Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Windows
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 6/8/2019 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
I’m a sucker for Wii U. I’m a sucker for zombie games. With those things in mind, a zombie game on Wii U should be everything I want in a game, right? Yeah…that might be the case normally but not this time. I knew going into it that The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct had been pretty much universally panned as an unmitigated disaster of a game, but with my love of terrible games, I figured I could find something to like about it, and to some extent, I did, but it was a challenge to find any redeeming traits here. Like the zombies in the game, flaws pop up out of nowhere and without an end.
The first thing that players will notice is the graphics. This game looks like a hot mess. Aside from a couple of visual flourishes – and I mean “a couple” literally – this game looks like it would be right at home on the Wii or Xbox. Even those flourishes I mentioned give away the craptastic visual quality. When you’re holding the crossbow but not aiming, you can see a reflection of the environment in the scope’s glass lens, but you’ll notice that the reflection doesn’t move at all; it’s just a static image that looks vaguely similar to that stage’s environment. Yeah, it’s a nicer touch than just a blank black lens, but it’s an obvious crap job. As far as the zombies go, there are something like a dozen character models that are just used over and over again. I once killed a knifed a zombie that was eating an identical dead zombie right beside a third identical zombie. Obviously, it would have been impractical to make hundreds of unique zombies for a low budget game, but at least design an algorithm that doesn’t do that crap.
The story is…okay. It’s a prequel to the AMC series that focuses on everyone’s favorite character who wasn’t named Glenn (RIP), Daryl Dixon. The game has you play as Daryl as he goes looking for his white trash brother, Merle, in the early days of the infection before the first episode of the show picks up (but, as far as I can tell, after the later developed Fear the Walking Dead series takes place). There isn’t anything especially bad about the story although the voice acting sucks except for Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker, but the story is just boring. It feels like it was the last thing they decided on. “Okay, we’ve got this game about zombies and shit. Who’s got a story we can haphazardly put over it?”
The game’s biggest downfall is just its controls and performance. There really is a good game here, but it’s buried so deep under shitty performance, clunky controls, and annoying bugs that it’s nearly impossible to find. The game targets 30 fps, but it usually runs somewhere in the 20s and, at times, dips to something like 10 fps. Considering that the Wii U was the most powerful of the three consoles that saw releases (I’m excluding PC, naturally, as it’s not a console), this is egregious. With the game looking as sub-par as it does, it’s inexcusable that it runs like shit, too. The controls also just feel unnecessarily cumbersome. Your inventory management is done with the gamepad’s touchscreen, a feature utilization that I actually think deserves praise, but the game seems to have a hard time deciding if you REALLY wanted to switch to that item or weapon. If you just lightly tap it, it seems to consider that “incidental” and doesn’t change your weapons. Normally, this is fine – just tap the screen again a little hard and a little longer – but if you’re trying to change weapons while being cornered by a horde of zombies, that second or two could get you killed. The crossbow – ironically not acquired until more than halfway through the game despite being Daryl’s whole thing – was my biggest point of frustration. Sometimes the arrows go exactly where they should. Sometimes the arrows hit a zombie’s head despite clearly missing the zombie entirely. Sometimes you can watch an arrow go straight into a zombie’s head but register as a shoulder hit. You’re supposed to be able to retrieve arrows regardless of whether you hit or miss, but a lot of these arrows just seem to vanish into the ether. Even if you can see the object model of the arrow sticking out of a tree or a wall, it will occasionally not let you pick it up even if it’s got a red outline to denote that it’s an item that can be picked up. All around, it’s clear that QA was not on the priority list before rushing this game to market.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is an affront to fans of The Walking Dead, an affront to fans of the Wii U, and an affront to fans of zombie games in general. It’s a shame, too, because the foundations of a really fun game are here. It stars a fan-favorite character, the survival and risk-vs-reward aspects could be a lot of fun, and the survivor companion management during missions is neat, but it’s a “death by a thousand cuts” sort of situation here; there are just SO MANY problems with the game, that what few redeeming aspects it has just aren’t worth the hassle. Unless you’re going for a full set of games like I did for Wii U (or if you’re going for it on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3), there’s absolutely no reason to own this game. It’s entertaining enough for a while as a “Haha, look how shitty this game is” party gag, but as an actual game, it’s utter garbage.