It almost seems like a match made in heaven; the extremely successful developers of Payday mixed with the media juggernaut that is The Walking Dead. Since its release one has to wonder how we must settle for the eventual final product; Overkill’s adaptation falls flat in the context of The Walking Dead adaptations and fails to highlight what makes its source material so beloved. In comparison, Telltale nailed the atmosphere and drama of the comics, the tone was set from the first episode and only get darker and more disturbing as the series progressed. The characterization is flat and an emphasis is placed solely on mindless killing rather than applying any nuance to morality in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Having played Overkill’s The Walking Dead I am left wondering why did this need The Walking Dead brand as Overkill draw very little from its source material.
What separates The Walking Dead (both the TV show and comic book series) from other zombie apocalypses is the characters’ justification of immoral behavior. This bleak view of humanity and the choices that must be made to preserve some semblance of civilization is captivating. Overkill’s The Walking Dead offers none of this; the plot is lackluster, characters lack any depth and there is no tension or dread to any of the action. The game’s combat has little to no worthwhile context; there’s very little reason to drive the in-game violence making progressing through the game a chore. The player will go through the game gratuitously killing both the living and the dead but given no motivation to do so other than “this is how to advance the game”.
The Family is the opposing faction of survivors who challenge the player’s own group for survival. In what could have been an excellent platform to humanize the living enemy against the backdrop of mindless, inhuman zombies, Overkill make no effort to humanize the Family or provide any rationale for their systematic killing at the hands of the player(s). Ultimately it feels like the developers wanted to create a bombastic Left 4 Dead-like game but because of The Walking Dead IP had to make a meandering in-between mess. The zombies are about easy to empathize with as the humans, the AI programming takes up where the writing left off by having the Family never seek cover and wander into the player’s crosshairs. Unlike the comics, it doesn’t feel like there’s any great value or importance to life.
The does not do a good job of replicating the feeling of anxiousness that permeates Kirkman’s comics. The AI should compliment the frantic and tense atmosphere of the story. AI feels dated in Overkill’s The Walking Dead; the zombies mostly saunter at you one by one making the gameplay more tedious to get through rather than engaging. The human AI is incredibly unreasonable; they know where you are at all times if they even slightly detect you. More importantly, in a game that focuses so much on stealth and a scarcity of resources, the AI needs to drive the suspense by being smart and punishing. AI in 2018 needs to be better than this and be held to a higher standard than this. One of the best parts of Payday is the waves of police that pursue you and your three accomplices.
As you complete various objectives around the city you happily mow down the police force. The AI for the police force must have cannon fodder written into it somewhere. The game throws hordes of zombie-like S.W.A.T that choose to sprint full speed into your assault rifle. And you know what? That’s fun! It is pretty much a video game adaptation of the shootouts from Heat and Reservoir Dogs. This AI is in no way complementary to the way zombies and humans react in the TV show nor the comic books. By comparison, The Last of Us is half a decade old and still looks and plays better than Overkill’s The Walking Dead.
The extremely tense atmosphere and the fragility of life found in Kirkman’s comics as well as the AMC series is left by the wayside. Stealth is flimsy and inconsistent meaning that you will end up going out guns blazing the vast majority of the time. The rare instances where you are stealthy has the player pretty much ambling through the level swinging their melee item constantly like a gardener beating back their bushes. The inconstancy of stealth just makes the players’ attempts to be immersed seem futile.
It’s hard to feel dread when the player’s actions just feel so monotonous and routine. It is a shame because any attempt for the player to be stealthy lacks that trepidation that makes reading the comics so enjoyable. The Family seems to have no qualms with attracting zombies and will shoot in your general direction despite drawing the hordes. The whole point of the dichotomy of the living vs the dead is that the survivors are supposed to be deadly adversaries WITH intelligence. This is nowhere to be seen in Overkill’s The Walking Dead leading it to be yet another disappointing adaptation of Kirkman’s world.
The player finds survivors that you can send out for mini missions a la Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain but unlike the latter, there is no attempt to create a relationship with these operatives aside from their profile pictures. In essence, Overkill’s The Walking Dead has many good ideas but they are just poorly implemented or fall flat on their face. There is a good game somewhere in the incongruent mess but it is a let down to fans of the The Walking Dead for its sheer disregard for its source material.
This is where the Telltale series absolutely knocked it out of the park. The whole notion of making an adaptation of complex morality into an FPS can be pulled off, but like with most fans, the gore and violence is hardly the major draw to the beloved series to me. Lack of characterization, intelligent AI and direction makes its connection to The Walking Dead tenuous at best and connected to the series ultimately by name only.