The creators of Payday are the latest to adapt The Walking Dead into a video game, but has the long wait been worth it?
After the trainwreck that was 2013s The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, fans of the AMC television show – currently in its ninth season – have been waiting for a proper video game adaptation that isnt a shambling mess or some form of money-hungry mobile tie-in. This is, of course, completely glossing over Telltales unfinished episodic series which is linked more closely with the original comic books.
When it was announced that Overkill Software, developers of the incredibly popular Payday series, would helm a first person shooter based on the hit show, there was a ray of hope. However, after dipping in and out of the spotlight these past four years, Overkills The Walking Dead quietly launched earlier this week to very little fanfare. A worrying sign, to say the least.
You wont be playing as your favourite characters from the show or re-living any momentous set pieces in this game. Instead of focusing on series frontman, Rick Grimes, and his bedraggled troupe of survivors, this game opts for a complete change in setting: the urban sprawl of Washington, D.C. In truth, story isnt a particularly big focus here: if youre looking for some prize-winning post-apocalyptic fiction, youre in the wrong genre. That said, efforts have been made to flesh out this new chapter in The Walking Dead mythos, introducing a handful of protagonists as well as their rivals, a faction known as The Family.
Unsurprisingly, Overkills The Walking Dead can be seen as an extension of the developers previous work on Payday. Its a co-operative online shooter built specifically for squads of four players, working and communicating together to complete objectives and survive its hazardous, unpredictable wasteland.
It also inherits the same snappy-yet-smooth gunplay though this is now paired with melee combat. Given the scarcity of ammo, swinging bats, axes, and other makeshift weapons is often needed to deal with walkers but offers nothing in the way of fun, dynamic gameplay, pressing the same button over and over until they die. Again.
Overkills zombies are fairly harmless on their own, shambling in a way that makes headshots easy to pull off. In ones or twos they can easily be dispatched as you kite around them or approach from behind for a stealth takedown. However, when dozens of them appear, they form herds that can easily overpower you, backing your squad into a corner and effectively denying access to parts of the map. Those who have played Left 4 Dead, as well as the more recent Warhammer: Vermintide, will notice some obvious similarities.
From the campaign map, youll select missions to embark on, squadding up with friends (or strangers, via matchmaking) before picking one of the four characters available at launch, each with their own slightly different playstyle. Aidan, for instance, serves as a tank, favouring short-ranged weapons and taking more damage – making him perfect for drawing walkers away from injured or otherwise engaged team members. Other class abilities, such as Mayas deployable health packs, help to create moments of tactical synergy, allowing you to trounce combat scenarios or pull yourself from the jaws of defeat.
Needless to say, you shouldnt even think of riding solo. Overkills The Walking Dead is a game centred on teamwork, levels specifically designed with four players in mind, from the types of objective to the density of enemies lurking around every corner.
These levels fall into one of two categories. Some will have you defending a map, gunning down waves of walkers, barricading entrances and gathering resources, not unlike Call Of Dutys Zombies mode. The other stages feel more akin to those youd find in a traditional co-op shooter campaign and usually take half an hour to complete, if not longer. They involve ticking off a series of story-focused objectives and have a much bigger emphasis on stealth compared to the survival shootouts.
A silent approach can mask your movements, allowing you to skirt herds of walkers and maybe even Family patrols. Falling prey to traps, setting off alarms, and gunfire (both your own and that of enemies) will increase an awareness meter that stays active throughout the entire mission. This is split into three tiers, each one filling the map with a higher density of walkers, to the point that reckless players will find themselves wading through a flesh-eating sea of the undead, severely hampering their chances of success.
On one hand this can make missions feel extremely tense, just like many of the narrow, nail-biting escapes weve seen play out during the television show. This desperation ramps up when you realise whats at stake: with no checkpoints, a full squad wipe will send you back to the menu, all resources and loot jettisoned. Arguably, its a bit too much and at times it definitely feels as though the odds are unfairly stacked against you and your teammates, even on The Walking Deads easiest difficulty.
Its a challenging co-op experience and one that you should only consider buying if you have at least another friend to pair up with and hit the matchmaking queue. That said, even if youre rolling in a full, four-person squad, youll eventually rub against the same repetitive gameplay loop. The level design follows a similar pattern as you slash and sneak through walker herds and engage in what is usually a sloppy, prolonged gunfight before making a dash for the extraction zone.
If The Walking Dead was perhaps more experimental or leant a little harder on fan service, its shortcomings would be easier to overlook. However, what youre left with is a fairly uninspiring co-op shooter that shies away from any risks, failing to evolve the genre in any meaningful way despite spending four years in the oven. In that time, the multiplayer landscape has changed drastically and although it still has a zealous core of fans, it has to be said that The Walking Dead doesnt drum up as much excitement as it once did.
Overkill's The Walking Dead
In Short: It channels the grit and desperation of the TV show well enough, but the prolonged development has ended in a co-op shooter that feels outdated and unexceptional.
Pros: Well-polished and faithful to the shows post-apocalyptic world. Smooth, competent gunplay.
Cons: Outdated by design, with severe repetition, infuriating difficulty spikes, and an overall lack of originality.
Formats: PC (reviewed), Xbox One, and PlayStation 4
Publisher: Starbreeze Studios
Release Date: 6th November 2018
Age Rating: 18
By Jim Hargreaves