The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct Is The Worst Game I've Played This Year

Shaun of the Dead starts out with a running gag where it's clear that a zombie apocalypse is going on, but the heroes don't notice. As they walk down the street, we can see obscured scenes of undead carnage in the background, but Shaun is too wrapped up in his girlfriend-troubles to see.

Sometimes, a bad video game can feel a bit like that. You're playing, preoccupied with tutorials and introductory cinematic sequences, not yet fully aware of the jankiness that lurks in the shadows. Eventually, the game hits its stride and its crapiness gets right up to your face, groaning and snapping its teeth.

Terminal Reality's new game The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct does not indulge in such ambiguity. Both the zombie apocalypse and the game's utter badness are readily apparent within the first five minutes.

I spent last night playing through the first couple of hours of the first-person survival horror game, which came out yesterday for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Survival Instinct begins with a weird, cordoned-in tutorial that first sends you in pursuit of a false objective, then puts you into an unwinnable fight against a bunch of zombies, or "walkers" in The Walking Dead parlance. You die. Then comes the big reveal — spoiler alert? — that you were in control of the father of Daryl and Merle Dixon, and your terrible shooting and running skills got him killed. It's a crap tutorial even among crap tutorials, and of course, a precursor of all the crap to come.

But first! Comes the credits sequence. Which, if you're a fan of the popular AMC Walking Dead TV show, will feel mighty familiar. Bear McCreary's six-note violin motif and string-section dive-bombs push through an evocative collection of rural imagery accompanied by the names of the actors who appear in the game. It's almost like you're watching a TV show!

And then, back to the game, which is very clearly not a TV show. You take control of Daryl Dixon, the man you'll command for the rest of the game. Side-note on Daryl — it's interesting that the most popular character on the TV show is this guy who has no counterpart in the comics. I like Daryl on the show, too. His low-drama badassery stands in welcome contrast to the whining and carrying on of the majority of the cast, and Norman Reedus manages to inhabit the role with a sharp, morally ambiguous intelligence. And he does seem like the most obvious character on the show to base a video game around, what with his signature crossbow and mysterious backstory.

But even if Daryl deserves to get to star in his own video game, it shouldn't be this one. I've spent two hours playing Survival Instinct, and those two hours were filled with frustration, boredom, and that peculiar form of bleak hopelessness that accompanies the worst games.

Of course, it's not a huge surprise that Survival Instinct is bad. Its promotional campaign has been festooned with warning signs — in particular the fact that they've been cagey about actually showing the game. The introductory trailers made a far bigger deal about the fact that the game stars Reedus as Daryl and Michael Rooker as his brother, Merle (Wow! Real actors from a TV show! In a video game!) than anything related to the game itself. We were unable to secure and early copy of the game for review, which is never a good sign. And early footage that hit the web was... well, it wasn't promising.

So, if you've been paying attention, it won't be a huge surprise when I tell you that the game is a steaming pile and an utter waste of time and money. But if this is all new to you, allow me to demonstrate a few of the ways it comes up short.

It's very ugly.

Survival Instinct looks and moves like an Xbox 360 launch title, with inconsistent performance and flat colours and textures. On PC, it offers the following advanced graphical options:

Here's what the game looks like without light shafts:

And here's what it looks like with them:

OK then!

Combat is a drag.

Combat in the game is a disaster, plain and simple. In the early stages, you'll have a couple of guns and a knife. One of the guns uses a scope and is essentially useless, as the zombies are never far away enough to require you to use it. The shotgun is more useful, but is so loud that it attracts far more zombies than you could ever kill with your limited ammunition. That leaves you with the knife, which lets you get into a kind of hilarious slap-fight with a zombie until you kill it. As seen here:

Level design is awful — I'd run into a room and more often than not would get cornered and die. Doors are inconsistent — some will open, but most are glued shut. And there are invisible walls everywhere.

Check out this doozy from the end of another early mission:

You can also manage the survivors in your crew, which is another odd idea that doesn't work but could've maybe been interesting in another game. You can give your companions weapons and even send them out on errands to get gas or food. You can also just tell them to "stay at the car," which, if you follow the TV show, is kind of funny, albeit unintentionally so.

But really, this whole aspect of the game is a mess, and just adds some unclear, unfun micromanaging to deal with in between unfun action missions. I'd love to play a post-apocalyptic resource management/travel game like Oregon Trail, but this ain't it.

There's certainly no opportunity to get attached to your friends, and their deaths are treated about as ignobly as could be. Check out the end of this mission (more spoilers, if you care):

So not only does the cutscene trigger before I touch the green box, it ends with a hilariously anticlimactic death scene. Bang! End-of-mission screen! Ha.

Basically, everything else.

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a slipshod, uninspired mess. I have to feel for the developers at Terminal Reality — whatever rushed production schedule or other behind-the-scenes shenanigans must have gone down, no professional game-maker could be happy with this final product.

There are so many superior alternatives: If you've got a hankering to kill some zombies in a southern setting, play Left 4 Dead 2. If you love The Walking Dead and want to spend more time in that world, play Telltale's wonderful adventure game from last year. And if you want to play a tense, terrifying first-person zombie game that relies on smarts and sneaking as much as on firepower (and you own a Wii U), play ZombiU.

I can think of no compelling reason why anyone should play this game. Ugly, flat, boring, aggravating and often broken, The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is the purest form of video game garbage. It's utterly unworthy of your time and money.


    Its everything I thought it would be......and less.

      The worst thing is I was at Eb games in Whitfords (WA) and the moron behind the counter was saying "it's the best game I have played all year".... That makes me mad now because some poor bastards will buy the game thanks to this incoherent waste of sperm

        Because its zombies some people will buy it and love it anyway. It's like shiny vampires for girls.

          That's so true I'm going to write it down and use it later.
          Thank god EB games will give you a full refund for 7 days after purchase; which is plenty of time to realize that the game is awful and/or finish the game.

        I know that store who was on the counter? also I noticed they charge $69 for it when you can buy it for 20 on steam.

        Dude, he's just trying to make a sale, salespeople lie ALL THE TIME.

          That's true when I was at my old job my boss told me convince customers to buy these products which I personally didn't like.

            i'm way too honest at work, but ultimately a good thing. if it's got mixed reviews i'll say so and in this case i would flat out tell a customer it's junk, or depending on the situation say i dont know much about it and go on to recommend tomb raider, far cry 3, metal gear rising or dmc.

    "...but Shaun is too wrapped up in his [hangover] to see."

      And his Cornetto

        Or was his Cornetto too wrapped up to notice?

      Haha, I just watched this movie again last night with a few friends.

    I was expecting this to be crap. With regards to the review, I think early Xbox is generous. I was watching that Kingdom Heart PS2/PS3 comparison, and this looks about the same as the PS2 version.

    I was a massive fan of the comincs, but the TV show just turned all the characters into whiny, self absorbed dumbasses completely oblivious to their surroundings and void of any common sense or redeeming qualities. I was interested to see how this would fare against the reigning champ, L4D2. But dayum... I thought they'd be trying to chase L4D to the top, not The War Z to the bottom!

    Why would you waste your cash on this when you can pick up L4D for something like $5 on Steam??

    Last edited 21/03/13 3:26 pm

    $70 AU xbox ps3 from EB games or $20 US on steam

      Holy shit you're kidding me??? Price gouge or WHAT

        Oh hi! Let me take your coat. You must have just arrived......

        You've never noticed the price discrepancy between console and PC versions of games until now?
        That's the difference between an open platform [PC] and a closed, proprietary system. Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo charge licensing fees to release content on their systems.
        *Not making a judgement over which system is better/worse, simply stating their respective models and why the price difference exists.

        But ultimately, you pay less for the console hardware than equivalent or better PC hardware. But they make their money back from software. I guess ultimately it all evens out in the end.

          No, what's different is that on day ONE of release the price discrepancy is fifty dollars. Of course I've noticed this before, but name me another game that has had this sort of discrepancy between versions PC, 360 and PS3 before on day 1 of release? When other, more prominent games manage to release themselves at the more reasonable pricing point of 49.95 late in the life of the consoles while brand new, 69.95 is an absolute slap to the face, kick in the balls AND spit in your mouth while you're down.

          Last edited 22/03/13 12:44 pm

    yeh I think most of us expected this to be pretty crap. Can't wait for the next season of Telltale's game and also Day Z standalone (when is that coming out?). I'm currently getting my zombie killing fix from Resident Evil 6 (mainly Leon's campaign) and Dead Rising 2 Off the Record (sandbox mode). It's a form of stress relief for me :).

    Good news - the point and click walking dead on sale and first chapter FREE on ps+

    Last edited 21/03/13 4:18 pm

    @kirkhamilton Can Kotaku do some sort of story into the pricing discrepancy here? The 50 dollar issue is pretty damn high...

    Last edited 21/03/13 6:49 pm

      It isn't like this is unusual or News. The ultimate answer is 'Because we can and there's nothing you can do about it, neener!'. As crap as this game is, kudos for not making Steam jack up the price in other regions.

        I'm used to seeing prices majorly jacked up and there's nothing to be mad at Steam about, moreso the actual retail ones. Why 70 bucks???? That seems ludicrous.

    It doesn't look as bad as war z at least haha

    is it worse than colonial marines?

    I'm slightly relieved that this article was what it was. The title pic made me honestly afraid it was going to be a "Look, you punch a female zombie repeatedly! It's the worst game ever." style article.

    I kinda want it now.. just to see how bad it really is!

    This'll look great next to my copies of Turning Point: Fall of Liberty and Amy.

    Did no one realise that this game is almost entirely ripped code line for line - out of the War Z ?
    Animations, AI, environment - the works. I cant believe everyone missed it.
    Its so similar, even the menu system is identical.
    Take a look at damage to zombies, items even the textures are the same.

      Granted the guys from War Z stole a lot of stuff with their game, but clearly these dev guys stole straight from either the same place (assuming its a different team) or they figured they'd just borrow a fair bit from another shit game and get away with it.

    Activision are also giving the game 10/10 reviews on Metacritic. You know something is wrong when the publisher has to resort to that.

    Lol's at the graphics, that really immersive 1992 style. FUCK ME.

    I brought this game because Walking Dead now I want to die.

    thats bs, i enjoy the game but your right about the killing, it drags on to much and the graphics are fine, look at borderlands its got different graphic but people like it. It takes time.

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