The wonderful zombie film Shaun of the Dead starts out with a running gag where it's clear that a zombie apocalypse is going on, but the heroes don't notice. As they walk down the street, we can see obscured scenes of undead carnage in the background, but Shaun is too wrapped up in his girlfriend-troubles to see.
Sometimes, a bad video game can feel a bit like that. You're playing, preoccupied with tutorials and introductory cinematic sequences, not yet fully aware of the jankiness that lurks in the shadows. Eventually, the game hits its stride and its crappiness gets right up to your face, groaning and snapping its teeth.
Terminal Reality's new game The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct does not indulge in such ambiguity. Both the zombie apocalypse and the game's utter badness are readily apparent within the first five minutes.
I spent last night playing through the first couple of hours of the first-person survival horror game, which came out yesterday for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Survival Instinct begins with a weird, cordoned-in tutorial that first sends you in pursuit of a false objective, then puts you into an unwinnable fight against a bunch of zombies, or "walkers" in The Walking Dead parlance. You die. Then comes the big reveal—spoiler alert?—that you were in control of the father of well-known characters Daryl and Merle Dixon, and your terrible shooting and running skills got him killed. It's a crap tutorial even among other crap tutorials, and a precursor to all the crap to come.
But first! Comes the credits sequence. Which, if you're a fan of the popular AMC Walking Dead TV show, will feel mighty familiar. Bear McCreary's six-note violin motif and string-section dive-bombs push through an evocative collection of rural imagery accompanied by the names of the actors who appear in the game. It's almost like you're watching a TV show!
And then, back to the game, which is very clearly not a TV show. You take control of Daryl Dixon, the man you'll command for the rest of the game. Side-note on Daryl—it's interesting that the most popular character on the TV show is this guy who has no counterpart in the comics. I like Daryl on the show, too. His low-drama badassery stands in welcome contrast to the whining and carrying on of the majority of the cast, and Norman Reedus manages to inhabit the role with a sharp, morally ambiguous intelligence. And he does seem like the most obvious character on the show to base a video game around, what with his signature crossbow and mysterious backstory.
But even if Daryl deserves to star in his own video game, it shouldn't be this one. I've spent two hours playing Survival Instinct, and those two hours were filled with frustration, boredom, and that peculiar form of bleak hopelessness that accompanies the worst games.
Of course, it's not a huge surprise that Survival Instinct is bad. Its promotional campaign has been festooned with warning signs—in particular the fact that they've been cagey about actually showing the game. The introductory trailers made a far bigger deal about the fact that the game stars Reedus as Daryl and Michael Rooker as his brother, Merle (Wow! Real actors from a TV show! In a video game!) than anything related to the game itself. We were unable to secure an early copy of the game for review, which is never a good sign. And early footage that hit the web was… well, it wasn't promising.
So, yes, the game is a steaming pile and an utter waste of time and money. On the off-chance that this is all new to you, allow me to demonstrate a few of the ways it comes up short.
It's very ugly.
Survival Instinct looks and moves like an Xbox 360 launch title, with inconsistent performance and flat colors and textures. On PC, it offers the following advanced graphical options:
Here's what the game looks like without light shafts:
And here's what it looks like with them:
Combat is a drag.
Combat in the game is a disaster, plain and simple. In the early stages, you'll have a couple of guns and a knife. One of the guns uses a scope and is essentially useless, as the zombies are never far away enough to require you to use it. The shotgun is more useful, but is so loud that it attracts far more zombies than you could ever kill with your limited ammunition. That leaves you with the knife, which lets you get into a kind of hilarious slap-fight with a zombie until you kill it. As seen here:
Or, you could sneak up behind the biter and stab it in the brain. You will do this a lot. In fact, the ol' "Punch the zombie in the face to stun it, then run around it and stab it in the brain" trick was just about the only trick I used. Well, unless I got caught in...
The endless zombie group-hug.
One of the weirdest elements of Survival Instinct is the "grapple" move, which happens when a zombie gets too close to you. Daryl starts to wrestle with the zombie, and you jam the right trigger and, if you can get the cursor over the zombie's head, Daryl will stab it in the brain. It's kind of a neat idea? Except it fails in execution. The levels I've played usually end with me making a run through a pack of walkers. And if I get even remotely close to one of them, I get sucked into an unending zombie scrum, stabbing zombie after zombie after zombie, almost always until I die.
Here's a video:
Survival Instinct also features a lot of sweat. Sweat? Yes, sweat. Normally in games like this, when you "sprint" for a while, you'll run out of breath. Maybe, if you're playing Far Cry 2, your vision will swim a bit. In Survival Instinct, you'll start to see a weird water effect run down the side of the screen. That is, I have to assume, supposed to be Daryl's sweat, pouring down the camera lens. Weird! And kinda gross!
(It's a little hard to see in this video, but it's at the corners. Anyway, it's strange.)
Video Game B.S.
Survival Instinct is loaded with all kinds of shoddy video-game bullshit. The levels are very hemmed in and the world never feels reactive or real, and as a result the whole thing feels cheap and unfair. You'll carry around sports drinks that replenish your health, but equipping and using them is a nuisance. Checkpointing is a bummer and there's no quicksave option, and at least once the game crashed to desktop and forced me to restart an entire level. The heads-up display is laughably fug, a giant oblong compass in the corner of the screen that points, surprisingly unhelpfully, to your next objective.
Level design is awful—I'd run into a room and more often than not would get cornered and die. Doors are inconsistent—some will open, but most are glued shut. And there are invisible walls everywhere.
Check out this doozy from the end of another early mission:
I'm standing on the car, the dude I'm supposed to get to is right there, and yet I have to run into the glowing green area to end the mission. Man.
Slightly interesting ideas, poorly implemented.
When you travel from level to level in the game, you'll have to make some decisions about which route you take. You can take backroads, regular streets, or the highway. Each one uses a certain amount of gas, and each one brings with it a chance of a breakdown. If you run out of gas or break down, you'll have to explore a small side-mission area to find more gas or locate whatever part from your car needs to be replaced.
It's an interesting risk/reward idea that falls flat because no matter what happens, you're going to have to do the same thing: Enter an area, dodge some zombies, grab a thing, and run back to the glowing green square. Basically, these side missions give you more game to play. Because the game is terrible, they feel more like a punishment than a bonus.
You can also manage the survivors in your crew, which is another odd idea that doesn't work but could've maybe been interesting in another game. You can give your companions weapons and even send them out on errands to get gas or food. You can also just tell them to "stay at the car," which, if you follow the TV show, is kind of funny, albeit unintentionally so.
But really, this whole aspect of the game is a mess, and just adds some unclear, unfun micromanaging to deal with in between unfun action missions. I'd love to play a post-apocalyptic resource management/travel game like Oregon Trail, but this ain't it.
There's certainly no opportunity to get attached to your friends, and their deaths are treated about as ignobly as could be. Check out the end of this mission (more spoilers, if you care):
So not only does the cutscene trigger before I touch the green box, it ends with a hilariously anticlimactic death scene. Bang! End-of-mission screen! Ha.
Basically, everything else.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a slipshod, uninspired mess. I have to feel for the developers at Terminal Reality—whatever rushed production schedule or other behind-the-scenes shenanigans must have gone down, no professional game-maker could be happy with this final product.
There are so many superior alternatives: If you've got a hankering to kill some zombies in a southern setting, play Left 4 Dead 2. If you love The Walking Dead and want to spend more time in that world, play Telltale's wonderful adventure game from last year. And if you want to play a tense, terrifying first-person zombie game that relies on smarts and sneaking as much as on firepower (and you own a Wii U), play ZombiU.
I can think of no compelling reason why anyone should play this game. Ugly, flat, boring, aggravating and often broken, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is the purest form of video game garbage. It's utterly unworthy of your time and money.
When season one of The Walking Dead hit last year, a lot of people assumed that the episodic adventure series would turn into an annual thing. Many of us thought season two would be out in 2013.
But alas. Season two of the critically-acclaimed series might not hit til fall of 2014, according to Telltale boss Dan Connors, who spoke to Eurogamer at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) awards last night.
"We're aiming for fall next year," Connors said, adding that something else will help fill the gap while we wait. "We'll probably have something to announce fairly soon about what we're going to do... It'll be different."
Hopefully it's a first-person shooter. Just kidding.
Update: Speaking with Game Informer, a Telltale representative said that the second season is in fact targeted for the coming fall, not next fall.
"The current estimated release window for Season Two of The Walking Dead is for fall of ‘this' year (2013), and not ‘next' year (2014) as has been reported after a recent interview. We apologize for any confusion and thank you and all of our fans for your continued excitement for Telltale's series."
Artist Jón Kristinsson runs a site called Point n' Clicking, where he posts images of famous adventure game characters (or casts). Some are recent, some are old, some are very old, but all are fantastic, capturing the spirit and tone of the games they're paying homage to.
Some highlights below, but you really check out the whole collection on Kristinsson's site, where you'll also find links to buy them as prints.
So here's a bit of good news. In an interview published over at Rock Paper Shotgun today, Telltale boss Dan Connors promises improvement for season two (which is coming eventually):
...We've pretty aggressively patched every platform to try to get as many save file issues fixed as we can. I think what's up there right now is completely patched, so that you shouldn't get any save file issues with what's live now. We've taken all the feedback that people have given us.
Honestly, we're just working on solving the problems and getting the updates up as quickly as we can. But it's not like we can give an easy, pat answer that says, "This is the issue. This is what you do to fix it." Which is what everybody wants. Instead, we're telling people what we're doing, which is we're trying to understand the problem. We're trying to figure out where it's coming from. We're putting patches out to address it. We'll let you know as soon as we have the patch. I think "We'll let you know as soon as it's patched" doesn't help the person who just lost their saved game.
I think in season two, we're going to be a lot more diligent about making sure that part of the system can handle everything that's going to happen. Now we know how people are going to do this and how they're going to use this and how it's going to appear to people. I think we'll have some good systems in place to make sure that it's great in the next season.
Last night, AMC's The Walking Dead came back on the air for the second half of its third season. I thought the first half of Season 3 was pretty strong, all things considered, and even liked some of the ways they moved away from the source material. I haven't always been the biggest fan of this adaptation, but they've certainly got my adaptation for the time being.
For tonight's off-topic/open thread, I thought I'd see what you all thought of the mid-season premiere. For my part: it wasn't the roaring return I was hoping for, but it wasn't terrible, either. I didn't buy a few of the performances, notably the crowd at Woodbury, who all seemed like over-excited extras. I'm also not sure about what they're doing with Andrea, who is maybe my favorite character from the books, and I thought her speech to the Woodbury residents felt forced. That said, some pretty good violence in parts, and I think Steven Yeun continues to do good work as Glenn. And I actually really liked how they handled Rick's break with reality toward the end. Considering what's likely coming for our heroes, it should be a hell of a ramp-up to the finale. (Though I do hope our heroes (and the showrunners) finally figure out what to do with Michonne.)
So, what'd you think? And if you could, please don't drop any comic-book spoilers for anything that hasn't happened on the show yet. Be cool to your fellow readers and if you absolutely must share a spoiler, drop a warning.
At first, I was all, "Why do they keep moving their heads like that? It looks stupid". Then I realised, they're so into this they're looking for walkers. Can't play more than a few strums without checking their surrounds for trouble.
That's how you stay alive, people. Stay alive and find the time to play a hard duet.
This isn't the first time we've seen Camille and Kennerly on the harps. It is, however, the first time we've seen them... wearing jeans?
This is the first official trailer for The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, aka that Walking Dead shooter that has absolutely nothing to do with the Walking Dead games that everyone loves. Survival Instinct is out March 19 for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. March 26 for Wii U.
Of all the video game events that happen every year, the Game Developers Choice Awards might be the ones that resonate most with game-makers. That's because they're determined by the masses of folks who make video games vote to nominate the best examples of the form from the preceding months.
For this year's GDC Awards, the games getting the most nominations are Journey (named in six categories), Dishonored (four categories) and The Walking Dead (three). The new Narrative category highlights Spec Ops: The Line and Virtue's Last Reward among others while the Innovation nominees include FTL, ZombiU and Mark of the Ninja. The full list is below, and shows off what a great and diverse year 2012 was for gaming . The 2013 awards ceremony happens on March 27th during this year's Game Developers Conference.
Best Audio Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)