The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct – Finally arriving at Fiddler’s Green?

Posted: March 20, 2013 by ryanlecocq in Uncategorized

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A Walk down memory lane is more like it.  Good or bad memories is subjective.

So I just got done reading the Penny Arcade Report after playing this game for so long last night that I almost passed out from starvation (in my papasan, not in the game).  To be fair, there were some valid points there.  Especially if you only play the game for 30-45 minutes.  I guess in order to call yourself a game journalist, you don’t actually have to play the whole game the same way film and music critics do before they review products.  That would be like a real, professional industry and we all know that gaming is just a lark for little kids.  All satirical sarcasm aside, this is not the best zed-hunting game around.  What it is, is the newest version of a product that’s been trying to emerge for over a decade.

So if you’re anything similar to the zombie game nuts that Brice and I are, just like us, you were playing the crap out of Killing Floor back in ’05 as it was the pre-Left 4 Dead-Left 4 Dead (aka the people who deserve credit for the idea).  Somewhere around this time, the severely flawed Land of the Dead: Road to Fiddler’s Green came out and created the Zombie-Sim-Shooter genre in a very crude fashion.  While the game was definitely something only a mother or extremely loyal zombie gamer could love, apparently enough people fell into the latter category to lead to one of the biggest fan total conversions in history.  If you “were there man” you know what’s in this next sentence: this was the cult megahit Day of the Zombie.  Day of the Zombie took the basic clunky engine of Fiddler’s Green and tried to streamline the good zombie sim parts, while replacing the bad level design with user created, objective-based mini sandboxes.  It was actually based partially on the original, license-less form of the game which was going to be released under the same name.  Hundreds of maps were made and a huge number of already existing maps for Killing Floor that tried to do this kind of gameplay were ported over to this more fitting design.  Sure, even with thousands of lines of user improvements to the code, it was still a damn crude game, but we were playing what many of us had dreamed of since first seeing Night of the Living Dead and we were willing to view it though some seriously tinted glasses given that this was before the first L4D had even released.

Fast forward 8 years and we STILL haven’t seen a truly good game in this unexplored sub-genre.  Sure, Dead Island has a tiny, tiny bit of sim and realism aspects, but fails on 3X as many more that were removed or not fully implemented.  ZombieU comes the closest in concept, but is a worse game than Survival Instinct and probably even Fiddler’s Green.  Two very popular independent projects, Day Z and The War Z are both going in the sim direction.  Unfortunately, The War Z will likely never recover from it’s PR clusterpoke and Day Z is much more of a Shooter-Sim like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. than a zombie sim.  The zombie gameplay is done very well, but the ultra-realistic military shooter DNA from the original Arma 2 game shines through during the majority of gameplay, making it a shooter first.  So now, 3 paragraphs in, we’re up to speed on where you need to be to approach this game so that you can enjoy it.

If this is not your first Zombie-Sim-Shooter, I can make the rest of this very brief.  This is the best one yet, definitely play this over ZombieU unless The War Z actually resurfaces by the time you read this.  The whole Walking Dead franchise part is actually the smallest part of the game.  Sad to say, as just like Fiddler’s Green, the marketing will entirely fail to put it in the hands of people who will like it and mostly in the hands of people who will hate it.  It’s awesome running around as Daryl for about the first hour.  Then you will completely forget you are playing a licensed game, because you will be much more concerned with the sim elements of the game.

What you should really expect is about a 50/50 mix of Day of the Zombie and Fallout 2.  Yes, by that I mean that this game is at least as much old-school RPG as shooter.  You manage a party, resources and deal with random encounters far more often than you blow anything up.  Penny Arcade clearly didn’t have the patience to realize that what they were complaining about was a gameplay system within an RPG, not a glitch.  This game has RANDOM ENCOUNTERS.  These are based on rules and math.  If for example, you are inept, as that journalist, it is possible to plan so badly that you run out of fuel, break down and stop for supplies all in one of the shortest routes that only has one possible encounter.  Granted, you have to completely ignore the text and hints of the menu to do this, but clearly that is possible.   The result is you will get stuck in the same random encounter, or two of them, over and over again until you successfully complete one of the game’s simplest tasks; driving (that’s how you use a semi-colon btw, PA) from point A to point B.  If you pay attention to your fuel, the type of road you are taking and your vehicle, this will seldom or never happen.  On an average trip between towns later in the game, you will encounter 0-3 random diners, truck stops, motels etc. that are randomly generated versions of similar templates.  If that immediately reminded you of the Fallout series, yep you’re right on track.  Just as you will encounter similar bands of outlaws or little detours with slight variation over and over in those games, the same is true for Survival Instinct.  If you hate Final Fantasy just because you fight the same Giant 300 times in different color variations, then RPGs and similarly this game are just not for you.  If you are used to managing stats and ignoring what’s visually happening on the screen as you focus on number-munching for hours on end, come on in, there is a ton of fun to be had.

The next RPG element that other “journalists” seem to be missing is that the other survivors and vehicles are a managed resource.  Think mercs in Final Fantasy Tactics.  There are actually at least half a dozen types of cars, with different stats and number of seats.  Survivors also have different stats and skills, so managing your fuel-economy, seating and luggage capacity is another of the game’s systems.  There isn’t a freaking cinema scene every time you add or drop someone because you do it about as often as you change party members in the aforementioned FFT.  If you want to bash a game for not being a shallow franchise action game, be my guest.  Each to his own.  The slew of reviews I see that completely fail to grasp the game and immediately pan it on the other hand, is just unacceptable journalism.  If you didn’t want a Shooter-Sim-RPG, sorry, there’s another fantastic Walking Dead game and the action packed Day Z, right there for you to play on Steam already.  If you have been wanting the perfect Zombie sim game for a decade, no it isn’t here yet, but this one is closer.

I would just like to close by saying:  How many games could you have enjoyed had you not listened to an article by someone who has barely played them?  If you are trusting Game Informer, Penny Arcade or Gamespot for your gaming opinions, the count could be pretty high.  I’ve caught them repeatedly and blasted them on their blogs and comments sections.  If you can remember Gamespot’s Zelda Skyward Sword review (just FYI, read the instructions for your sensor bar, or understand the concept of IR if you want it to work), you know they never admit it.  They come up with excuses and blame preview copies and won’t just admit they are too lazy to do what I do on my own time and money with their comfortable salaries.  I know that this is sort of a combined article, bashing bad journalism and promoting a mediocre game to the few that will like it, but that’s what’s great about being independent.  I can rant, ramble, review and detail, all in the same article if I feel like it.

EDIT:  Check out State of Decay!  It’s the one, finally.  A true zombie survivor sim that is still an independent game with some rough patches, but by far the best one yet.  Only available on XBLA so far, but coming to Steam soon.

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