I have been interested in Overkill’s The Walking Dead for a while now. I hadn’t seen or heard much about it as it is somewhat of a smaller release in comparison to some of the triple A titles that have been released lately, but I love to play zombie shooters such as Killing Floor 2 or Call of Duty zombies. I wanted to try the game to see how it compared to other zombie shooters, but I did not think that I would be able to. Thankfully, I was able to get access to the closed beta on PC and try it out for almost three hours. Although this game is focused on cooperative play, I went in as a solo player, and, thus, my opinions will reflect those of a solo player rather than someone looking to survive with friends.
Overkill’s The Walking Dead was developed by (you guessed it) Overkill (the same developers of the Payday series of games). I have seen some people say that TWD looks like a Payday 2 zombies DLC, but it isn’t that at all. It has been a while since I last sunk a lot of time into Payday 2, but, from what I experienced with TWD, it does not feel or play anything like the cooperative heist game. I always found Payday 2 to feel a bit clunky and boring. The gunplay and movement weren’t the best, the missions would feel like minor alterations to each other, and the AI were very dumb (but effective). With TWD, I found the gunplay and movement to feel responsive and fluid, the story missions were fun (although they did have a lot of similarities to each other), and the AI were definitely smarter (but not amazing) and competent on Normal difficulty.
This game is, primarily, a four person, cooperative, survival shooter (although missions can be attempted with fewer players). I would say that Left 4 Dead is the closest comparison to this game. In some of the story missions, players will begin in one area of the map and must work through a linear level in order to complete an objective and escape to victory. Instead of a safe room, though, there is a truck that the players must reach in order to end the level (similar to the getaway vehicles in Payday). In other missions, players must defend a certain area or objective against waves of enemies.
Having these two different types of missions helps TWD to stand out from other zombie, cooperative shooters. It isn’t just a wave based survival game or a linear survival experience; the game actually switches between each mission-type depending on the level. There were only four missions available in the beta with two being wave based survival and two being a linear experience. There appeared to be some additional levels, but I did not have the chance to try them out. I personally felt that the linear levels worked very well, but the wave based missions did not feel as tense or interesting.
This could be due to many different factors. One of them is that the zombies are slower than zombies in other games. With Call of Duty Zombies and Killing Floor 2, the zombies can get up to some pretty fast speeds as they are trying to hunt you down and eat your brains. In The Walking Dead, they are more in line with the television show’s zombies and slowly plod toward you. They are not always meandering about as they can pick up the pace at times, but you will not see them rushing toward you like a tidal wave of meat. Because of their slower pace, there is not much tension when they approach you. Their speed may increase on higher difficulty levels, but I am unaware if this is the case.
The other negative factor to this mode is the other enemies that you encounter: other AI survivors. Yes, there are bad guys with guns in this game alongside the zombies. These enemies enter different locations on the map and try to steal your supplies. If enough of these enemies steal enough supplies or kill you and your team, then the mission ends in failure. When moving about the map, these human AI felt a bit too similar to the police in Payday. They seemed to bunch up and move in weird ways. They were not quite as clueless, but it felt a bit like shooting at sheep. That is if sheep walked on their hind legs and fired assault rifles (which, thankfully, they do not do). I have definitely fought worse AI, but the main threat from them was they had very good accuracy and were hard to deal with in great numbers. They did not feel inherently smart.
This wave based mode would end after a few assaults from the AI. It was a decent experience and a less intimidating mission structure to use as a jumping in point, but, after only playing a couple of these levels, I was ready to move on to something else. The objectives were too simple and had me doing very mind numbing tasks of either sealing a gate during the zombie mission or defending supplies while eliminating the enemy threat in the human mission. It was a completely adequate experience, but not one that I want to spend more time with.
What makes the wave based mode less interesting than the linear mode is how ammunition is treated. In the game, your weapons will degrade over time (the weapon status will persist into the next level you play from what I could tell). Also, ammunition is scarce. You will spawn in with maybe a clip or two. In the wave based mode, ammo is scattered across the map and will periodically respawn. This led to a lot of mowing down enemies and holding mouse 1 as I fired shot after shot. It felt less like a survival game and more like a generic cooperative shooter experience. In the linear missions, there are no ammo boxes which forces you to scavenge for ammo while focusing on the use of your melee weapon as much as possible. The wave based missions do a lot of things wrong, unfortunately. I feel that these missions need to be looked at and possibly retooled in order to line up with the much better linear missions.
Another issue I had with how the different missions were treated was how they began. This is somewhat of a minor issue, but one that began to wear on me after only a few matches. Once you begin a level you watch a cutscene. They aren’t that interesting as it is a guy talking over images that move around and change into other images. These cutscenes go on for quite some time which allows for the level to load in. I personally was not a fan of them. I am fine with a simple cutscene that isn’t bright and flashy (unlike the over the top Black Ops cutscenes which manage to be great), but I found the dialogue and voice actor to be overly dramatic. It all felt a bit too dramatic for what is a cooperative shooter. The lines were trying to set up this tension and drama for what would end in mowing down enemy AI or getting a water filter. And, what is worse, is that you will have to sit through these cutscenes every time you begin a game.
I feel that these cutscenes are unnecessary. I assume that the game could load in the assets for the match as you are in the lobby before the match begins. This is how Killing Floor 2 works. Once you are ready to start, a timer counts down three seconds and then you are immediately on the ground fighting the zombie horde. In TWD, it is at least a minute or two of you waiting for the cutscene to end even if you had already waited a minute or two in the lobby. What is even more mind boggling to me is that if you join a game in progress, it loads quickly and you can skip the cutscene. And, why is there so much dialogue in a cooperative game, anyway? If a party is talking to each other then they will most likely be ignoring the expositional lines of dialogue. The cutscenes don’t really make up a story, but, instead, give a purpose to what is happening in the mission. They are not even necessary, in my opinion. This entire process felt a bit weird and unrefined. And they were even more annoying if the mission was failed prematurely. It would feel as if you spent seventy percent of the game watching a boring cutscene and waiting around rather than playing the game. Maybe this can be looked into as there is not, necessarily, a perfect solution.
Another thing that needs to be looked into is chatting to others via microphone. There was no way to chat to other players from within the game outside of typing to each other. The game does include a fairly straightforward call out system (which is all I need as it worked fine), but attempting the game on the highest difficulty levels will need microphone support. As a solo player, I never use a microphone in multiplayer matches with strangers. I am a bit of a recluse in that manner, I guess; however, there are a lot of people who find microphone functionality to be a necessity. Hopefully this will be included with the launch of the full game.
Continuing on with the different types of missions, the linear story experiences were where the game really took a step up and impressed me. In these levels, players are tasked with trying to find an item and escaping the level. Along the way, players will have to trek through enemy zombies and survivors while tracking down items that will help them complete tasks (such as power a forklift or generator that will open a door or power an elevator). In the last mission there was even a code that was needed to be entered in order to disable a security system. I was unaware of how this code was solved as a member of my team somehow knew how to enter it without failure. This could point to more missions with more intricate puzzles and objectives. Maybe expect some Payday 2 type puzzles in the future.
These missions were fun and managed to feel more like a survival game unlike the wave based mode. Your main goal is to get to the objective and escape, but survival is just as important. You have to make your way through the hordes of zombies and humans, but you have to proceed as quietly as possible. As you make more and more noise through firing an unsilenced weapon or setting off a car alarm, the horde will become more and more agitated. Once the threat level rises, the intensity of the walkers will rise as well. The zombies will begin to attack in greater numbers and much faster if their threat level gets into the red.
This feature made for some nerve-wrecking moments and encounters. Not only would the zombies be harder to face, but the threat level does not decrease. The level will not shoot up once you make noise then go back down; it will stay at the level that it reaches until you either finish the mission or make it worse. That is what I saw, at least, as the threat level was always maxed out by the time I completed a mission.
Because of this tension, I felt very nervous as I walked around the map. I made sure to make as little noise as possible and use melee weapons as much as I could. Doing this alone was somewhat challenging, but another level of fear was added on by the human AI. Not only were they deadly if faced in an assault, but they do not use silenced weapons. If you are spotted by these survivors, they will open fire and begin to raise the threat level. Which, in turn, adds another set of issues such as “Do you use your powerful unsilenced weapons and raise the threat level more yourself in order to quickly take them out?” or “Do you try to take them out quietly but risk the level going higher because they are shooting for longer periods of time?”. It added a great level of anxiety which made the game feel like a true survival zombie game unlike other games in the genre.
Outside of the modes, there was also a hub level which was the same map as the wave based map. This is where you go to buy supplies, claim rewards, and store items. It felt empty and seemed to be a waste of time. I would rather do any of these tasks from a menu rather than have to load into the map, walk from vendor to vendor, and then wait to exit the map. Having to treat it like its own level felt really odd. I would understand something like this existing in a standard RPG or MMO, but it felt out of place in this cooperative game. The only way I see this working better is if the camp is used as the main menu itself. Instead of loading into the game, looking at a map, and choosing what mission to go on or what skills to use, you could, instead, begin the game in this camp. All of the menus could be scattered around the level. I am not suggesting that this should be done as it could be an annoying waste of time, but I think some changes should be made in order to streamline this process.
Unfortunately, I can not go into much more detail as I was only able to play for a couple hours, but, from what I played, I enjoyed myself. I experienced very little bugs or issues with the biggest one being that a lost connection to the host ended the match rather than it picking up after migrating to a new host. I think the last time I had a problem like that was with games from five or ten years ago. But, other than this issue that I only came across twice, the game felt pretty smooth with very little hiccups or errors. The game would freeze for a couple seconds if someone joined into an ongoing match, but it never caused my character to be injured or get into trouble.
There were other aspects of the game which I would like to know more about such as the different skill trees, acquiring new weapons, gear, and upgrades, degrading weapons, what additional missions look like, and so on. The game seems like it will have a lot of potential, but, as a solo player, I will probably be skipping it. What is a big turn off for me is the sixty dollar price tag. No offense to the developers, but I feel like sixty dollars is a steep price especially when you are competing with Red Dead Redemption 2, Black Ops 4, Battlefield V, Assassin’s Creed, and the remaining titles being released in the fall and winter. The release date is November 6th; which is well after some of these bigger titles have already been released. Especially since this is a cooperative game, it may be hard to get three other friends to all pay close to three hundred dollars together for this title. If you are a big zombies or coop fan (especially if you have hundreds or thousands of hours in Payday 2) then you will definitely want to check the game out. And even more so if the idea of a survival, cooperative game sounds like fun.
I want to see more before I personally purchase this game, however. I had fun with what I played, but I don’t know how much enjoyment I will continue to get out of the game down the line. Repetition is my biggest concern as I only played four levels and two of them played similarly to each other. It was enjoyable but for how long? And, as a solo player, completing missions by myself did not seem to be possible. Having some kind of way for solo players to complete missions would be nice to see as well. Maybe the option to play with AI members would help like in Payday 2.
Again, hopefully the full release will help shed some light on some of my questions, but I do know that I walked away from the beta with a great impression of the game. I am excited to see what will be added once the game is released.