"A Lesson in Lost Potential"
I wanted to like The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. Really, I did. I love the comic books,and in spite of everything that has been done poorly, I'm a huge fan of the show. Not only that, we'd already received one positively fantastic game set in the world of TWD (thanks, Telltale!). Was it asking too much to hope for two? Apparently, it was.
Like many of you, the draw of playing as Daryl Dixon - the promise of gaining some insight into his backstory and that of his brother, Merle - was a tempting one indeed. He's a fan favorite on the AMC series, after all; one of the few things which truly sets it apart from the comics. Unfortunately, those of you expecting Daryl to get his dues in Survival Instinct are going to be sorely disappointed; both the character and the series deserved better than this.
What bothers me most about The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct isn't that it's a terrible game. Honestly, I could have lived with that - the tradition of licensed games being pure crap is one that's stuck with us ever since the inception of gaming as a hobby. No, what bothers me is that, in my time with it, I saw its potential; it could have been so much more.
Believe it or not, Terminal Reality brought a number of excellent ideas to the table. Conceptually, Survival Instinct is actually somewhat brilliant. It's in the execution where everything falls apart. Truth be told, it almost feels like the game is incomplete, as if Activision rushed it out before the developer could expand on any of its ideas. Let's have a look at what it could have done right:
Firstly, this game is, at its core, about survival. While you can take down one or two walkers on your own, once you start attempting to fight more than that, things are goin to fall apart quite readily. To survive, you need to play smart. You need to think about how many undead there are, where they're positioned, and how you can best deal with them. To that end, you can use various items to draw their attention away from you, and perform an instant-kill assassination when sneaking up from behind. So far so good, right?
Unfortunately, these Survival Instinct zombies are stupid - really stupid - even as undead are concerned. There were several points where I should, by all rights, have been noticed, but the walker merely stood in place, staring in fascination at a nearby wall. Pathing issues are also quite common within the horde. If a zombie is in front of you and blocking a doorway, the others will run in place behind it, trying desperately to break physics and phase through solid matter to reach your juicy flesh.
Combat, too, is somewhat pathetic. So long as you're only facing one or two zombies, you don't really even need to run from them; you can just stand in place and slash at them with your knife. Same deal even if you get surrounded: they'll grab you one at a time, and while grappling you'll have the opportunity to stab each one in the face before it bites you. This ultimately devolves into a long chain consisting of grapple, stab, grapple, stab, grapple, stab, only occasionally interrupted by your death. This whole process quickly gives way to boredom, with a healthy side of frustration.
Stealth also plays a major role in the game, though like most of the other mechanics, it seems poorly realized. Most of the distraction items are based on either sound or light, while certain weapons - such as the rifle - make a great deal of noise. Even though they are a guaranteed kill on a walker, they're also guaranteed to draw a whole horde to you. It adds a nice layer of strategy to what weapons you should use in any given situation, even if there's really no reason to use any other weapon once you get Daryl's crossbow.
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A gamer at heart, Nick started writing when he was a child. He holds a BA in English, works as a freelancer, and loves every minute of it. One day, he hopes to net himself a career in game design - but that's something for the future.
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