Release Date: November 6, 2018Platform: PCDeveloper: OverkillPublisher: Starbreeze & 505 GamesGenre: Cooperative First-person Shooter
Overkill’s The Walking Dead has the worst opening mission I’ve played in years. With no direction about where to go or how anything works, you’re dropped into your group’s camp with three other survivors to seal the gates and keep a horde of walkers at bay. Between the confusing process of having to go around the camp for additional planks to fortify the gates, and less than optimal combat, you’ll probably fail this mission more than once unless you start off with an experienced group.
The good news is that the missions get much better after this unusually poor opening, but fundamental design issues stick around for the entire game, holding this back from being a great co-op shooter. Certainly, it doesn’t reach the heights of the genre’s standard, Valve’s Left 4 Dead.
Overkill’s The Walking Dead is based on the comics with the input of creator Robert Kirkman, but isn’t connected to any previous Walking Dead games or the TV show. Instead, you play through 10 missions as one of four (and later six) brand new characters, each with their own attributes and skill trees. While walkers are the primary concern in these missions, you’ll also regularly face off against the Family, a rival group of hostile survivors.
The story is told through cinematics between missions, but it doesn’t reach the heights of the comics or the show’s better seasons. Honestly, if you removed The Walking Dead license, it would be hard to tell this game is even part of the same universe. You’re a survivor. You have to build up your camp. That’s about it. There’s not much to Overkill’s The Walking Dead apart from any other zombie story — of which there are already too many.
The Walking Dead franchise has always been known for its great human characters, but that just doesn’t translate to this game, and things only improve slightly during the actual missions. The Walking Dead has a serious identity crisis. It’s obvious that the game is heavily inspired by the (sadly dormant) Left 4 Dead series and mission structure is liberally borrowed from Overkill’s own Payday 2, but there are also elements of Dying Light and Call of Duty’s many zombie modes.
Unfortunately, these different design philosophies never gel into something better than a bland, often-frustrating mess. The first problem is the combat. Gunplay just feels too light and unsatisfying, no matter what weapon you’re firing. Melee combat is even worse. Whether you’re using a baseball bat or an ice ax, you just keep swinging until the walkers go down. Over and over again. It all feels the same. And since you want to stay quiet to avoid alerting too many walkers (measured by your “horde meter”) and ammo is a little scarce, there’s a lot of melee combat.
The game also emphasizes stealth gameplay, but you can’t really run past zombies as you can in other zombie games like Dying Light and Dead Rising. Try to avoid a sizable horde and you’ll quickly find yourself overwhelmed. If your three teammates meet the same fate before anyone can respawn, it’s mission failed and you have to start all over, even if you’re 30 minutes into the mission. A frustrating penalty, to say the least.
Further compounding these issues is the fact that there’s no built-in voice chat, which is a very odd choice for a cooperative shooter. You’ll want to use Steam VOIP, Discord, or another chat app to communicate with your teammates or you’re more than likely doomed to fail. The lack of built-in voice chat in a game that leans so heavily on teamwork is just one way Overkill’s The Walking Dead is fundamentally flawed right out of the gate.
Overall, the game is at its most frustrating when it starts to get fun (and it does have its moments) but stumbles on itself with a strange design choice or an uninspired combat section. There just aren’t many reasons to stick around beyond the first season’s worth of missions (a second season is out later this month if you do want more).
On the more technical side, the graphics are just fine. They get the job done, but certainly don’t stand out in 2018, even playing on ultra settings. There’s also very little interactivity with objects in the environment. If you shoot or hit a crate, it just sits there as if nothing happened. Music is a little better. During quieter moments, the score even nods to the classic 28 Days Later soundtrack, but the harder rock music that kicks in during combat is forgettable.
A co-op zombie shooter set in The Walking Dead universe from the makers of the excellent Payday series sounds like such a good idea on paper, which is why it’s so shocking that the final game is so deeply flawed. It’s like if George A. Romero had been tasked with making a Resident Evil movie and the final result was Plan 9 from Outer Space.
Overkill’s The Walking Dead is about as enjoyable as the last couple seasons of The Walking Dead TV show. There’s something here for the hardcore franchise fans, but little reason for everyone else check it out.
Chris Freiberg is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.