Giant Bomb Review

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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
Posted by hughesie27

The sooner Alex leaves this site the better. He offers absolutely nothing to the content produced. He isn't interesting or even funny during videos or podcasts he is involved in. And the only articles he ever writes are ones slating poor games, poor trailers, or simply negative thoughts on a game which he will later give a predictably low review score for.

Now I am 100% sure that this game and the many others he works on really are as bad as he claims, but to be honest these games are so far down the list of pretty much anybody that reads this sites' lists that his constant commentary of them will only seek to bring the game to a wider audience and give them more publicity than they would have anyway.

His self aware headlines for his articles are boring and he generally comes across as a self interested idiot.

"Oh look at me giving this game a low score. How critical of me!!"

Posted by Twinsun

The sooner Alex leaves this site the better. He offers absolutely nothing to the content produced. He isn't interesting or even funny during videos or podcasts he is involved in. And the only articles he ever writes are ones slating poor games, poor trailers, or simply negative thoughts on a game which he will later give a predictably low review score for.

Now I am 100% sure that this game and the many others he works on really are as bad as he claims, but to be honest these games are so far down the list of pretty much anybody that reads this sites' lists that his constant commentary of them will only seek to bring the game to a wider audience and give them more publicity than they would have anyway.

His self aware headlines for his articles are boring and he generally comes across as a self interested idiot.

"Oh look at me giving this game a low score. How critical of me!!"

So.. What about all those games he gave a positive review of? They don't count?

Posted by PimblyCharles

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

Thanks for sharing this; it was hilarious.

Posted by JAVK

I feel so sorry for you Alex, having to endure through games like these.

Posted by marbleCmoney

"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."

That is such a huge bummer.

Edited by CptBedlam

@tonch said:

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.

I bet the opposite is the case: Telltale dreaded this turd because it hurts the brand overall. I have seen many gamers in forums mistaking this game for the follow-up to Telltale's game. Can you imagine how much more confusing this is for gamers who don't browse gaming forums? And there are a lot of them. Many will buy this, thinking it's the follow-up to Telltale's game, get burned by its atrociousness and it'll bite Telltale in the ass when they release their next WD game.

@germanpitolargo said:

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.

The viral marketing is strong with this one.

Either that or batshit insane.

Edited by pornstorestiffi

And yet people will buy it, and continue to be part of the problem.

Posted by Tonch

@cptbedlam: A fair point. And that's really unfortunate. If that's the case, then hopefully all the negative press about this game does do a good job at highlighting Telltale's game and demonstrating the differences. It would be brutally unfair for Telltale's to get overlooked because of this.

Edited by TheManWithNoPlan

I can't stand when ip's this high profile are made into a shitty game.

I present a scenario of a non or casual gamer. The individual walks in a store, buys this shitty game, take it home and realizes their mistake. They then take that product as a good indication of all modern games.

I'm not really that upset as the ratio of Bad to Good games are relatively in favor of the latter.

Posted by ToTheNines

The sooner Alex leaves this site the better. He offers absolutely nothing to the content produced. He isn't interesting or even funny during videos or podcasts he is involved in. And the only articles he ever writes are ones slating poor games, poor trailers, or simply negative thoughts on a game which he will later give a predictably low review score for.

Now I am 100% sure that this game and the many others he works on really are as bad as he claims, but to be honest these games are so far down the list of pretty much anybody that reads this sites' lists that his constant commentary of them will only seek to bring the game to a wider audience and give them more publicity than they would have anyway.

His self aware headlines for his articles are boring and he generally comes across as a self interested idiot.

"Oh look at me giving this game a low score. How critical of me!!"

Dude. you're a bummer..

Posted by Zombbait

Hate it!

I'm going return it tomorrow

Posted by ThePiePieper

Not a surprise this thing is reviewing low. Until a month ago, the only thing anyone saw of this was a 2 second bumper before the show. And that haaaaddddd to be early build footage. Like they say, even a shitty game take lots of hard work and dedication to be put out, hope this game doesn’t negatively affect the studio that made it.

Edited by ma_rc_01

I hope the real zombie apocalypse has this AI

Posted by The_Ruiner

To be fair, I think people have unrealistic expectations about this game, because the last one was so amazing. CSI and NCIS games come out all the time...no one expects them to be any good, and no one is surprised when they suck... this game doesn't seem any different from those...

Posted by Moncole

GOTY

Posted by ReCkLeSs_X
Posted by Alazoral

Giant Bomb is great at considered, informed reviews, but man I wish that there was an attitude shift back to ripping apart bad games with a malicious schadenfreude-powered frenzy rather than the current "this game is bad, that's depressing, I feel for the poor studio guys" attitude. Rip them a new one, Amiga Power style, guys! Dance on their graves! That way, if a game comes out that is bad, at least the review will be entertaining, rather than the whole thing being a great big bummer.

Posted by Krakn3Dfx

How about 0/5 stars.

0 is a number.

Posted by Kaowas

It seems like a modern day LJN game.

You said it.

Posted by ILikePopCans

Edited by KlUMZeE

sad, sad, sad.

Posted by Legion_

This doesn't even make sense from a business point of view. Why drop this in the middle of season three, when people are still busy watching the show?

They should have waited for season three to end on a high note, and then drop it a couple of weeks before the start of season four. That way, the Walking Dead crowd would buy it because they would have been starved for Walking Dead, and other people would have bought it because the extra development time would have made it a better game.

Shame on you Activision, shame on you.

Posted by Mars_Cleric

I like the show just fine, but...this...

no.

Edited by Rahxephon91

To be fair, I think people have unrealistic expectations about this game, because the last one was so amazing. CSI and NCIS games come out all the time...no one expects them to be any good, and no one is surprised when they suck... this game doesn't seem any different from those...

I really doubt the Tell Tale game has real impact on anyone's expectations especially when that game has terrible graphics and meh gameplay as well. Even without that game existng, you could look at this one and just see how dire it looked.

People have expectations because this is a game based on a license with so much gaming potential. The Tell Tale game delivers a solid storytelling experience but not a real gaming one. This one could have, but what we got was such a lackluster FPS.

You mention CSI and NCIS games and yeah no one expects anything from them, but their subject materiel isn't anywhere as video game ready as "surviving a realistic zombie apocalypse".

Posted by OneManX

I'll probably play it.. just to seefor myself... I wish they would of done more with this game though, some great ideas, but not too well fleshed out. But alas, I have Bioshock Infinite to get ready for.

Edited by golguin

I see we have another Walking Dead GOTY on our hands.

Posted by 9_95

Matches the show in terms of quality I assume then

Must be a comic book reader.How dare anything TWD come out after the comics right? Thbe show is just as good,if not better then the comic.The ratings it gets proves that,and TBH I do read the comic,and personally ill take the show any day of the week

Edited by Dan_CiTi

Looks like a really bad Half-Life 1 mod. The Telltale game was one of the most riveting games I have played in years, I couldn't put it down. This game seems intensely uninspired and totally rushed.

Edited by Godzilla_Sushi

See, EA puts out games no one can play in order to give out free ones that nobody wants. Activision just puts out games nobody wants. Progress....

Edited by The_Ruiner

@rahxephon91 said:

@the_ruiner said:

To be fair, I think people have unrealistic expectations about this game, because the last one was so amazing. CSI and NCIS games come out all the time...no one expects them to be any good, and no one is surprised when they suck... this game doesn't seem any different from those...

I really doubt the Tell Tale game has real impact on anyone's expectations especially when that game has terrible graphics and meh gameplay as well. Even without that game existng, you could look at this one and just see how dire it looked.

People have expectations because this is a game based on a license with so much gaming potential. The Tell Tale game delivers a solid storytelling experience but not a real gaming one. This one could have, but what we got was such a lackluster FPS.

You mention CSI and NCIS games and yeah no one expects anything from them, but their subject materiel isn't anywhere as video game ready as "surviving a realistic zombie apocalypse".

They also release games based on Teen Titans and Games of Thrones and X-Files and plenty of other shows and movie with game friendly material...There've been a shit ton of Avatar games and that's based on Karate men who shoot fire! And no one even gives them a second thought

Licensed games based on TV shows are bad..they've always been bad...if this game had come out first people would be expecting it to be bad too...

Edited by Godlyawesomeguy

@naephi said:

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.

I remember reading on Michael Rooker's Twitter feed that he'll be playing it sometime soon? I doubt it but it's an amusing thought to hear what his impressions are given that he probably has to say vaguely positive things about the game.

Posted by probablytuna

Glad to see Alex is back reviewing bad games. Love it. Also, two Alex reviews back to back?! Insanity!

Posted by LobsterMobster

And just look at which one they chose to advertise during the show. Were I a Telltale employee, I'd feel mighty frustrated.

Edited by eccentrix

@huser said:

(just imagine wanting to save Clementine at the expense of leaving the hard core survivalist, National Guardsman, or cop on the side of the road)

It would've been really cool to have people question Lee's motives in not wanting to bring a cop along, whether they knew what he did or not.

Posted by Gordo789

"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."

I'm sure this game is horrible garbage, but this actually sounds like a fucking feature to me. Zombies in The Walking Dead behave like this ALL THE TIME! Sounds spot on to me.

Posted by PoisonJam7

Poor Alex...the tide of bad games arriving on your doorstep for review just never ends, does it?

Posted by notthatguy

hughesie27,

Mmmm, don't like the review so kill the messenger. Alex didn't want the game to suck, but it does. Please, deal... or play video soccer games. You seem to like that.

Edited by ripelivejam

@9_95 said:

@deathbyyeti said:

Matches the show in terms of quality I assume then

Must be a comic book reader.How dare anything TWD come out after the comics right? Thbe show is just as good,if not better then the comic.The ratings it gets proves that,and TBH I do read the comic,and personally ill take the show any day of the week

cause we all know ratings = good...

btw haven't watched newer episodes after the break but based on everything i've heard they're making a mockery of the whole governor plotline in the show...

Edited by ShotgunLincoln

The worst part about this game is that there are some genuinely good ideas in it. It seems like if more time and money were spent on it, it would've actually turned out into an alright game.

Edited by ripelivejam

The sooner Alex leaves this site the better. He offers absolutely nothing to the content produced. He isn't interesting or even funny during videos or podcasts he is involved in. And the only articles he ever writes are ones slating poor games, poor trailers, or simply negative thoughts on a game which he will later give a predictably low review score for.

Now I am 100% sure that this game and the many others he works on really are as bad as he claims, but to be honest these games are so far down the list of pretty much anybody that reads this sites' lists that his constant commentary of them will only seek to bring the game to a wider audience and give them more publicity than they would have anyway.

His self aware headlines for his articles are boring and he generally comes across as a self interested idiot.

"Oh look at me giving this game a low score. How critical of me!!"

are you sure you didn't mean to post this on a patrick article? [/obviously joking/being sarcastic]

Edited by darkest4

I knew this game would be complete and utter trash from the first time I saw a trailer for it, I didn't bother paying attention to it from then on. So when I saw there would be a review for it on giantbomb I thought "O that piece of shit came out already? How many stars.. I bet 1. maybe 2? Yea.. 1.. lol".

Painfully obvious attempt to cash in on the show/Telltale games' success, with the least amount of effort possible and we could tell right from the first trailer (no wonder they barely showed any of this game before release). I really hope a buncha people don't end buy this because of it's name and making it a success financially despite it being complete trash, but I don't have high hopes. In an ideal world this would crash and burn so hard that other companies would start to be more wary of halfassed cash grabs like this, too bad the world is far from ideal.

PS- On the bright side, at least this game brought me 5 minutes of immense pleasure in the form of that video of it's gameplay that someone linked earlier in the comments, my god that was hilarious. The game is so god damn awful it's funny.

Edited by SharkMan

@9_95 said:

@deathbyyeti said:

Matches the show in terms of quality I assume then

Must be a comic book reader.How dare anything TWD come out after the comics right? Thbe show is just as good,if not better then the comic.The ratings it gets proves that,and TBH I do read the comic,and personally ill take the show any day of the week

cause we all know ratings = good...

btw haven't watched newer episodes after the break but based on everything i've heard they're making a mockery of the whole governor plotline in the show...

the show is horrible, the first 2 episodes of the first season were.. "ok" but thats about it, terrible soap opera of a show with humans making the stupidest fucking decisions ever. nothing in it happens that is anywhere near the actual human response to any situation, not just zombies.

Posted by bgdiner

That's too bad. I'm a big fan of the Walking Dead comics and show, so to see the license cashed in like this kinda sucks.

Edited by neato

@hughesie27 said:

The sooner Alex leaves this site the better. He offers absolutely nothing to the content produced. He isn't interesting or even funny during videos or podcasts he is involved in. And the only articles he ever writes are ones slating poor games, poor trailers, or simply negative thoughts on a game which he will later give a predictably low review score for.

Now I am 100% sure that this game and the many others he works on really are as bad as he claims, but to be honest these games are so far down the list of pretty much anybody that reads this sites' lists that his constant commentary of them will only seek to bring the game to a wider audience and give them more publicity than they would have anyway.

His self aware headlines for his articles are boring and he generally comes across as a self interested idiot.

"Oh look at me giving this game a low score. How critical of me!!"

lol, i don't see where this is coming from at all.

i get if you don't like his writing style, but you say:

Now I am 100% sure that this game and the many others he works on really are as bad as he claims

and then:

"Oh look at me giving this game a low score. How critical of me!!"

i don't see how alex can win with you. well, yeah i do:

but to be honest these games are so far down the list of pretty much anybody that reads this sites' lists that his constant commentary of them will only seek to bring the game to a wider audience and give them more publicity than they would have anyway.

you'd rather him ignore these bad games so the companies get no free publicity. what do you think is more damaging to a company: giantbomb ignoring their game or giantbomb giving their game a terrible score? and personally, this game was on my list. as was luigi's mansion. you're speaking generally about a wide audience.

2013 has been his year so far. he has been making his presence known on the site in some rad ways despite being across the country.

Edited by ripelivejam

@sharkman said:

@ripelivejam said:

@9_95 said:

@deathbyyeti said:

Matches the show in terms of quality I assume then

Must be a comic book reader.How dare anything TWD come out after the comics right? Thbe show is just as good,if not better then the comic.The ratings it gets proves that,and TBH I do read the comic,and personally ill take the show any day of the week

cause we all know ratings = good...

btw haven't watched newer episodes after the break but based on everything i've heard they're making a mockery of the whole governor plotline in the show...

the show is horrible, the first 2 episodes of the first season were.. "ok" but thats about it, terrible soap opera of a show with humans making the stupidest fucking decisions ever. nothing in it happens that is anywhere near the actual human response to any situation, not just zombies.

true this, although i probably don't despise it THAT much. i hate what they did to andrea though :(

Posted by RoyCampbell

@hughesie27 said:

The sooner Alex leaves this site the better. He offers absolutely nothing to the content produced. He isn't interesting or even funny during videos or podcasts he is involved in. And the only articles he ever writes are ones slating poor games, poor trailers, or simply negative thoughts on a game which he will later give a predictably low review score for.

Now I am 100% sure that this game and the many others he works on really are as bad as he claims, but to be honest these games are so far down the list of pretty much anybody that reads this sites' lists that his constant commentary of them will only seek to bring the game to a wider audience and give them more publicity than they would have anyway.

His self aware headlines for his articles are boring and he generally comes across as a self interested idiot.

"Oh look at me giving this game a low score. How critical of me!!"

are you sure you didn't mean to post this on a patrick article? [/obviously joking/being sarcastic]

When is it never not about Patrick with you? Goodness. And if that post had been relayed to Patrick, you'd be all over it.

Edited by ripelivejam

@roycampbell: well i was calling it out as being bullshit, as that kind of response would be to any staff member.

Posted by RoyCampbell

@ripelivejam said:

@roycampbell: well i was calling it out as being bullshit, as that kind of response would be to any staff member.

Nah, you'd have flew off the handle if that criticism was about Patrick. You're not calling out bullshit, you're being jokey.

Anyway, enough of that. I'm just kind of getting tired of Patrick being mentioned, negative or otherwise, in places he's not even present.

Posted by ripelivejam

@roycampbell: i flew off the handle when it's repeated unwarranted attacks against him. i'm tired of hearing it too but i'm not the one bringing it up 95% of the time.

this is a once in a blue moon jab against alex. it sucks but it's not an epidemic like it is with patrick. still i agree it isn't necessary with anyone on this site. sorry my rage wasn't righteous enough for you or w/e.

Posted by ThomasTruong

I'm in the process of making a video review and I'd just like to point out that twice in the opening video, you see a WINDOWS mouse cursor in the upper right corner of the 360 version of the game. I REALLY want to know the backstory behind this. That should've been the first (nitpicky) hint to the overall quality of the product.