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Walking Dead: Survival Instinct preview: More COD with zombies?

Activision's undead shooter shambles into view

Let's address the burning question: no, Terminal Reality's Walking Dead first-person shooter is not as teeth-grindingly awful as the leaked gameplay (subsequently pulled) would suggest. In that, the player nonchalantly skips through the deadened streets of Georgia's Lemon Hill, stabbing walkers with almost pitiful ease and responding to approaching hordes by... jogging away.

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In that footage, it looks like Call of Duty, but The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is not Call of Duty, and Terminal Reality's senior systems designer Glen Gamble was keen to hammer that point home early on: "Pulling the trigger is like ringing the dinner bell," he warned. "We've got a few reasons why you wouldn't want to do that."

Following AMC's hit show rather than Robert Kirkman's comics, stealth and caution are key. You play crossbow-wielding hick hunter Daryl Dixon who, along with his brother Merle and several familiar-faced survivors recruitable after a favour, retain the likenesses and voices of their show counterparts. Set in the first boom of the outbreak as TV and comics protagonist Rick Grimes slumbers deep in a coma, you'll need to prioritise smarts over firepower to come out of each self-contained suburban, urban and rural level alive.

MY NAME IS MERLE

The hands-off demo opens with Daryl crouching behind a burned out car. A dozen-strong pack of walkers lie ahead, and not the kind peddled by Gary Lineker. Running at them would be suicide. Instead, Daryl picks up a bottle and chucks it, distracting them long enough to slip past unseen. It's a device ancient in the land of stealth, but one indicative of Survival Instinct's tone.

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With walkers lacking the threatening speed of Left 4 Dead's agile infected, we wonder whether it's instead possible to merely run rings around them. We soon got our answer. As Daryl ducks into an alley, he's grabbed by a walker and gets an up close and personal look at the effects of several weeks without a toothbrush. If this happens in a group, you're dead - other walkers won't patiently wait for the QTE to finish before piling in.

Sprinting around in the Georgia heat makes you sweat - and sweat obscures your vision...

To boot, sprinting around in the Georgia heat with a loaded inventory and several hot firearms in your pocket makes you pant hard, causing thick sweat to drip down and obscure sight. Sweat leads to smell, and staying in one place too long will attract walkers by the sheer power of bad B.O. Noisily treading on trash and broken glass is also ill-advised. Fortunately, on this playthrough the rest of the alleyway was clear (apparently walkers never spawn the same place twice, with even seemingly incapacitated bodies springing to life randomly), and Daryl continued through unscathed. Er, apart from knifing one walker through the head in a gory stealth kill and completely decapitating another on the way out.

His mission is to collect five boxes of fireworks scattered through the level. The goal? Take out a crowd with one massive blast. An explosive task, but one slightly more pedestrian in practice. Hunting for crates behind grey vents, down anonymous side streets and amidst barren shopfronts, then pressing X and seeing it instantly disappear into your magical backpack, seemed a touch MMO-lite.

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The finale's better at raising pulse levels. Daryl launched a sparking red flare to clear a bustling cemetery, placed fireworks under a church pulpit, then rang the bell. As walkers came staggering, brother Merle, tracking your progress on walkie talkie, gave the signal to blow everyone to high heaven.

A different game altogether to what we saw in that laughable leaked footage, then, and one markedly tenser, more layered and more perilous. Seeing as the demo was hands-off, though, it's not yet clear whether gamers will play it quite the same way.

FISH IN A DARYL

QTE's and sweat mechanics aside, there really doesn't seem to be anything stopping players simply walking up to foes and popping them in the head, or worse, not engaging with them entirely. The danger, to be honest, are levels that last thirty seconds. This is something you can only know from picking up the controller yourself.

Of course, walkers, slow and stupid, present a danger in heaving crowds rather than as individuals - a sort of death-by-a-thousand-bites - where survivors flit from hunter to hunted in a single moment of complacency. This is the essence Terminal Reality need to capture. At the moment, those heaving crowds are, worryingly, more like a Dead Island gaggle.

Despite this, however, there's clear regard for the source material. The developers, we're told, took botany lessons to study the flora and fauna of Georgia (apparently temperatures range in the high 30's and there is zero tumbleweed in the state), hit the gun range to get a feel for firearms (Magnums recoil like ship cannons), and mo-capped overzealous actors to play walkers (one guy nearly tore a pillow in half with his teeth).

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The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct swears it's not CoD. If it honours the pledge, this could be a taut and tense first-person survival game.

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