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 Rongaryen

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!!"

Alex is one of my favorite guys on the site. I wish he was able to do more video stuff. For a little while when the Bombcast was first starting and Alex was a regular guest, I thought for sure he was going to be part of the site but, instead he went to Harmonix. Imagine what Giant Bomb would had been like if he was part of Giant Bomb from the beginning?

Posted by Sooty

@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

Haha, implying nielson ratings have any relation to the quality of a show.

Edited by Gavrillo

You're a masochist, Alex.

Edited by stryker1121

This really is a shame, b/c from the footage I've seen, there's some good ideas here and Terminal Whositz actually tried to make a survival-horror style zombie game. One that actually discourages the use of guns. Acti could have given this another seven months in the hopper until S4 of Walking Dead arrived.

Posted by RoyCampbell

I really enjoyed Terminal Reality's Ghostbusters outing back in 2009. Since then, it seems they've been saddled with crap projects. Really stinks.

Posted by JoeyRavn

Zombies: Colonial Marines, am I right?

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.

That username, that comment. Yeah, sure, duder.

Edited by Swifdemon

Ouch. 1 star? Jeez, I'm going to have to read this.

Edited by fiberpay

Wow and Alex article without a stupid, snarky, trying to be funny headline, I'm impressed.

Posted by myghart

Holy shit, Terminal Reality still exists? Why the fuck aren't they developing another Nocturne?

Posted by DJJoeJoe

@fiberpay said:

Wow and Alex article without a stupid, snarky, trying to be funny headline, I'm impressed.

Now you try it ;)

Edited by Cold_Wolven

With every good game Alex reviews there is a real stinker just around the corner for him, keep fighting the good fight Alex. Also this review could have done with a bit more snark.

Posted by deathstriker666

@darkbeatdk said:

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

Hah, that's hilarious. You know, this game has some quirky charm to it. It doesn't look that bad, at worst it looks mediocre. If Jeff was reviewing this game, I bet he'd at least give it 2 stars. I think its growing on me....

Anyway, I couldn't care any less about a story based game that gives you such limited interaction and choice with the world. I might as well read a book.

Posted by Korolev

Vinny and Jeff/Ryan I hope will be in the Quicklook. Those three are the best at making good entertainment out of terrible, terrible games.

Posted by THEBIGZED

Can't wait for the quick look. From what I've seen this game offers plenty of the worst imaginable dying "animations" (the dead fall down like a frozen stick)

Posted by Glottery

Really looking forwards to a Quick Look now! Please let it be a duo of Jeff and Ryan/Vinny.

Posted by Supertom11

@pr1mus said:

Just like the TV show.

Post-apocalyptic gangster nurses anyone?

Posted by ManlyScream
Edited by fox01313

@darkbeatdk: Great video find, the hilarious spot of jumping repeatedly over the table just shows off how bad the AI is in this game. After reading Alex's review, seeing this video & the quick look, I really feel bad for the people who buy everything Walking Dead only to find how non-fun of a time they will have with this game.

Posted by camp7203

Matches the show in terms of quality I assume then

YES!

Posted by Klager

@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?

No, he would be mindcoma-jumping from zombie to zombie to try to kill Robert Kirkman.

Posted by hollitz

"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."

Pretty accurately describes my feelings about the TV show.

Posted by MagikGimp

The graphics at the top of the article actually look quite impressive. Then you start scrolling down as you read it...

Posted by Mezmero

I'm not surprised that this game turned out like shit. I've already stopped watching the TV show so I wasn't interested in this anyway. If anyone knows zombie games it's you Alex. I clearly remember buying Dead Rising because of your Gamespot review and since then I've been a believer in your editorial skills. Keep writing these great reviews!

Posted by Masakari

"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."

This right here is exactly my problem with every Metal Gear Solid game ever. Stupidly inconsistent AI.

Posted by Zevvion

@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!!"

Alex is one of my favorite guys on the site. I wish he was able to do more video stuff. For a little while when the Bombcast was first starting and Alex was a regular guest, I thought for sure he was going to be part of the site but, instead he went to Harmonix. Imagine what Giant Bomb would had been like if he was part of Giant Bomb from the beginning?

Wouldn't say he's my favorite guy on the site, but I like Alex. I like his content. I also sort of wished he'd take more part in Quick Looks and stuff like that though. If anyone is going to leave this site I hope it is one of the hateful users that can't seem to say anything positive about anything. There seem to be more of them each month.

Edited by HKZ

So its just like the TV show? Awesome. The show is utter shit, and sos the game, big news there.

Posted by ryvythed
Posted by fiberpay

@djjoejoe said:

@fiberpay said:

Wow and Alex article without a stupid, snarky, trying to be funny headline, I'm impressed.

Now you try it ;)

Done, I don't write articles nor was I trying to be funny.

Edited by fiberpay

Jeff and the gang were talking about mid-tier games awhile back and this review is exactly why there will never be good mid-tier games.

Edited by Nokterian

Well it is made by the same studio who did the great Star Wars Kinect and acitivision keeps putting out this crap.

Edited by iragequit

That looked monotonous.

Posted by fisk0

Well it is made by the same studio who did the great Star Wars Kinect and acitivision keeps putting out this crap.

I wonder what happened with them. Terminal Reality made some fantastic stuff in the 90's, including the Terminal Velocity series, which was a pretty interesting fork off the 6DOF FPS genre, and while I've never played the Bloodrayne games, I seem to recall them being pretty well recieved and popular as well.

Online
Posted by kmg90

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.

Holy crap, I need to see if the PS3 version it too, wow I don't think I've ever seen anything like that in a game before...

Update: Yes the PS3 version does also have the mysterious cursor in the intro at the same spots

here is the live stream from IGN playing the PS3 version,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=pxYQ8s8Kyik#t=212s

Posted by huser

@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.

Exactly, YOU or the character might want to save the defenseless little girl, but a lot of your other survivors might decide having a trained shooter is a lot more sensible. A passenger limit sounded so cool when the Bombcrew were discussing this game a while ago.

Posted by Krabonq

It's shit... and yet it has more gameplay than the glorified DVD menu simulator by Telltale.

Posted by HerbieBug

Oh man. :D

Anyone who saw that first trailer they put out for this knew it was either waaaaaaay early in development or was going to be a total shitshow of a catastrophically mediocre piece of cash grabbery.

Edited by 9_95

@sooty 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

Haha, implying nielson ratings have any relation to the quality of a show.

I know.It seems that the majority who enjoy this show are completely wrong for liking it,and you and a few other internet trolls who think its cool to bash what is popular.I bet you also hate CoD and think the Bioshock Infinite cover is to "mainstream" amirite?

Posted by 9_95

@krabonq said:

It's shit... and yet it has more gameplay than the glorified DVD menu simulator by Telltale.

Yup that was my biggest complaint about Telltales series.As good as the story was,the game felt like it was on rails and I was just guiding Lee to the end.Not like any of this matters,once State of Decay comes out this summer there wont be a need for any more zombie survival games.

Edited by ChibiSoma

@9_95: Man, you're really butthurt about someone not liking the same things you do.

Posted by GaspoweR

@pr1mus said:

Just like the TV show.

Ouch?

Posted by Pr1mus
@gaspower said:

@pr1mus said:

Just like the TV show.

Ouch?

Well i think the TV show is pretty bad. The highs can be really high but the lows are well below ground. The lows outnumber the highs. If anything it's become the most frustrating show i've followed and the first one to ever make me quit before the end of a season.

Online
Posted by Nettacki

@fiberpay said:

Jeff and the gang were talking about mid-tier games awhile back and this review is exactly why there will never be good mid-tier games.

Earth Defense Force for the Vita is a good mid-tier game.

Edited by CatsAkimbo

Honestly, this looks like half-finished half-life 2 mod. If this showed up on moddb I'd think it looked like it had promise and is pretty good for people working on it in their spare time and whatnot, but as full-priced retail game, it just looks awful.

Posted by Lind_L_Taylor

I sort of hoped they would start the story with Daryl n' Merle removing their hoods coming back from a local Klan rally just before all hell broke loose. Then have the two of them running around like bandits, killing & robbing everyone that gets in their way, just before they meet their group. That might have created some more interesting controversy to both characters back stories.

I can't believe anybody produces a crap game & expects people to buy it no matter what. So you have Call of Duty...and this turd of a Walking Dead game. Why would anybody bother?

Also, the Telltale game isn't much of a game...just an interactive story with an easy S-rank.

Edited by SkankinPacman

@jmatrix: I was hoping for this as well. Was kind of saddened that it was Brad/Patrick.

Posted by mikeymonkey

This game could have been something! I enjoy the idea of it, but the execution is horrible to decent depending what you choose to do, the whole having survivors with you but not having them do anything decent pissed me off, imo it would have been much better if they'd accompanied you annoyingly like they do in Call of Duty.

Edited by deygin

Damn it Navarro, a little bit less soliloquy and more face to your base expansion of the facts and situations please, this round was a bit difficult.

Posted by Count_Zero

Man. Terminal Reality got stuck with a lemon here, didn't they. Going by Alex's review, they had no time, no budget, and no matter what they'd have to deal with the high expectations that come from coming up against Telltale's Walking Dead game, which was for a lot of people in the running for best of 2012. Two of those I could see a developer overcoming. All three, not so much.

I kind of wonder when Terminal Reality realized just how fucked they were. If I were to make a guess, I'd say before the Alpha gameplay footage leaked - and for that matter, I'd say the leak was intentional, to soften expectations, so the game's response was mild disappointment, like what there is now, as opposed to, say, anger.

Edited by KRUZ8ER

Usually when Giant Bomb gives a game 1 or 2 stars, its a must buy. Just back from the store with this game thanks to this review.