It’s going to take a really dedicated fan of The Walking Dead to put up with this one. I’d heard that Survival Instinct was pretty bad, but I like to go into games with my hopes held above the water. And initially, for the first hour or so at least, things don’t actually seem that bad. Sure, the world is populated by textureless objects and the voice acting sounds like it was carried out on the street with random passers by, but otherwise the game delivers on its zombie-shooting promises. In fact, popping off seven zombie heads in a row with my rifle felt pretty damn good. I was surviving!
The initial ideas seem pretty cool too, such as how you travel between locations. After each short level –comprised of very small, boring areas with zombies placed everywhere – you’re able to choose how to move on to the next boring town. Do you take the backroads, an option that uses more fuel but is more likely to offer up supplies and ammo, or do you stick to the known roads or highways, with less chance of loot? The vehicle you are in also influences how many survivors you can take with you, creating situations where you simply leave people on the side of the road. Sounds pretty brutal, right?
Unfortunately, Survival Instinct was obviously made with a shoestring budget and by a team with very little understanding of (or care for) what was happening with the rest of the game. There is little internal consistency at all. Characters are statuesque blank slates that provide no opportunity for bonding. Morality is non-existent, which drastically affects the tone of the game, particularly in the wake of Telltale’s deeply emotional offering from the same license.
During one point in Survival Instinct, you come across a few survivors being shot by a crazy sniper. As you eventually make your way to the rooftop – through bland environments and far too many awkward zombie encounters – you eventually find out that the sniper is your delirious brother. You pull him down from the roof and he automatically takes up space in your vehicle. Amazingly, nothing more is said about how he shot at innocent people, even when one of those very survivors happily tags along in the truck with you. It’s just crap. Potential conflict is blithely ignored as you go on your merry way. Then you leave that survivor anyway because you need to make way for some other person at the next location who is just as uninteresting.
At least the gameplay application of “survival” is strong. Ammunition and fuel constantly run low, which requires careful rationing and scrounging of both. Most encounters with zombies are of the face-to-face kind, bashing at them with a hammer or sneaking up behind for stealth kills. Combat gets extremely boring quickly, though, and after about three levels you’ll resort to sprinting from objective to objective, as there is no reward whatsoever for zombie kills. In fact, they actively respawn anyway, so why bother clearing them out?
One last anecdote will illustrate how forgettable Survival Instinct is, a sad product to be carrying the official IP tag. Whenever you run out of fuel or a battery goes flat (the latter seems to be a random event but the former is avoidable to a certain extent by collecting fuel canisters in levels), you stop on the road and a mini level loads, in which you must find fuel or a randomly placed part. I ran out of fuel during one journey and negotiated said level to get back on the road. A few seconds later – but quite a distance down the road according to the load screen travel map – our battery went dead. Cue the exact same level being presented, only this time with a battery placed somewhere inside it. It’s just one example of the game’s lazy, baffling design.
As a result, it’s simply not worth exploring, even if you own shrink-wrapped copies of every TV season plus a signed, framed first edition of the graphic novel. AMC should never have signed off on this. Even Activision seems embarrassed to be pushing it out – we had to buy our own copy to review. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct will bury itself dutifully to the bottom of bargain bins very shortly. Avoid even then.