Release date: March 19 (North America), March 22 (Europe)
Available on: Xbox 360, PC, PS3, Wii U
Developer: Terminal Reality
Genre: First-person shooter
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is a throwback to the dark days of licensed video games, long before Rocksteady's Batman rewrote the rulebook.
This was a time when studios relied on the marketing pull of a licensed property to paper over the cavernous gameplay cracks in their limp tie-in creations.
Terminal Reality's new first-person shooter, based on the AMC TV series rather than The Walking Dead comic books, brings forth some interesting ideas, but lacks the coherency to knit them together into an experience that feels distinct and important beyond the licence.
And it is not like The Walking Dead property is not suited to video game interpretation. Telltale recently gained critical acclaim for its episodic series, and that success just serves to highlight the flaws in Survival Instinct's ho hum undead smash-fest.
The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct puts you in the shoes of redneck nutjob Daryl Dixon, brother to the equally bonkers Merle.
The story, which acts as a prequel to the television series, focuses on Daryl and a host of other characters trying to navigate apocalyptic Georgia to a supposed safe haven in Atlanta.
Events kick off with you taking the view of Daryl's father, who gets bitten by the walkers while out hunting.
- It is fun at first to plug zombie rednecks in the head with a rifle, or sheath their skulls in two with a hammer. But after a while, it becomes a drag.
But even though the game focuses on the early days of the zombie outbreak, Daryl then takes to battering the undead with joy, gusto and a string of one-liners, only missing a 'squeal, piggy, squeal'.
Playing as Daryl, you must move between different locations on the road towards Atlanta, battling the walkers and trying to survive.
And on this score, the game is surprisingly complex. You must manage your fuel, food and ammo carefully using light RPG mechanics in order to keep your wagon train running.
Each journey segment involves choosing whether to use the back roads, middle roads or highways, each with its own advantages and disadvantages.
Taking the back ways uses more petrol but enables more stops for suppliers, while the highways need less petrol but involve fewer stops.
After stopping, you can task members of your party, such as Jess, with going out on scavenge missions, but each time there is a risk involved and you have to weigh that against the gain.
The game has plenty of creepy, small-town-gone-bad atmosphere, and even some scares, albeit using pretty tried-and-tested horror mechanics.
However, the two big problems with The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct come in that you never really care if Daryl and his gang make it out alive, and that the gameplay is just so dull, poorly designed and monotonous.
It is fun at first to plug zombie rednecks in the head with a rifle, or sheath their skulls in two with a hammer. But after a while, it becomes a drag.
The game quickly gives you access to oodles of weapons, but most of the time using them merely brings a horde of enemies that are a chore to deal with.
Developer Terminal Reality really wants you to play Survival Instinct in a stealthy way, sneaking behind enemies and killing them. But poor design ensures this does not really work.
The completely moronic AI means that you can just run away from most of the undead, and more often than not the majority of them will not be sufficiently bothered to chase you.
There are other moments where you can just climb up on a truck and batter the hell out of the gathered horde without them getting the bright idea to reach up and grab you.
Then when a big group overwhelms you, as they will frequently do, each zombie curiously waits in turn while you perform a little mini-game to jab a knife in their head.
While you have plenty of guns in Survival Instinct, you can't use them in the same prolific way as Left 4 Dead, and so you are left in this rather rubbish grey area between action and stealth.
Take the crossbow, for example, which is a wonderful silent killer when it works, but miss a shot and you'll have to fish around for ages trying to retrieve the lost bolt.
- The thing that made the TV show work is not present in the game. It's not just about killing the undead horde, but about caring for the characters and ensuring they don't get killed.
Whatever choices you make, the journey features frequent stops for supplies and items, and these quickly fall into a dreary and predictable pattern over the around five-to-six-hour campaign.
At times, Survival Instinct looks pretty impressive. The recreation of apocalyptic Georgia locales feels powerful and interesting at first, but you soon notice the cracks.
Several of the mission worlds seem rather hurriedly finished, and the undead character models are regurgitated so frequently that you start to think, 'Didn't I bash that guy's head in a few minutes ago?' On the brightside, at least Terminal Reality didn't even attempt any multiplayer.
Overall this game feels like a missed opportunity. The team at Terminal Reality had all the ingredients at hand to cook up a great shooter based on The Walking Dead TV series.
They even had real Walking Dead actors Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker lend their vocal talents.
But unfortunately, the thing that made the TV show work is not present in the game. It's not just about killing the undead horde, but about caring for the characters and ensuring they don't get killed.
The premise of the game is not terrible, but there needed to be more intelligence and purpose in the application to elevate it above the mundanity of clubbing endless zombies to death. If only someone could make a really good Walking Dead game. Oh, wait...