The game is based on AMC’s highly popular The Walking Dead tv show. It follows the journey of Daryl Dixon in search of his brother Merle after their father got attacked by zombies while on a hunting trip.
Upon starting the game, the very first thing I noticed was how fast the camera moved when you look around. To me, it felt a little faster than the standard mouse sensitivity that most first person shooter games default to. I lowered the mouse sensitivity to around 35% to 40% and I was able to look around without feeling like I was being punched in the face by Superman.
The controls to move are very simple, but the way you select food, items, and weapons can be a little hard to get used to. Pressing 1, 2, 3, or 4 will choose items that regenerate your stamina and health or let you use items that distract zombies like bottles that break when you throw them and flares that can attract the attention of entire hordes so that you can safely sneak away. The middle mouse button is used to shove zombies away or you can use it to scroll and select a weapon. This will get you into many problems later on, especially when you have no other place to run to and you have to shoot your way out. For example, in one part of the game a bunch of zombies will come after you. Using a melee weapon won’t help much and the best option is to blast your way to safety. If it’s your first time being caught in this situation, then you’ll probably die trying to select your firearm with the middle mouse button.
The most common way that you fight zombies is using melee attacks. Clicking the left mouse button will unleash a swift light attack, while holding the left mouse button will allow you to hit with greater power. I found that most of the time, you can simply just hit a zombie with a light attack, and then follow it up with a heavy attack to finish it off. The safest way to kill zombies though is by sneaking up on them and then “assassinating” them. When you sneak up on a zombie, you can just click the middle mouse button and you’ll automatically get rid of the zombie by stabbing it in the head with your hunting knife. The problem here though is that if you’re not careful, other zombies might see you and then surround you just as when you’re done killing one of their friends from behind.
The other gameplay mechanic involved in fighting zombies is grappling. Zombies will grab you when they get really close and they’ll try to bite a chunk of flesh from your face. During this grappling segment, you have to aim the circle that appears on screen right at the center of the zombie’s head. When you have the circle in the zombie’s head, you can left click and kill the zombie right away. When there are many zombies around you, it is very common to be passed around from one zombie to another and you can actually kill an entire group of them this way! Somehow, this lessens the scare factor of the game. Isn’t avoiding being surrounded by zombies supposed to be one of the main ideas of survival in a world full of the undead?
Traveling from one town to the next is a huge part of the game, unfortunately you don’t do any of the actual driving. After finishing a level, you will be presented a screen that lets you check the status of the survivors who joined you (if any), the items you scavenged, the items you stored in the vehicle, and a map. When you pick a location to travel to, you will be given three ways to travel. You can use the back roads that uses up more fuel but stops a lot to let you search for supplies and your vehicle won’t break down as much, you can use the normal streets that use up a moderate amount of fuel while letting you stop to look for supplies sometimes, or you can use the highway where you don’t use as much gas but your car will break down a lot. Upon choosing a way to travel, you will see your vehicle being driven on the road during a glorified loading scene.
For the first few segments of the game I chose to travel via highway because I didn’t want to make unnecessary stops all the time. Unfortunately, I was wrong! My vehicle broke down at least twice per travel and I was forced to look for spare parts in repetitive looking places! These places were full of zombies so stealth was the only way to safely get the spare tire or battery, and that meant spending a lot of time sneaking around in what was becoming a very boring and familiar level. After I collected enough fuel, I decided to use the back roads. My vehicle almost never broke down and any stops that were suggested I was able to skip and choose to just continue driving.
Upon arriving in a town, you can give any survivors who followed you an assignment. They can search for food, ammunition, or fuel. Each survivor has his/her own strengths and weaknesses. You can also read a short description about them, which will give you hints as to what weapon they can use efficiently to survive the job that you’ve given them. Disappointingly, you don’t really get to see the survivors going out with you to look for items. You are still alone during missions. When you finish a level, the survivors also magically appear and have already done their job.
Sometimes, survivors are scripted to die or disappear. This makes giving them a weapon seem like a pretty pointless idea, especially if you can find the necessary supplies by yourself. If you really need to send them out to get stuff for you, then just give them common items that can easily be replaced like hammers. There’s also this time in the game when I thought I’d finally get to see some actual help from the survivors, only to be dismayed when they ran away after yelling “This place is full of walkers!” There were actually just two zombies.
World of The Dead:
If there’s something that this game got right, it’s the amount of zombies that are present, especially at the later levels. Even at the very beginning of the game when you’re just being introduced to the controls, a big group of zombies suddenly emerge out of the woods. That group is considered a small group! In one level you’re inside a building and you have to find your way around because a lot of the hallways have been blocked by debris. Suddenly, you find yourself in a room full of zombies eating people on the floor. As you try to sneak out into the hallway, a group of 20 or more zombies suddenly start marching in front of you and you catch their attention!
Aside from the zombies walking around, you also have to be careful of the dead bodies that you find. Some of them are really dead, while some are just dormant zombies who wake up when you make a noise or you get too near to them.
There is also a pretty decent variation of zombies, but most of the time they tend to look alike. Not all zombies walk. There are some zombies who are too weak to stand so they just crawl towards you. Other zombies are missing limbs and you can actually chop off their arms with that fireman’s axe!
The Glitching Dead:
The game also has its own share of strange problems. There are some areas of the game where zombies will just suddenly respawn. In one specific part of the game, inside a building, you can actually kill this one zombie who’s standing right in front of a door, only to have a different zombie immediately respawn afterwards! When I encountered this problem, I was both surprised and amused. The zombie kept appearing in front of me so I kept killing him. I probably killed around 30 or more of this respawning zombie for fun before I just decided to go into the room and shut the door behind me, forever leaving the poor zombie helplessly banging on the door.
One of the most amusing glitches is done with the help of Daryl’s trademark crossbow that you can get later in the game. For some bizarre reason, when you shoot a zombie in the head with an arrow, they’ll get totally blown away while performing backflips! It gets even funnier because whenever a zombie gets hit in the head with an arrow, the nearest zombie will always walk near the dead zombie and look for a while, as if wondering to himself “Did this zombie just do multiple gravity defying backflips?!”.
There’s also another hilarious strangeness where if you close a double door and the zombies last saw you behind the left door, if you open the right door, you’ll still see them banging on the left door, unaware that you’re already laughing at them!
Lastly, the one weakness that I noticed among zombies is that if you stand on something elevated, they’ll have a hard time reaching you! For example, if you stand on top of one of those broken cars, you can actually wipe out an entire horde of zombies unhurt as long as you have a lead pipe or a melee weapon that has a pretty decent reach. Just fire a shot from your weapon to get their attention and take your time swinging that pipe to bash their heads in. This tactic is very similar to how people deal with zombies in that horrible game called The War Z.
Graphically, the game is not very impressive. The characters somehow look flat, the zombies start to look the same after a while, and the environment is very generic. Fortunately, the game shines in giving a creepy atmosphere later on in the game with the use of darkness and sometimes fog.
Despite the game’s underwhelming graphical quality, it manages to deliver a disturbing and thrilling experience. Zombies will try their best to bring down chain fences while you scour the area for important items. Cramped, dark indoor locations are scary because you never know when a bunch of zombies might pass by or if one of the dead bodies on the ground is actually a functional zombie.
The sound design is at least satisfying. Everything from Daryl’s crossbow shooting to stabbing zombies in the head with a hunting knife sounds exactly as how you’d expect them to sound like from the tv show. Even the zombies sound good, letting out their “Ngyaaahs” whenever they are alerted to your presence.
Unfortunately, the game feels very rushed. You can complete the game in a single day even if you spend the entire time sneaking around like I did. Not only this, but the game’s already being artificially lengthened because your car keeps breaking down on the way to the next mission. This makes the traveling segments feel more like a repetitive annoyance that you wish they just didn’t include in the game.
The survivors that you meet in the game also feel more like something slapped on for the sake of letting you make decisions about saving them or not. They don’t really serve any purpose other than as “errand boys/girls” who use up resources that you could be using for yourself. They don’t fight beside you, they don’t distract zombies for you, nothing. They really feel more like hitch hikers that you picked up and then forget about 5 minutes later even though they’re sitting right beside you.
I know that it is hard to compare this game to TellTale’s Walking Dead game because they are from two different genres. This one is a first person shooter while TellTale’s version is more of a story driven one. Still, when it comes to quality, polishing, and overall production values, I certainly know that TellTale was able to deliver and exceed what it promised the fans of Walking Dead. They delivered a finished product that had a sense, a purpose, and didn’t suffer from bizarre bugs. TellTale also handled the “survivors” in a better way that even if some of them were meant to be killed, a least they had some personality and they were able to interact with other characters. Survival Instinct’s survivors are nothing like that. They really are bland and useless burdens.
Survival Instinct’s “survivors” could have worked if only the game let you do things together with them. For example, if you ask them to look for food, then maybe the survivors could have actually joined you in your mission as a computer controlled AI. Maybe having them in your mission could also open up new sub-missions like if you asked them to find food, they’ll somehow contact you through the radio asking for help because they need you to open the door from the other side. Most importantly, it would have been nice if you and the survivors could have fought zombies together and you actually had to watch each other’s back.
The game seems very unpolished, as if very rushed to cash in on the popularity of the Walking Dead. There’s nothing wrong with trying to profit when something is hot, but at least give it more effort and higher production values like how TellTale handled the Walking Dead. The difference is, when TellTale releases season 2 of their Walking Dead game, people would immediately be excited and even pre-order because they know about what kind of quality to expect from them. If Survival Instinct 2 ever gets made, people would be wary because they’d remember how unpolished the first game was.
I can only recommend Survival Instinct to people who definitely love the tv show, but even then I’d ask them not to raise their hopes and to be prepared for disappointment.