The Walking Dead Survival Instinct PS3 review – the other tie-in isn’t even an also-ran
The Walking Dead deserves a fantastic game. And it has one, too – it’s just not this. Based on the source comics it may be, but Telltale Games’ five-act masterpiece is everything the saga deserves – deeply affecting, thrilling and visually distinctive. In short, every last thing Survival Instinct is not.
Of course, this field trip to post-apocalyptic Georgia is based on AMC’s awesome TV series, and that has to be worth something, right? Hmm. You may want to sit down for this. The disappointment kicks in early doors. This is actually a narrative prequel to the series, seen through the eyes of crossbow-wielding redneck biker Daryl Dixon, with support from his brother Merle. And while series actors Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker voice them, the genuine pleasure of recognition doesn’t even make it out of the swamp that marks the game’s prologue alive.
This is an ugly game on every level and where it’s not ugly, it’s lazy. The structure has – sorry, had – potential. Daryl drives from one biter-infested hick town to another, collecting fuel, items, weapons and the occasional survivor, who can be tasked with gathering kit/wandering off to get torn to pieces in subsequent stop-offs.
There’s a bit of resource management before heading into new areas, and you also get a shot of risk/reward juggling in your choice of route to the next mission. Back roads use up more fuel but have more item-filled detours along the way, while highways flip the equation. Essentially, though, it all adds up to the same tongue-swallowing busywork: arrive, locate survivor with heard-it-all-before sob story, agree to fetch them batteries/generator keys/forgettable macguffin, proceed to hate life as wandering zombs stick to your heels like so much dog mess.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but this is not an attractive-looking game. Obviously you can see that from the screenshots, but watching it all in motion is something else. The graphics appear to have advanced dementia, with sudden jarring patches of clarity in an otherwise soul-sapping ocean of smeary browns and indistinct facsimiles of familiar items.
There are more invisible walls than in a mime artist’s final exam, and the shonky collision detection makes manoeuvring Daryl between the game’s many, many abandoned vehicles feel like the terminal stages of being drunk without any of the fun umbrella cocktails beforehand. In fact, spotting moments of graphical/game engine misery quickly becomes the most entertaining aspect of Survival Instinct.
Moments such as the campsite lake with visible seams. Living NPCs whose waxy faces look more terrifying than the Walkers’. The fact that even though you’re tightly gripping a hatchet, when the kill-stroke animation kicks in you’re always holding the default knife. Or the unintentionally hilarious sight of a lobbed propane gas canister rolling back down a slope towards you, only to continue on along the lane as if under its own steam and trying to find a way out of the game. That said, you can hardly blame it for trying.
To be fair, even this ten-volume catalogue of fugly wouldn’t necessarily have been a complete deal-breaker had offing the undead been fun. But somewhere between fuzzy weapon aiming, rote slashing combos that kill without troubling the shufflers’ brains (zombie 101, Terminal Reality!) and a hateful grapple-stab-to-the-death process that actively forces you to work for your boredom, enjoyment just… dies. So much so that you do actually start to dread seeing another undead-Main Street filled with biters. But sadly more in the way you come to dread coursework or filling in a tax return.
Unfortunately, there’s just no hope for this one. Sure, it looks like a game – and we all love games – but the rot has taken hold and it’s too late to save it. You should go on ahead and we’ll put this sorry thing out of its misery.