The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct

April 8, 2013, Author: Richard Margetts

If I reflect back on the past few years of my life, many of my memorable accounts will be that of watching TV shows and films or playing games that are of a fantasy or horror genre. Being that I follow religiously The Walking Dead TV Show, I have always tried to stick to my guns and obey the ‘must buy anything related to the TV show’ scenario to a tee, even though on occasion I have been let down staggeringly. Yes, I’m a sucker for punishment; I know.

When Telltale Games decided to launch their take on The Walking Dead comics back in 2012, I was at first skeptical of purchasing their title, being that I hadn’t read any of the comics and having been told that it doesn’t join at the hip with the TV show. After reading the great reviews that the game logged, though, I snapped it up in an instant. Finding myself gripped to a characteristic journey and reminiscing past point-and-click games like the highly acclaimed Broken Sword series, I had to replenish my excitement and carry on watching The Walking Dead on TV until another Walking Dead game would cross my path.

Then without a massive array of previews and with little known about it, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct suddenly made an appearance.

Now, how’s about a big hug for your old pal Merle?
Survival Instinct is the prequel to the TV series, set around the time of when Rick Grimes (leading character) is hospitalised in a coma. Leading the game you take the role as much-loved Daryl Dixon; yes, the rough-and-ready crossbow-wielding survivor, who is joined by his impolite and rowdy older brother Merle, played by Michael Rooker.

With a journey of brotherly love on the cards, one will have to stop this lovely scene and inject a mass of zombies into the mix. Well, what did you expect? On a road trip to hell Daryl and Merle will have to fight their way through the Georgian countryside and local shanty towns to reach the safety of Atlanta.

Stealth or guns-blazing?
With the Walking Dead TV show announcing the return of its third season, it didn’t take Terminal Reality too long to wheel out Survival Instinct. Like most games that are rushing to partnership with alternative media hype and presence, Survival Instinct from start to finish was a money-making niche from a franchise that would soon return to TV.

When you watch a low-budget movie it normally shows straight away, with an intro that can only be described as a Care Bear’s underpants from hell. When you play a low-budget game, sometimes it doesn’t show, with some games taking thought and time to produce a well-structured masterpiece. Well, in the case of Survival Instinct, guilty is the only plea.

Survival Instinct cries out low-budget and linear from every inch of the game’s structure and story. Survival Instinct brings to the table an ever-growing annoyance of bad corridor-like environments, which had me forever running into invisible objects and walls. These all seem to be cut-off points of levels and will simply make your character do a 360° spin and respawn you facing the correct direction, after a dramatic black screen pop-up. The first time it happened I nearly broke a sweat and raged, ‘my screen has gone black and the game has broken! Oh no… it’s ok’.

Ready for a group hug

Ready for a group hug

Surely there must be some good in Survival Instinct, considering that it’s an FPS and this genre of games keeps finding new and exciting ideas? Take BioShock Infinite for example. Well, not really. If you do find yourself in a house that has glass windows and zombies are trying to bash down the door for their next banquet, you may think ‘I will find a window and shoot them through it’. No can do, my friend. The science between a bullet travelling through glass has not yet been proven in Survival Instinct; either that or every single window in the game has been made bullet-proof. I thought that all FPSs these days could handle the smashing of a window, but obviously not in this case.

Along your journey, if you haven’t already given up with this game, you will find main objectives and secondary objectives being handed out on a non-structured basis. Opportunities to take on new survivors into your band of brothers possibly may result in back-stabbing plots that can work in your favour, fulfilling you with rewards of more supplies. These potentially could have been a good change to the game’s boring and lacklustre pace to the story; however, these missions still get tedious due to the game not bringing in fresh ideas.

Throughout levels you will have to collect fuel so that your car can carry on with the journey to Atlanta. Oh yeah, you acquire a car, but this car has a limited seating capacity. So you would have thought the game would have you hunting down a second car so all your survivors would be accommodated with seats, perhaps a side quest mission? No, you’re stuck with the same vehicle for the entire game.

Even better are the voiceovers that play when choosing whether to get out the car and investigate areas or ignore them and drive on, which are sure to make a nice drive turn into a Sat Nav from hell. I found ignoring investigation being the best option here, simply because I could not bring myself to listen to the same piece of voice-acting over and over, and I wanted to finish the game as soon as possible.

There are two ways of approaching Survival Instinct (well, three ways if you count not playing it), with you being able to adopt a stealth or guns-blazing style. The stealth option I would simply skim over, simply because you don’t want the game to become even duller than it already is.

Unfortunately, the combat in Survival Instinct is terrible. Sorry to simply drop the bomb like that, but it is. Mêlée attacks will only target one enemy at one given time, and with a queue of walkers knocking at your front door this isn’t exactly very helpful. I found the best way to deal with zombie hordes is simply pushing or shoving through them and then moving on.

So what happens if the hordes get too close to you? Well what can only be described as the biggest zombie group hug ever seen has one of the strangest game mechanics ever seen too. One at a time, zombies from the group hug will attempt a biting frenzy that can only be stopped by using a bizarre QTE sequence. This could have worked well, but Survival Instinct’s execution in this department, and every department, can only be called a catastrophe on every level.

Tetris anyone?
Graphics do not make a game, but they do help a game evolve into an enjoyment for your eyes to feast upon. Even with better visuals it still would’ve been a task to turn this game into a spectacular achievement, but Survival Instinct is incredibly poor on the graphics front. The blocky environment and scenery which haven’t been common since the days of the PlayStation haunts Survival Instinct throughout the whole journey, and doesn’t help the game one bit.

You would have thought some time and effort would have at least gone into the model skins of the zombies, but yet again I was let down. I counted six different zombie models, all of which were very generic and gave no respect for the TV show’s brilliant make up and costume design. The textures for zombies are a woeful mess, and killing them along your journey turns Daryl into a chauvinistic pig, with him quoting ‘dickhead!’ to every woman-turned-zombie he stabs through the head.

The block

The locations and environments, especially with the detail of houses and scenery, are just simply bad. Doors are open look the same as doors which are closed, which will trigger your brain to give up on opportunities of a house giving a safe haven for the Dixon brothers. Blocky buildings and cars look all too familiar, and the environment cries out for something more than the linear feel and awful backdrop which haunt this game in so many areas.

Got to love a theme song
Sound is one area in this game that isn’t that bad, in all truth. Voice-over work from Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) and Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon) keeps the game alive at times. Well, almost. The epic theme song does offer a refreshing acknowledgement that you are playing a Walking Dead game, and I wish I had simply just brought the theme song from iTunes because that was the best part of the entire game for me.

Gun sounds, melee attacks, zombie groans and environmental sounds are captivating at times, but still this does not help the game in areas which lack that final punch. Survival Instinct does offer good audio in parts of the storyline on the whole, but playing with your eyes closed is not an option unfortunately.

Stick a bullet in my head and make it quick
I wish I could say that Survival Instinct wasn’t that bad and that it lived up to the franchise of the Walking Dead and Telltale Games’ 2012 achievements, but stating that this game is bad would be an understatement. Tolerating a game simply for its name and source should be made an achievement. Survival Instinct is not the absolute worst game I’ve ever played, but this still doesn’t change the fact that it could and should have been better at this late stage of consoles going forth to the next generation.

Terminal Reality had a chance to redeem themselves after the missed opportunities of Ghostbusters and Kinect Star Wars. Survival Instinct just simply can’t be explained; I don’t have answers to why this game was designed and mechanically-driven to provide such a poor overall quality. I can only think that the game was produced to boost money from a franchise that is highly followed. The rushed job and lacklustre finish to the game, however, will always have me closely looking over games developed by Terminal Reality in the future.

When releasing a game so close to other zombie titles like Dead Island: Riptide, you would have thought The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct would’ve gone all out and tried to offer some competition. It falls at the first hurdle, though, and simply can’t pick itself up. A DLC antidote won’t even help the infected in this case.


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