The Walking Dead franchise has a new video game that touts a series of good ideas let down by bad execution.
Zombies are old hat. The craze exploded in the early 2010’s but by now, most of us have had our fill of shambling hordes of the undead. The Walking Dead and its immensely popular TV series were responsible for a lot of that excitement and the property has found itself in the video gaming realm time and time again, with varying levels of success. Where Telltale’s series about choices and characters was praised, the Walking Dead FPS directly linked to the AMC show fell short in almost every way. The bottom line is that The Walking Dead hasn’t had an exceptional traditional video game that explores the possibilities that only this franchise has. And it hurts how close this product comes at times only to falter under a gaggle of technical issues.
In OVERKILL’s The Walking Dead, you are a member of a group of survivors who are just trying to get by day to day. However, a group known as “The Family” sets out to make your life difficult and take your supplies. You then choose from a selection of (initially) four characters, each with their own classes and specializations. From this point on, you are tasked with defending your home base, going out for desperately-needed supplies, or saving other survivors to add to your home base. You’ll have to contend with The Family as well as the hordes of walkers in your way.
"Each class brings enough variation to the table that you can experiment with the different playstyles for a long time and not get bored."
Let’s talk about the good things. The gameplay in OVERKILL’s The Walking Dead is solid. The gameplay hook of sneaking around Walkers and staying as quiet as possible is compelling and pretty tense. When you encounter The Family and loud weapons start letting off, you want to end these encounters as quickly as possible or else you’ll attract even more of the horde. Speaking of gunplay, The Walking Dead gives you plenty of options. Shotguns, snipers, assault rifles, crossbows: they’re all here. Along with a whole host of melee weapons. These weapons kick hard when you fire them and the impact of a full-force swing of a baseball bat feels meaty.
The most interesting thing about the gameplay is the option of choice it gives you in every mission. Depending on what equipment you take, you can open up new passages and can proceed through a level in a bit of a different way than you did last time. Deciding whether to stealth and use melee or taking off your valuable yet fragile suppressor in anticipation of an upcoming firefight, these are interesting situations that require a bit of foresight. Missions where you instead need to hold out against enemies in your home base or go out into the world to rescue survivors help break up the tedium as well. Although survivor AI and pathfinding isn’t exactly great, but we’ll get to that later.
Each class brings enough variation to the table that you can experiment with the different playstyles for a long time and not get bored. This also opens up the possibility of synergising with other players cooperatively online. You are able to customize your character through a skill tree and the game operates on a random loot drop system and this is very compelling to see what new and more powerful weapon you get. Though this may be seen as a pretty video game-y idea to implement in a Walking Dead game, the formula itself can’t be denied. You also have a base-management system where you need to upgrade your base and assign survivors to either missions of their own or give them jobs to do within the base.
"Zombies can end up teleporting several yards away at random. Personally, I’ve experienced situations where my stealth kill key just stopped working for an entire mission."
The game attempts a narrative and to its credit, it provides a compelling enough reason to push through to the next mission. There’s only a handful of actual characters in this title and even fewer fleshed-out ones, but the people that are here do a lot to inject character into missions. Your teammates will quip to one another and it helps bring a little levity to the situation. Sound design in this title is on point as well, with the Walkers shambles being enunciated by the boomshock of shotguns and the adrenaline-boosting score that plays through your mission and adapts to your situation.
However, the entire experience is brought down by the numerous bugs and technical issues plaguing the game. If you can imagine it, it can probably happen. Gun models can disappear when revived. Indicators for side missions never leave your UI. Zombies can end up teleporting several yards away at random. Personally, I’ve experienced situations where my stealth kill key just stopped working for an entire mission. In a game so dependant on being able to sneak around enemies, this is practically a death sentence. But that’s just a drop in the bucket. Despite the care being put into it in other aspects, there’s a curious lack of polish present in this title.
Though my worst bug by far was during the mission where you have to rescue a member of The Family, Reina. I wish I could have recorded my team’s experience in trying unsuccessfully to get her unstuck from a rack of clothes for about ten minutes. After trying to beat her, shoot her, and molotov her, we finally just let her get downed by a zombie so we could revive her. This worked well until the next room where she went down on a staircase and couldn’t be revived. I eventually found a revive prompt far away from her body and she shot back up to where I was; a few stories above where she laid previously. This was all happening a room away from the extraction point. We managed to coax her outside when it happened: she got stuck on top of a box truck and would not move. The situation made me laugh so hard that I could almost recommend this game. Almost. My teammates and I tried everything before finally typing in our “GG”s and disconnecting.
"Players who can stick through the initial learning curve will find a game that is fun to play and a unique experience in The Walking Dead universe. But even then, this game is in such a buggy state that it’s hard to recommend this title, no matter the fun you can potentially have."
That’s another thing: we had to type because there’s no voice chat in this title. In a game so dependant on teamwork and stealth, this is a huge oversight. With friends, you can use outside applications like Discord and Skype, but this creates a pretty impersonal atmosphere with randoms. Random matchmaking is already pretty segregated because you can’t actually hold onto a team for repeat missions or bask in your success together. Once a mission ends, you’re given your loot and forced to disconnect to the main map. From there, your only hope of matching up with the same players again would be either sending friend requests or just holding out blind hope. This de-emphasis on teamplay stands in stark contrast to the actual gameplay of The Walking Dead.
There’s also just some confusing design choices that make the game a bit more of a slog than it should be. After each mission, you’re sent to the map screen. However, you have to go to your base to collect rewards for completing missions. This is doubly confusing because the base is very clearly set up as your hub where you can purchase new weapons and store them away and would be perfect to launch new missions from. Having both this hub and the map screen seems redundant and only serves to add another (lengthy) load time into the mix.
The game is also not very newcomer-friendly. As soon as you start the title, the first mission you’re thrown into is a base defense mission where you have different crates full of ammo, bandage materials, and planks of wood to board the gates up with. You’re not given any instruction on what to do or how to do it and this philosophy is all throughout the game. You’re never taught how to craft and I suspect many players are still not aware this is even a part of the game. There’s many resources that impact the base-building portion of the game, but they will never be brought up or explained. These are important and game-changing mechanics and they are not highlighted in any way. Players who experiment with these systems will find a hidden complexity to The Walking Dead, but for those players who miss out on all of these mechanics, I can’t even blame you.
Players who can stick through the initial learning curve will find a game that is fun to play and a unique experience in The Walking Dead universe. But even then, this game is in such a buggy state that it’s hard to recommend this title, no matter the fun you can potentially have. Fans of the property may find glimpses of the game they’ve been waiting for, but they’re just as likely to get stuck in a wall. These issues may get resolved with patches down the road, but for now, you could probably stand to wait and pick this game up at a discount later on.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Fun gameplay, Interesting story, Lots of replay value, Loot-based gameplay cycle is engaging.
Terrible technical issues, Not newcomer-friendly, Matchmaking is lacking.
OVERKILL's The Walking Dead is a fun title that is bogged down by a combination of bugs, lack of sign-posting, and confusing design decisions.