Overkill’s The Walking Dead Review | Gaming News
This brainless kill-fest isn’t much of a crowd-pleaser.
Overkill’s The Walking Dead is an earnest attempt to deliver a cooperative adventure set in the iconic Walking Dead universe, but that effort feels a bit like it’s all too little too late. While the creators of Payday 2 manage to deliver something better than Terminal Reality’s sorry attempt at a shooter in Robert Kirkman’s universe, it still fails to live up to the lofty expectations set by its lore.
As a brand, The Walking Dead is enormous. The TV show and comic series that it’s based on tell stories of desperation and fighting for survival both against and along other humans after the end of the world. They’re stories about human lives and human struggles against a backdrop of the zombie apocalypse. Overkill’s The Walking Dead, on the other hand, is a game about seemingly mindless slaughter with very few plot threads connecting the dots. There is no drama, there are no personalities developed across missions, and there is no nuance to why you’re murdering people as readily as you do the walkers. It’s got very little to do with what makes The Walking Dead so great, which leads to a bit of an identity crisis.
In Overkill’s The Walking Dead, you take control of one of four (eventually six total via unlocks) new characters, each with their own passive weapon specializations and unique skills. For example, Maya (my favorite) is the medic and her special ability is throwing down a med bag that can heal up anyone in your group. Aiden, on the other hand, gets flash bangs that can stun human enemies and distract zombie hordes. All of the abilities gel well together, but most people online gravitate towards Maya for her added healing, or Aiden, since he starts out with a lot more health than the others as the “tank” character. Because this is a co-op game instead of a competitive one this isn’t an issue for balance, but seeing the same clones running around missions all the time does get a little silly.
Most people gravitate toward Maya for her added healing, or Aiden for his tank-like health.
Each character is fun in their own way and, despite their specialties, anyone can use any weapon you find, giving them a useful flexibility. The difference, though, is that they won’t be able to apply any of their skill upgrades or passive bonuses to enhance a weapon outside their wheelhouse. For example, Maya specializes in submachine guns, revolvers, and machetes, but if you equip a shotgun, pistol, and baseball bat instead you wouldn’t be playing to her strengths. Luckily, loot is plentiful and you’re rewarded with new guns, modifications, and materials at the end of every mission, plus any hidden caches you find in the level.
But beyond that, the differences between the characters are mostly stat-driven other than a single unique skill. There isn’t an assortment of special abilities to set them all apart such as you’d find in a game like Borderlands. The result is a progression system that’s deep with choices, but mostly shallow in terms of real changes you see over time. They’ve all got that gritty “I’ve seen some shit” look that anyone who knows zombie fiction is familiar with.
The vague attempt at establishing a story is at its best in the pre-rendered cinematics (released as trailers prior to launch and shown ever-so-briefly in-game,) but very little of that content is actually explored in this adventure beyond voiceovers on top of stylized, bloody images as pre-mission cutscenes. The result is an adventure that feels like you’re jumping into the story after it’s already started and you’re never given much context for anything that’s happening. The entire plot is basically just you fighting against a gang of other humans, called The Family, for no reason other than that they’re trying to survive, too. So you take turns killing and stealing from one another, and it ends up as an empty, meaningless, non-Walking Dead way of creating a rivalry. Especially when you’re mowing down almost as many of The Family as you are walkers, it doesn’t feel like great justification.
It’s absolutely baffling that a new co-op game released in 2018 has no built-in voice chat.
It’s absolutely baffling that, in a new co-op multiplayer game released in 2018, there is no built-in voice chat. Sure, you can talk with friends through Steam or Discord, but there’s no easy way to talk to people you randomly match with without adding them as a friend on Steam. Communication is a massive focus of Overkill’s The Walking Dead and naturally in-game text chat doesn’t cut it in the heat of battle. There aren’t many spots where you can stop, take a break, and type out a message to strangers on the internet asking them to deliver an item to the drop-off point.
This issue is compounded by the fact that you absolutely have to play with other people if you want to play at all. There are no bots, as has been pretty much standard in this genre since Left 4 Dead, if you want to fly solo. Instead, you’re forced to go in alone and just try to wing it. While the difficulty does scale a bit, most non-wave-based defense missions are still far too overwhelming to realistically complete alone.
Actually getting into matches can be a slog at times as well. Loading times are atrocious, often totaling upwards of three or four solid minutes of staring at an unmoving load screen. And that doesn’t even count when it times out with a black screen or flat-out crashes to desktop either. All of that, mixed with occasional clipping issues and weird glitches, add up to something that feels like it should have spent a bit more time in beta or launched in Early Access.
When it works, there are things to like about Overkill’s The Walking Dead.
Those gripes aside, when it works there are things to like about Overkill’s The Walking Dead. There are three basic mission types: story missions, which are long, exciting, and full of multiple objectives across relatively large, open levels; tedious defense missions in which you hunker down at your base and fight off wave after wave of enemies; and expedition missions that are usually quick supply-gathering runs or rescues. All of the missions are replayable and can be accessed from the main menu’s map, similar to the mission board in Payday 2. At first, it feels extremely limiting, but after a few hours – once you start unlocking more levels – the variation feels well-paced when you mix them all up.
Actual gameplay, though, is a bit hit-or-miss. Most of the guns feel stiff and cheap, lacking the power you’d expect from something so focused on gritty, visceral realism. Shotguns fared the best in this regard, with assault rifles and submachine guns sounding and feeling too light and floaty.
In reality, you’ll actually spend the vast majority of your time desperately trying not to fire a single bullet. Melee combat is a huge focus because of how Overkill’s The Walking Dead handles noise, so it’s a shame it never evolves much beyond left-click to swing and right-click to shove. As you make more and more noise on a mission it slowly fills up a horde meter, and if you trigger a horde you get swarmed fast. And they come in stages, so the final horde can quickly derail your entire team even if you’re right at the end of a mission.
To its credit, Overkill’s The Walking Dead fits an impressive number of zombies on screen at times, and that amps up the stress and intensity. In games like Dead Rising, I rarely fear for my life because of how easy it is to mow down groups, but that’s not the case here. If you get too close to a walker they can easily grab you – and if more than one gang up on you when you’re grabbed then you can quickly go down and need a revival. I was never able to clearly tell how close a zombie needed to get in order to initiate a takedown on me, but it always happened at the most frustrating times. The way the camera is ripped from your control in these moments make it all a bit nauseating as well.
Overkill’s The Walking Dead does an exceedingly poor job of explaining itself.
The driving force behind playing more is that you’re always trying to keep your camp morale up. Every time you successfully run a mission you gain supplies like provisions and scraps, and every few days your camp resets and uses up some of your resources to keep survivors happy. That means you need to have enough resources in stock at the next reset to avoid downgrading morale – because if morale gets low you suffer penalties, and if morale is high you get bonuses. The problem with this system is that it’s extremely menu-heavy and poorly explained. There are some tutorials hidden in the Settings menu, but you shouldn’t have to dig through sub-menus to figure out how to play a game. Overkill’s The Walking Dead does an exceedingly poor job of explaining itself.
In addition to the supplies you can also upgrade your camp to unlock passive bonuses, new areas of the map, or even to send your pool of survivors out on missions off-screen to round up supplies. It’s a simple base-management system that helps break up the action, but it’s so disorganized and poorly explained it felt like more of a nuisance than anything.