Sometimes a game comes along like Portal that is unanimously loved by gamers all over the world. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is not one of those games. In fact, it’s probably easier to find a needle in deep space than it is to find someone who genuinely liked this game.
Survival Instinct was off to a bad start before it was even released. After Telltale’s The Walking Dead was unanimously loved by gamers far and wide, Activision thought they’d capitilise on its popularity by rushing out a first-person shooter. However, a good little gamer should always play a game free of bias, and should always be open to the idea of a game being good.
First impressions of Survival Instinct were not good. The graphics are not just sub-standard, they’re ugly. The zombies look like manikins who have been dragged through rubbish dumps and move as if being controlled via string by an anonymous, poorly-skilled puppeteer. In terms of maps, there are about five in the entire game that range from an abandoned street, to an abandoned road, all the way back to a slightly different abandoned street. Visually, the game is boring, repetitive and uninspired.
The story is practically non-existent. It involves an absolutely insufferable red-neck protagonist and his brother, who defies all expectations by being even more annoying than the main character. The brothers dim then just head south with no clear motivation or intent. Survival Instinct has a feature in which extra survivors can be picked up and then sent on salvage quests by themselves whilst the protagonist gets on with whatever it is he’s doing, and the risk of sending them out is that there is a danger that they could end up being spread on zombie toast. Unfortunately, because the characters aren’t given personalities, their deaths elicit no response. ‘Oh no! John’s dead. His lungs were torn out via his kneecaps by a walker whilst the other walkers laughed and took photographs’…’Which one was John?’
Mid-way through the review, a reader would be forgiven for thinking that all those 2/10 scores were justified, but hold your horses. The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is not a bad game. The actual gameplay is very enjoyable. There’s a massive emphasis on stealth, and as a fan of stealth games I really liked treading softly passed a bunch of walkers munching on the body of an elderly gentleman whilst my heart pounded in my chest. Like all stealth games, there’s an instant stealth-kill mechanic, and reducing a giant horde to a hordette by picking off one zombie at a time whilst darting between cars never lost its charm for me.
The unpredictable nature of the zombies led to some moments of thrilling improvisation. In one mission, I had to fill up a gas canister to take back to the truck when I noticed a giant horde moving in on my position. Once the cannister was full I sprinted desperately away and climbed onto the top of a nearby truck. The zombies gathered and I was surrounded by a sea of badly animated enemies. The truck was just thirty metres away but I knew I wouldn’t make it through the horde, but I had no choice. I took a running jump and leaped over the expectant zombies, firing a few rounds from my shotgun into the walkers I was about to bare down upon. Miraculously, I managed to take out three or four of them before landing on my feet, creating an opening which I gratefully exploited. I ran backwards to the truck, firing rounds of as I did to keep the zombies at bay until I was safely in the vehicle with only my idiot brother for company. It was no Left 4 Dead last-stand, but it certainly got my blood pumping.
Unsurprisingly, Survival Instinct has a survival element to it. To travel anywhere, the characters have to have a car, and a car means fuel. If the car runs out of fuel, the charming protagonist has to scavenge some from nearby abandoned farms or roads. This feature would work well if there were more environments to explore, but the scant number of maps mean that on one journey I had to stop three times for one reason or another, and all three led to me having to explore the same road-side cafe. If the feature had been better executed, then it could have really added to the experience, but repetition soon wore out any novelty.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a game that will sit alongside the likes of Aliens: Colonial Marines in gaming history. It’s a game that could have been much better, but the developers just didn’t put in the effort. It’s certainly not awful, and it’s five or six hour campaign is enjoyable whilst it lasts. It delivers fairly exciting, stealth-based game play. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much all it does well, and the creepy combo of the main character and his slack-jawed prick of a brother will be filed away in the section of my brain devoted to the worst video game characters ever, alongside Kane, Lynch and Charmy the bee.
P.S. for an example of how lazy the developers who made this game were, the collectibles are called ‘collectibles’.
A jaded horror enthusiast, I get my kicks hiding in cupboards from whatever hideous creatures happen to be around. I'll happily play most genres on a range of consoles and PC. Apart from writing for Z1G, I also study Public Relations at Leeds Met and I sell sea shells on the sea shore.