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[Premature Evaluation] ‘The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct’

Zombies are big right now. Much like a real zombie apocalypse scenario, there’s no escaping them. They’ve shambled onto pretty much every facet of entertainment, and one of the brands that’s leading the undead hordes is The Walking Dead. So far, TWD has seen quite a bit of success in its transition from comics to television and video games, the latter of which has been led by Telltale Games’ amazing episodic adventure series and even a surprisingly great Facebook game based on the series.

Next up is The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, a prequel to to the TV series that follows brothers Daryl and Merle Dixon. It’s had an alarmingly rocky marketing campaign, and with the comics, TV series, and games having set the bar so high, many fans are wondering if this is going to be a solid entry in the franchise or an obvious cash-in. TJ and I ask ourselves this very question, and others, in our premature evaluation of the game, which you can read after the jump.

Adam: Let’s start things off with what The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is all about. It’s set before the events in the first season of the television series and follows brothers Merle and Daryl Dixon before they met up with Rick and his gang. It’s being developed by Terminal Reality, the guys behind the surprisingly solid Ghostbusters video game — the 2009 one, not that awful arcade game — and published by the house of Call of Duty.

The game had some issues last month when a fan uploaded alpha build gameplay and called it a trailer. This stunt managed to fool most of the Internet, including Activision’s community manager and maybe us too. Everything we’ve seen since then, and I’m referring to the “official” stuff now, hasn’t been terribly impressive either, including screenshots and a trailer. So TJ, what are your thoughts on the game so far?

TJ: I’m so torn on this game. We really haven’t seen enough for it to look promising, but I can’t help but still be kind of pumped for it. I love the Walking Dead universe. I want this game to be good. I crave it. I’m still so skeptical.

Adam: I feel like if Activision thought this game was good, then they would be promoting it. They would be touting it as a worthy addition to the Walking Dead universe. Instead, they’re hiding it under a mountain of new releases, many of which have had their respective hype trains rolling for months, or in the case of BioShock Infinite, years. They’re just tossing it out there with a single gameplay trailer, a few screenshots, and the desperate hope that fans of the brand will see “The Walking Dead” and excitedly throw their money at it.

TJ: Tonight, on Night Court. Adam Dodd v Activision. Though I am inclined to agree. Mostly because of the way you talk to me all sexy and with that thick bassy tone. I feel like Activision dropped the ball as well. I feel like they had gold in their hands and may be letting it turn to crap. They should postpone the release of the game and throw some more money at Terminal Reality. Tell them not to frak this up because it’s the chance of a lifetime.

Adam: So we agree that Activision isn’t handling the marketing of this game well. I’d go so far as to call it a disaster. This obviously doesn’t mean the game isn’t going to be good. Our first look at it was pre-alpha footage, and it lacked many of the details that are usually added when the developer focuses on polishing up their game. The “official” gameplay trailer Activision released after that was significantly better, though to be completely honest, it still failed to wow me, at least visually.

TJ: The scariest thing about it is its release is a month away. This is the time when you want to be blasting gamers with all the good stuff. Getting people amped up, showing their friends, talking about it on super famous Bloody Disgusting news pages. Yet here we are, stuck with one gameplay trailer that ends with some unsynced Daryl voice overs. Boo.

Adam: To me, the one area where this game could still really impress is in its storytelling. That’s always been the strength of this series, and the relationship between Daryl and Merle is one of the more fascinating ones from the show. I think it could impress us all in this department, even though I’m not certain I can handle 8-10 hours of Merle talking about coons and shit.

TJ: I’ll agree with that. Lately, in the TV show, Merle has been pissing me off more and more. I’m glad Daryl has developed how he has and is now the “good” brother. The story between them could end up being very interesting. I’m also curious to see what new and possibly familiar faces they run into. Maybe the game will end where the show began?

Adam: I can see that happening, though I wouldn’t mind if they kept this story completely separate from the television series. The neat thing about having two lead characters like the brothers is they’re survivors. They lived off the land before the zombocalypse, so they know how to handle themselves. I hope Terminal Reality can use this in interesting ways, because all I’ve seen so far has been a lot of running and the occasional stealth section. I’m a fan of the game’s focus on flight over fight, because I’ve had my fill of killing zombies at this point — never thought I’d say that — so I’m looking forward to trying to find a way around the undead, rather than through them.

TJ: Yes, those elements could make for one awesome zombie game. Scavenging is my jam, I love that. People are annoyed when I’m super far behind searching every body and opening everything I can. Something that really grinds my gears is the lack of co-op in the game. It’s definitely the ideal game for something like that, with its two player situation. It seems like a game that could have been built for it.

Adam: It should’ve had co-op, but a feature like that would have put the game’s release too far away from the debut of the (second half of) third season of TWD. So again, we see another reason to be worried about this game. They have the money and even the talent to make a great Walking Dead game, but the signs of it being pushed out the door too early are everywhere.

TJ: It really saddens me to my core that rather than put some more time and money (which Activision has by the truckloads) into a potentially amazing game, they would rather just prematurely push it out into the world for it to most likely fail.

Adam: In its defense, it is a $50 game, so it’s sort of being released at a budget price. Even still, it’s disappointing that there isn’t any co-op, especially when it’d be so easy to implement story-wise. For a publisher like Activision to release something like this, which is guaranteed to sell well, at a budget price? That’s a big deal. I’m also looking forward to seeing how they support it post-release. What will they do with DLC, outside of the already announced “Herd Mode,” which is so generic I don’t even want to talk about it.

TJ: Budget prices are scary because they know the game isn’t worth the full 60 bucks. Deadly Premonition however, that could be argued. How dare they give us a Herd Mode. Especially if we are going to have to pay for it. Even more so if we can’t play it with anyone but ourselves. It would HAVE to be co-op to be fun. The Fight ‘Till Dawn Mode in Alan Wake’s American Nightmare was an epic failure in my eyes because it was single player.

Adam: I wouldn’t call American Nightmare’s Fight ‘Till Dawn mode a failure, because it was fun and surprisingly well done. I still stopped playing it after about a week, but I also can’t imagine a cooperative Alan Wake. That just feels… weird.

TJ: Maybe I just have so much more fun in situations like that playing with others. It was fun the first couple times, but I felt alone and I need companionship. I never liked playing Halo’s Lone Wolf multiplayer, I was always more into the team games, and the Herd Mode sounds like it should be played by a team.

Adam: I think that, for me at least, Survival Instinct has a lot going against it. It’s being released by a developer that hasn’t proven themselves consistently capable of delivering quality games, it’s following after the release of Telltale’s critically acclaimed series (and my my pick for GotY), and it’s the culmination of two things I’ve become increasingly tired of: zombies and wave survival modes. I love zombies, I really do, but we may have reached a boiling point for me. There are just too many.

TJ: I feel bad in a sense for Terminal Reality. It almost sounds like they got the short end of the stick on this game. There will always be a Horde Mode soft spot in my heart. I guess I always have hope that it will be as good as the best ones out there. Mixing it up with being in a new game with a new way to play it always sounds fresh, but doesn’t always come out smelling like roses.

The Verdict:

Adam: As a fan of the Walking Dead brand, I hate to say this, but I am only barely interested in this game.

TJ: I’m still holding onto a small shred of hope. But the game thus far fails to impress.

Have a question? Feel free to ever-so-gently toss Adam an email, or follow him on Twitter and Bloody Disgusting.




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