It's more survival than running and gunning
It’s been an exciting year for The Walking Dead. The comic series reached its 100th issue, the TV series has hit its stride in the current season, and Telltale Games’ adventure title has broken new ground for storytelling and reinvigorated a near-dormant adventure genre. Now, AMC’s TV series makes its videogame debut in a new action horror title.
Set before the main events of the TV series, the developers at Terminal Reality are determined to bring their own take on surviving the zombie apocalypse in their new single-player-focused survival horror game.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed])
The developers at Terminal Reality (Ghostbusters: The Video Game) were excited to be able to work on a zombie game, and they were even more delighted to work on a title for a series like The Walking Dead. Players will take on the role of fan favorite from the TV series, Daryl Dixon.
Glenn Gamble, system designer at Terminal Reality, felt that Daryl was the obvious choice for the player character. “He seemed like the natural choice," Glenn told me. "He’s better suited for survival and what we wanted to go for." Taking place during the beginning of the outbreak, Daryl and his brother, Merle, must band together with other survivors and make it through hordes of walkers as they travel across Georgia looking for safety. The developers felt that this unexplored time frame would allow them to grow and flesh out Daryl‘s past with his brother Merle.
To stay consistent with the TV series, Terminal Reality and the writers of the show collaborate often and brainstorm ideas on how to shed light on the duo's history. Moreover, Daryl and Merle are both fully voiced and performed by their respective actors (Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker) from the TV series. “They were really happy to be doing it,” Gamble recalled of one of the recording sessions with the actors.
Our presentation began with the “Lemon Hill” level of the game. In this stage, Daryl and Merle head into an overrun town to reunite with Merle’s biker gang. To do so, they need to clear out the undead and gather as much supplies as possible. Prior to this, the developers selected the mission at the player hub, which is basically the character’s vehicle with his supplies, such as maps and weapons, scattered across the hood of your current vehicle (the characters are always on the move, of course.) When interacting with the map, players can chart out their course and check their progress, and selecting the knife will start the mission.
Like many recent zombie games, Survival Instinct emphasizes the survival horror gameplay over pure action. Daryl will be able to take advantage of melee weapons, firearms, and even his crossbow to take down walkers. Since it emphasizes survival, you will have to take several things into account before engaging hostiles: resources are limited, the undead come in large numbers, and you’re almost always alone.
To survive, you have to play smart and be cautious of your surroundings. Running in guns blazing will only result in a quick death. Walkers are easily attracted to noise -- “human noises” as the developers put it -- such as gun fire, bottles breaking, humans running by them, etc. Fortunately, you can take advantage of this by luring the horde away from your objectives, and baiting lone zombies towards you for quick stealth kills. Creating tension and maintaining atmosphere was a key focus for Terminal Reality, they even went as far as making the FOV (field of view) appear closer to give the impression that walkers are invading your personal space in order to heighten the tension further.
On the surface, and when looking at early pictures, it doesn’t seem to be as dense as described, but there’s much more to this game than it appears. One of the major elements of Survival Instinct is player choice. As you progress through the game, you will be able to pick your routes, which will ultimately determine which levels you’ll explore. While there will be some levels that are mandatory for narrative purposes, a good chunk of stages are optional, and everyone’s playthrough of the game won’t be exactly alike.
Another feature that the developers were keen to talk about were the road events. While traveling between waypoints (large levels), the game will prompt you with a randomized side mission that will task you with such objectives as raiding an abandoned farm, searching a sheriff station, or clearing out debris on a highway. Though you can ignore these events, it’s recommended that you attempt them when you are low on resources. Of course, there’s always a risk when engaging in these side missions. While you can acquire more supplies and resources, you leave yourself vulnerable to attack.
Though it wasn’t shown in the demo build, a major part of the game will be banding together with fellow survivors on your trek through Georgia. During missions with Daryl, players can meet other survivors in the field and bring them back to safety after completion. Unfortunately, the amount of survivors you can have is limited by the amount of seats in your vehicle. Eventually, you’ll either have to cut someone loose or decline a request for admittance from a survivor.
When your group is a manageable size, you take advantage of the extra hands by sending them out on tasks. Similar to games like Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, the player will be able to assign individual survivors with their own unique objectives while the player is out in the field such as gathering supplies, collecting gear, and even finding more survivors.
There is a risk, however. If the mission proves to be too difficult for them, or if you give them weak gear for their assignment, then there’s the possibility of them never making it back alive. This creates an interesting risk/reward system. Should you risk your survivor and supplies for the possibility of getting a greater income of supplies? The choice is up to you.
Though it’s very early and a long way from release, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct seems like a game with a lot of great ideas that’s backed with wildly popular mythology. With that said, the journey itself looks to be an exciting and clever prospect. There’s an enthusiastic respect for the series on the part of Terminal Reality, and their excitement about the game is very reassuring.