THE WALKING DEAD: SURVIVAL INSTINCT Video Game Review
Developed by Terminal Reality
2013, Rated PEGI 18
Game released on 22nd March 2013 (EU)
Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii-U, Microsoft Windows (Download)
With the global popularity of AMC's The Walking Dead, just about to end its third season, it was inevitable that someone somewhere would produce a spin-off video game. TellTale Games has already graced Xbox Live Arcade with its wholly respectable chapter-based RPG/Adventure based strongly on the graphic novel series, and now Terminal Reality (via Activision) brings us The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct.
Purporting to be a prequel to the TV series, Survival Instinct begins with a reasonably gripping pre-credits sequence that sees you play the part of some random deep-south type armed with a powerful scoped rifle. As you explore a creek bed, investigating strange noises and a disturbance up ahead, you're called back to the group, one of whom is fan-favourite Daryl Dixon. Unfortunately, you're set upon by a horde of zombies that are impossible to defeat and as you lie in the ditch bleeding out, Daryl is encouraged to show you mercy by ending your suffering. But this is pre-TV Daryl and he hasn't hardened to the realities of The Walking Dead's world, so your end comes by another hand.
Sadly, almost being shot in the face by Daryl Dixon is about as good as this game gets.
Once the opener is out of the way, you find yourself playing as Daryl in an extremely linear and restrictive environment. The idea of the game is to move from place to place, scavenging for supplies and fuel in each spot. Just like the TV show, you might think, but no. You can choose how to travel between locations: tracks, roads or highways, each having differing fuel consumption and chances of breaking down. Tracks use more fuel, but you have less chance of a breakdown - which seems ridiculous, surely your vehicle will take more punishment off road?
At each location your task is to assign a job to the other members of the team (if you want) and then head off yourself to retrieve the prize in this particular town. There are some smaller side tasks within the levels, some being optional and others key to its completion. Even if you can stomach the constant repetition of explore-and-find, you're sure to tire quickly of the extremely limited scope to complete the level in in a way of your own choosing. Invisible walls will block your way, forcing you to go the singular route prescribed by the game. There are times when this is frustrating as there are options you could (and would, in reality) take to make your life easier.
The walkers should be the main feature of the game, but like everything else they're clumsy and ineffective. Supposedly they can smell the living nearby, so you shouldn't stand still for too long. In reality, you could dance a jig and as long as you stay far enough away, they'll never come near you. They have two states: shuffling around doing nothing or steaming towards you. If they happen to give chase, you can easily lose them by sprinting away or even running around an object that blocks their field of view. In the event you do get a horde on your case, a quick jump up to an elevated position will see them crowd round you, unable to make contact, yet you can pick them off one by one.
If a Walking Dead game was ever to be any good, it needed to be a third-person open world scenario like Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. Survival Instinct's first person aspect is far too clunky with no peripheral vision to see approaching walkers and the sound design is terrible, placing the moaning of a walker right in your ear when there's nothing of danger anywhere close. When you have to grapple with one of the dead, the rest happily queue up and wait their turn while you knife their colleagues one by one. The only cool part about killing the zombies is when you sneak up on one and perform an execute move (and really, this gets old fast).
Survival Instinct is a huge missed opportunity. With third-person, open-world gameplay and a choice of characters (you're stuck playing Daryl, however cool that might be), it could have been to the TV Show what TellTale Games' release is to the comic books. Sadly, all you get is a cheap, cynical cash-in with repetitive, awkward gameplay set against a backdrop of graphics that might have looked good five years ago, but not against today's titles. Put Survival Instinct out of its misery; shoot it in the head.