. With something good you don't really have to put in so much of an effort! At least that is how I explain my lengthy movie reviews :)

Posted by Yanngc33

Can't wait for it to be 5 dollars

Posted by peritus

I've heard nothing about this game in a long while, i guess this isnt too surprising.

Sticking with Telltale's game ;)

Posted by ShaggE

The worst thing about this game is that I really liked the first hour (give or take) of it. It was a fun little budget stealth zombie game with a couple of cool ideas. Then I realized that the first hour of gameplay is all you get, over and over again in slightly different environments, except increasingly worse as you go along and realize how godawful the combat and zombie AI (even by zombie standards) are. And to add insult to injury, they keep peppering the tedium with tiny cool touches that tease you with the promise of a better game.

Posted by wrathofconn

@branthog said:

I really hope there is going to be a quicklook and maybe some live stuff with this. If anything is ripe for entertainment, it's coverage of t his.

Endurance Run!? I'd maybe watch other people play this for a bit but from what I've read and seen already, someone would have to pay me a good amount of money to get me to play it myself. It's really weird that a game can be this bad.

Games this bad are everywhere, man.

Posted by altairre

Alex is on a roll again. But seriously there was not one moment in all the footage I saw of that game where it looked at least okay.

Edited by LegendaryChopChop

No surprises here.

Edited by development

@fobwashed said:

@branthog said:

I really hope there is going to be a quicklook and maybe some live stuff with this. If anything is ripe for entertainment, it's coverage of t his.

Endurance Run!? I'd maybe watch other people play this for a bit but from what I've read and seen already, someone would have to pay me a good amount of money to get me to play it myself. It's really weird that a game can be this bad.

Games this bad are everywhere, man.

Quick look tomorrow. Use the front page "upcoming" section, people.

Online
Posted by SerHulse
Online
Edited by naephi

Man I can't wait for the shills on Talking Dead to push this game. Maybe bring in Kevin "HEY GUYS I SMOKE WEED" Smith and have him stumble through it.

Posted by Viking_Funeral

But is it worse than Colonial Marines?

And, it's only March. How many more contenders for crap will we have this year?

Posted by Kevino13

So continues the trend of the majority of Walking Dead merchandise being worthless crap. The Telltale game seems to be the only big exception to that...

Edited by BD_Mr_Bubbles

@wsowen02 said:

I bet this game sells disproportionately well.

Posted by RedRavN

Cant believe they expect people to buy this game at a full price point. Sad thing is this game will probably sell well on marketing and brand name recognition alone. Its crazy how you can actually make a game about stabbing zombies in the face boring and mundane feeling. There are some good ideas in the game like the survivor system and having to choose what roads to drive on but those aspects are very superficial. The idea of throwing bottles and using noise to attract zombies is nice but the AI and stealth systems are not functional enough to make that rewarding or fun. Just buy dead island already if you want to murder zombies that bad.

Edited by bybeach

@butler said:

We should buy copies of this game and just keep sending them to Alex.

+1

I knew this game was going to be bad from from Alex's tumblr post last evening. Demonstrated was some guy knifing down a horde, and the incredibly brain pith-ed AI. They could not be bothered to stoop under an easy obstruction, or leap over a saw-horse. This game gets a big NOPE. And I feel real pleased right now I do not watch TV.

Alex deserves a good game, but I enjoy the spectacle of his suffering.

EDIT!!! They screwed up and also gave Alex Luigi's Mansion. Now he will have a smile on his face.

:(

Posted by Video_Game_King

"This is not the Walking Dead game you're looking for."

You don't know me, Alex. YOU DON'T KNOW A THING ABOUT ME!

Posted by Klager

A prequel game where you play as Rick Grimes in a coma sounds better than this.

Edited by Brighty

goty

Posted by Plipster

@winsord said:

GotY 2013, calling it.

I'm backing this guy.

Posted by Ravelle

Alex, why do you always have to review the bad one? :(

Posted by DarkbeatDK

Someone send me this excellent video showcasing the advanced zombie AI routines mentioned in the review

Posted by ajamafalous

Number of people in this thread that didn't visit Gamespot back in the day and therefore don't know Alex as "that guy that relishes in giving scathing reviews to bad games": too many

Edited by Zevvion

I saw Walking Dead Survival Instinct, I thought one star.

Alex.

I laughed a little.

Edited by Druminator

I wish I could play this without giving a dime.

Posted by the_r0n1n_named_47

i still want to buy this game, but i agree it was made a little too fast and i too see the potential there, the writer is right, with enough time and money this game would have been great, as it is though it is a budget title with "the walking dead" slapped on.. i hope IF they make a sequel, the producers let them take their time to develop the game and fully flesh it out.

Edited by Solh0und

Rented this on tuesday and after 3 hours it made me wish I rented RE6.

Posted by DedBeet

How the hell does Terminal Reality continue to get work?

Edited by ripelivejam

pourin one out for alex :(

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Posted by DukesT3

Collusion.

Edited by heatDrive88

I wish Terminal Reality would just go back and make either a new Terminal Velocity game, or a new Def Jam Rapstar.

I also wished for a golden pisser, so my expectations for my wishes are set low.

Edited by WillyFourEyes

I knew who drew the short straw before I even clicked on it. :(

Somebody please throw poor Alex a bone...dude hasn't had a chance to review a really good game since Rhythm Heaven Fever...

Posted by Trilogy
Edited by Saganomics

@klager said:

A prequel game where you play as Rick Grimes in a coma sounds better than this.

Would he be battling zombies in his mind, a la Driver: San Francisco?

Posted by WillyFourEyes

(looks up to see the reviewer of Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon)

OH, G*DDAMMIT.

Posted by Tonch

I bet Telltale was just waiting for this game to come out so they could be (as you said, rightly) praised for their game more. Every review that knocks this game is going to compare it to the thoughtful Telltale game. I bet they're all smiles right now.

Edited by Cronoman66

Which is worse? that the game is bad or this was totally expected since it was announced. It's unfortunate because there are some scraps of good ideas in the game.

Posted by Triumvir

Save us Gary Whitta, save us!

Posted by dysfunkshunal
Posted by germanpitolargo

i buy the game 2 days ago. Is good, i dont know why people criticize that much .Im a fan of the comic books and the tv show. The other game sucks and everibody says is a masterpiece.

Posted by thetenthdoctor

The game looks like a hot mess in action, yet the header screenshot actually looks pretty good. How odd.

Edited by FierceDeity

At least it's actually a game.

Edited by glitznglam_style

I liked this game.

Edited by Parsnip

Someone send me this excellent video showcasing the advanced zombie AI routines mentioned in the review

I came here to post this as well, because it's quite something.

Edited by MocBucket62

Alex reviewed a game about fighting zombies and a game about fighting ghosts on the same day. Sounds like ghost fighting is way more fun.

Posted by Flappy

Poor Alex.

Posted by Jedted

I might Gamefly this at some point, if only to get some back story on the characters(aside from reading the comics).