The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct preview – the end of the world as we know it, and I feel brown

Following something as brilliant as Telltale’s episodic Walking Dead adventure – especially so soon after it toddled off with a bundle of Game Of The Year awards under its arm – is not an easy task. It’s a bit like releasing a dinosaur film in August 1993 called Cretaceous Zoo. But despite their similar titles and inspiration, points of differentiation between last year’s point-and-click and Terminal Reality’s FPS interpretation are many and obvious.

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct preview

For starters, this is based on the AMC TV show rather than the comic book series. You play gruff, crossbow wielding redneck Daryl Dixon (voiced by actor Norman Reedus), struggling to survive in the period before Rick Grimes awakens from his hospital coma to wield an enormous six-shooter and dominate television ratings. You’re accompanied by bad-influence brother Merle (also lent his voice from the show, with Michael Rooker’s talents present and correct), as well as your choice of survivors who can help you on your way.

But rather than heart-breaking decisions between saving the farm hand or the imperilled child, this time you’re judging people by how much they’re able to help you. As principle effects artist Glenn Gamble tells us: “Each has their own skill set, if you can bring them with you -  certain ones will join you in certain situations, or they may not join you at all.”

What is it that they’re helping you with? In a world where survival in itself is the only aim, what exactly is the end game? “You’re heading to the military safe zone,” says Gamble. “Which, if you’re a smart person, you can kind of already tell where this is going. Ultimately every good walker story is one of disappointment.” Maybe just meeting up with Andrew Lincoln and his not-so-merry band of survivalists is the best one can hope for once the zombpocalypse hits.

How you’ll get there is via, what Gamble calls, “a different FPS experience”, and it’s hard to argue with that. For, as anyone who watches the TV show knows, the S part is best avoided unless absolutely necessary. Noises attract zombies (know in Walking Dead parlance as ‘walkers’), guns makes noises, ergo etc and so on. That means a sneaking, largely melee-based experience, as you wander through alleys and abandoned shops snaffling supplied and planting fireaxes into squishy, functionless brains.

One thing it does do is capture that sense of unease and danger from the show, as the threshold for mortal danger is pleasingly low. “Our benchmark for walkers was season two where Rick gets overwhelmed by three of them and barely survives. That’s our danger level, three walkers. Fighting them one-on-one should be fairly easy for you. Fighting a group of them should be absolutely dangerous for you and you just want to avoid it like the black plague.” This means that it’s necessary to plan your approach, move slowly, and use distraction tactics such as throwing glass bottles or setting off flares. It also means watching out for ‘possums’ – the developer’s term for not-so-dead dead bodies – that can rear up and try and take a chunk out of your calf muscle.

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