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Kotaku: The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is.... terrible.

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Initial post: Mar 20, 2013 1:42:11 PM PDT

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Is The Worst Game I've Played This Year
Kirk Hamilton

The wonderful zombie film Shaun of the Dead starts out with a running gag where it's clear that a zombie apocalypse is going on, but the heroes don't notice. As they walk down the street, we can see obscured scenes of undead carnage in the background, but Shaun is too wrapped up in his girlfriend-troubles to see.

Sometimes, a bad video game can feel a bit like that. You're playing, preoccupied with tutorials and introductory cinematic sequences, not yet fully aware of the jankiness that lurks in the shadows. Eventually, the game hits its stride and its crapiness gets right up to your face, groaning and snapping its teeth.

Terminal Reality's new game The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct does not indulge in such ambiguity. Both the zombie apocalypse and the game's utter badness are readily apparent within the first five minutes.
I spent last night playing through the first couple of hours of the first-person survival horror game, which came out yesterday for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Survival Instinct begins with a weird, cordoned-in tutorial that first sends you in pursuit of a false objective, then puts you into an unwinnable fight against a bunch of zombies, or "walkers" in The Walking Dead parlance. You die. Then comes the big reveal-spoiler alert?-that you were in control of the father of well-known characters Daryl and Merle Dixon, and your terrible shooting and running skills got him killed. It's a crap tutorial even among other crap tutorials, and a precursor of all the crap to come.

But first! Comes the credits sequence. Which, if you're a fan of the popular AMC Walking Dead TV show, will feel mighty familiar. Bear McCreary's six-note violin motif and string-section dive-bombs push through an evocative collection of rural imagery accompanied by the names of the actors who appear in the game. It's almost like you're watching a TV show!

And then, back to the game, which is very clearly not a TV show. You take control of Daryl Dixon, the man you'll command for the rest of the game. Side-note on Daryl-it's interesting that the most popular character on the TV show is this guy who has no counterpart in the comics. I like Daryl on the show, too. His low-drama badassery stands in welcome contrast to the whining and carrying on of the majority of the cast, and Norman Reedus manages to inhabit the role with a sharp, morally ambiguous intelligence. And he does seem like the most obvious character on the show to base a video game around, what with his signature crossbow and mysterious backstory.

But even if Daryl deserves to star in his own video game, it shouldn't be this one. I've spent two hours playing Survival Instinct, and those two hours were filled with frustration, boredom, and that peculiar form of bleak hopelessness that accompanies the worst games.

Of course, it's not a huge surprise that Survival Instinct is bad. Its promotional campaign has been festooned with warning signs-in particular the fact that they've been cagey about actually showing the game. The introductory trailers made a far bigger deal about the fact that the game stars Reedus as Daryl and Michael Rooker as his brother, Merle (Wow! Real actors from a TV show! In a video game!) than anything related to the game itself. We were unable to secure and early copy of the game for review, which is never a good sign. And early footage that hit the web was... well, it wasn't promising.

So, yes, the game is a steaming pile and an utter waste of time and money. On the off-chance that this is all new to you, allow me to demonstrate a few of the ways it comes up short.

It's very ugly.
Survival Instinct looks and moves like an Xbox 360 launch title, with inconsistent performance and flat colors and textures. On PC, it offers the following advanced graphical options:

Here's what the game looks like without light shafts:

And here's what it looks like with them:

Okay then!

Combat is a drag.
Combat in the game is a disaster, plain and simple. In the early stages, you'll have a couple of guns and a knife. One of the guns uses a scope and is essentially useless, as the zombies are never far away enough to require you to use it. The shotgun is more useful, but is so loud that it attracts far more zombies than you could ever kill with your limited ammunition. That leaves you with the knife, which lets you get into a kind of hilarious slap-fight with a zombie until you kill it. As seen here:

Or, you could sneak up behind the biter and stab it in the brain. You will do this a lot. In fact, the ol' "Punch the zombie in the face to stun it, then run around it and stab it in the brain" trick was just about the only trick I used. Well, unless I got caught in...

The endless zombie group-hug.
One of the weirdest elements of Survival Instinct is the "grapple" move, which happens when a zombie gets too close to you. Daryl starts to wrestle with the zombie, and you jam the right trigger and, if you can get the cursor over the zombie's head, Daryl will stab it in the brain. It's kind of a neat idea? Except it fails in execution. The levels I've played usually end with me making a run through a pack of walkers. And if I get even remotely close to one of them, I get sucked into an unending zombie scrum, stabbing zombie after zombie after zombie, almost always until I die.

Here's a video:

Sweat. Everywhere.
Survival Instinct also features a lot of sweat. Sweat? Yes, sweat. Normally in games like this, when you "sprint" for a while, you'll run out of breath. Maybe, if you're playing Far Cry 2, your vision will swim a bit. In Survival Instinct, you'll start to see a weird water effect run down the side of the screen. That is, I have to assume, supposed to be Daryl's sweat, pouring down the camera lens. Weird! And kinda gross!

(It's a little hard to see in this video, but it's at the corners. Anyway, it's strange.)
Video Game B.S.
Survival Instinct is loaded with all kinds of shoddy video-game (poo). The levels are very hemmed in and the world never feels reactive or real, and as a result the whole thing feels cheap and unfair. You'll carry around sports drinks that replenish your health, but equipping and using them is a nuisance. Checkpointing is a bummer and there's no quicksave option, and at least once the game crashed to desktop and forced me to restart an entire level. The heads-up display is laughably fug, a giant oblong compass in the corner of the screen that points, surprisingly unhelpfully, to your next objective.

Level design is awful-I'd run into a room and more often than not would get cornered and die. Doors are inconsistent-some will open, but most are glued shut. And there are invisible walls everywhere.

Check out this doozy from the end of another early mission:

I'm standing on the car, the dude I'm supposed to get to is right there, and yet I have to run into the glowing green area to end the mission. Man.

Slightly interesting ideas, poorly implemented.
When you travel from level to level in the game, you'll have to make some decisions about which route you take. You can take backroads, regular streets, or the highway. Each one uses a certain amount of gas, and each one brings with it a chance of a breakdown. If you run out of gas or break down, you'll have to explore a small side-mission area to find more gas or locate whatever part from your car needs to be replaced.

It's an interesting risk/reward idea that falls flat because no matter what happens, you're going to have to do the same thing: Enter an area, dodge some zombies, grab a thing, and run back to the glowing green square. Basically, these side missions give you more game to play. Because the game is terrible, they feel more like a punishment than a bonus.

You can also manage the survivors in your crew, which is another odd idea that doesn't work but could've maybe been interesting in another game. You can give your companions weapons and even send them out on errands to get gas or food. You can also just tell them to "stay at the car," which, if you follow the TV show, is kind of funny, albeit unintentionally so.

But really, this whole aspect of the game is a mess, and just adds some unclear, unfun micromanaging to deal with in between unfun action missions. I'd love to play a post-apocalyptic resource management/travel game like Oregon Trail, but this ain't it.

There's certainly no opportunity to get attached to your friends, and their deaths are treated about as ignobly as could be. Check out the end of this mission (more spoilers, if you care):

So not only does the cutscene trigger before I touch the green box, it ends with a hilariously anticlimactic death scene. Bang! End-of-mission screen! Ha.

Basically, everything else.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a slipshod, uninspired mess. I have to feel for the developers at Terminal Reality-whatever rushed production schedule or other behind-the-scenes shenanigans must have gone down, no professional game-maker could be happy with this final product.

There are so many superior alternatives: If you've got a hankering to kill some zombies in a southern setting, play Left 4 Dead 2. If you love The Walking Dead and want to spend more time in that world, play Telltale's wonderful adventure game from last year. And if you want to play a tense, terrifying first-person zombie game that relies on smarts and sneaking as much as on firepower (and you own a Wii U), play ZombiU.

I can think of no compelling reason why anyone should play this game. Ugly, flat, boring, aggravating and often broken, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is the purest form of video game garbage. It's utterly unworthy of your time and money.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 1:44:22 PM PDT
Is anyone surprised though?

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 1:44:23 PM PDT
Horowitz says:

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 1:45:32 PM PDT
GarionOrb says:
This doesn't surprise me. Activision's advertising was non-existent...almost as if they didn't want us to know this game was releasing.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 1:45:38 PM PDT
JWK says:
Kirk Hammett writes video game reviews for Kotaku?!?! Wow! I guess I didn't realize Metallica was doing so poorly.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 1:47:50 PM PDT
LogJam says:
The reviewer says this is the worst game he's played all year, but to be fair, it is only March

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2013 1:48:45 PM PDT
Bobbum Man says:
When did Aliens CM come out?

I think that game is much much worse.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 1:48:58 PM PDT
[Deleted by Amazon on Aug 22, 2013 5:36:20 PM PDT]

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 1:49:57 PM PDT
Persuasive! I thought even the first one (the award winning Walking Dead) was disappointing in its lack of 360 degree open world. This sounds even more limiting.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 1:53:09 PM PDT
MoultonHawk says:

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 1:56:05 PM PDT
JJ4prez says:
As soon as I saw the game go from 59.99 to 49.99 to 44.99 to 39.99 to 37.49 all in pre-order stages; I pretty much saw this coming.

As Charles Barkley would say, "That's just turrrible."

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 2:38:39 PM PDT
Waldo says:
I liked my FaceBook newsfeed about this game from Kotaku:

"The new Walking Dead game is terrrrrrrible. So, so terrible. You guys. It's awful."

I was LOL over that one. Laughed even harder after reading the review from them.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 2:42:52 PM PDT
GarionOrb says:
Was *anyone* expecting this game to be good?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2013 2:51:19 PM PDT
It really feels like Activision was expecting this to sell purely because it had "The Walking Dead" on it (maybe hoping people would mistake it for the other, critically acclaimed, Walking Dead Game) so they didn't bother marketing it or putting any effort (read: money) into making it.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 2:53:55 PM PDT
McAwesomeo says:
Terminal Reality seems alternately great and horrible. On one hand they made the recent Ghostbusters game. On the other hand, they also made Kinect Star Wars.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2013 2:54:35 PM PDT
1#Pen Name says:

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 2:55:12 PM PDT
Waldo says:
I'm sure this game will sneak into the top 10 of the NPD charts just like the last Aliens game did. # 6 I think it came in at.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2013 2:55:25 PM PDT
He's not anyone though. He's nobody.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2013 3:40:27 PM PDT
Horowitz says:
Kinect Star Wars felt like a masterpiece after playing that Steel Battalion game. :( I love FromSoft, I really do, but that game was god awful. It was truly broken. Not many games are truly broken, just crap, but that one sure was.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 3:46:40 PM PDT
I kind of laughed that the review missed that this was also released on the Wii-U but I'm kind of okay with that considering how bad the game turned out.

The videos on the review are pretty good at showcasing what is wrong with the game. After seeing that I doubt I'll even pick this up on a Steam sale for $5.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 4:36:30 PM PDT
That's sad. Even though I wasn't going to buy this I wanted it to be good.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2013 4:42:42 PM PDT
Joel H. says:
Me too! I like when games i'm not interested in are good.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 20, 2013 4:55:43 PM PDT
Carlito says:
Well, lets be honest, Ghostbusters was only good for the writing which has more to do with Akroyd and Ramis than Terminal Reality. The gameplay was overly redundant and fairly boring. I'm currently struggling to get through it (like many others) and the only thing keeping me interested is the VO's and writing.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 7:22:36 PM PDT
Dukeshire says:
I just played another hour. The game is not all bad. Not worth full price but I explored a police station, did some minor errands. Got chased out of a trailer park and trying to keep from getting killed while gassing up.

Posted on Mar 20, 2013 7:32:03 PM PDT
Waldo says:
What numerical rating would u give it? lol
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Discussion in:  Video Games forum
Participants:  24
Total posts:  32
Initial post:  Mar 20, 2013
Latest post:  Mar 21, 2013

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