The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Review
Daryl Dixon is one of the most unpredictable, flawed, enigmatic, and loved characters on AMC’s The Walking Dead. He is fueled by emotional turmoil – often ignited by his brother, Merle. What show-watchers may soon learn, however, is that most of his unrest probably originates from a moment in his past. More specifically, it comes from the fact that he had to be involved in Terminal Reality’s The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct.
Aptly billed as an “unforgiving prelude to the TV series” on the back of the box, Daryl’s journey in this zombie apocalypse is punishing. Those of you who are brave enough to see his origin story through to the end are in for one of the roughest rides of this gaming generation.
I didn’t start begging the game for mercy until the second of three acts began. The first act shows a lot of promise out of the gate, blending slow-moving stealth gameplay with an exploration component that pushes you to hunt for food, weapons, ammunition, and gasoline. Players also find other survivors who join Daryl if he helps them. The player learns early on that a gunshot – or any kind of noise, for that matter – alerts zombies to Daryl’s location. Quietly disposing of the undead is the best tactic. This is accomplished by crouch-walking, followed by a quick knife-stab to the zombie’s brain. This technique is handled exceptionally well. Carefully planning attacks to clear out an entire field of walkers without alerting any of them feels pretty good…until you realize you are wasting your time doing so.
If zombies grab Daryl, they won’t sink their teeth into him right away. Daryl always has a two- to three-second chance to jab a knife into their head via an incredibly easy quick-time event. Here’s the kicker: If a swarm of zombies bears down on Daryl, they won’t attack him if one of their ranks has already grabbed him. Once that zombie takes a knife to the face, all of the others queue up for subsequent QTEs. You can string together one-hit kills while taking hardly any damage.
Backpedaling with an axe – which can deliver a one-hit kill with a charged attack – is just as effective, and more entertaining since a zombie’s severed head comically flies 30 feet in the air each time the blow lands. Rather than slowly sneaking through the world, I sprinted right out into the middle of an area and lured all of the zombies my way so I could dispose of them in the most time-efficient way possible. It almost started to feel like a speed run.
Firearms only add insult to injury for your shambling foes. Since the zombies move at a snail’s pace, lining up shots where you take out two heads with one bullet is easy. The gun also does a nice job of creating noise, which rounds them up for slaughter. Empty a clip or two, and then pull out the axe or knife to finish off the stragglers.
The action never deviates from the formula presented in the opening minutes. Only one type of enemy exists: the basic zombie. Many of them look exactly the same. The only progression that Terminal Reality offers is a drip feed of firearms. You get a pistol and rifle early on. The shotgun comes next, followed by Daryl’s crossbow (which functions horribly), and finally an assault rifle. The last stage is designed to be a lengthy zombie-killing spree, but I found that rather than sitting back and unloading assault rifle clips into them, Daryl can run past all of them unharmed, reaching the level exit in about two minutes.
After any level concludes, Daryl and his survivors hit the road. The amount of gas determines how far they can travel. I love the idea behind this, but the execution leaves much to be desired. If a vehicle runs out of gas, Daryl has to find more. At this point, he's forced to scavenge in smaller side areas. The problem: He enters the same area numerous times throughout the course of the game. I trekked across the same city street filled with school buses three times in a row. The buildings I could enter in this environment were the same ones I entered in the previous story area, only with rearranged items. Most of the stores Daryl frequents all end up looking the same, too. We’re supposed to believe Daryl is traveling across Georgia, but with most of the stages looking the same, it feels like he’s driving in circles and doesn’t realize it.
The survivors that join your fight can be sent off to find more supplies, which is handled much like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’s directives, but I never needed anything more than what I found in levels, outside of an occasional barrel of gas. Helping people out delivers a little bit of story context for Daryl and the world, but doesn’t help much on the gameplay end.
The story delivers two interesting points that fans may want to know. The first of these happens within the first few minutes of play. The second can’t be seen until act 2, when Daryl runs into his brother.
Outside of these interesting narrative nuggets, Survival Instinct sinks its infected teeth into monotony and carelessly chews away at it to deliver a repetitious experience that lets a few cool ideas go to waste. This is an apocalypse you don’t want to survive.