The Walking Dead has been a surprisingly difficult franchise for gaming studios to get right. You’d think a series where humans fight for survival in a world ravaged by zombies would be a tap in for video game developers, but whether due to budgetary or time constraints, Walking Dead games have typically missed the mark. But if first impressions are anything to go by, it looks like this could be about to change, as Skydance Media gets ready to release The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners on SteamVR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. With the January 23 release date imminent, we take a look at what might be the best video game adaptation of The Walking Dead since Telltale’s gut-wrenching adventure series from 2012.
In case it’s flown under your radar, Saints and Sinners is a VR-only Walking Dead spinoff that takes place a year after the zombie outbreak in New Orleans.
While it’s set in the same universe as the comic/TV series – so you can expect an Easter egg or two – Saints and Sinners is a standalone story featuring warring factions vying for control.
Much like Telltale’s Walking Dead series, Skydance has placed a real emphasis on storytelling, giving players the ability to make narrative-altering choices that will change how people react to you.
While our time with the game has been limited, it looks like you can help survivors, side with factions, kill everyone you come across, or ignore the lot and use the inevitable chaos to sneak by distracted zombies undetected.
With streets that are lined with the undead, survivors in need of help and various groups battling for supremacy, there’s potential for wildly differing experiences from player to player.
However, unlike Telltale’s Walking Dead series – where the plot came first and the action second – there’s more to Saints and Sinners than great storytelling.
For starters, Saints and Sinners has some of the most sickly satisfying combat in any virtual reality game to date.
You won’t inflict much damage with that axe you just found unless you swing it with conviction (and with two hands), and your knife won’t do much good against that zombie unless you grab its head and forcefully jam it into its undead skull – and then you’ve got to yank it out again.
Gunplay is equally as meaty, as you splatter zombie brains across the streets of the Big Easy with everything from classic Dirty Harry-style revolvers to double-barrelled shotguns with more kick than a Premier League footballer.
But as we’ve already talked about in reference to the narrative, you’d be wrong to think of Saints and Sinners as an empty-headed arcade shooter.
With items to scavenge, upgrades to build, hunger to manage and wounds to tend, players need to be aware of more than just the nearest zombie.
I’m not suggesting that the game’s scavenging, crafting and general survival systems are as deep as they are in something like DayZ, but it’s closer than you might think.
Unfortunately, however, the quest for a semblance of realism does have its drawbacks.
With items, weapons, journals and flashlights on your person, switching between your resources can be a little clumsy.
Reloading and readying weapons can also be a little cumbersome, partly because of the VR technology itself, but also because of unnecessary complications.
It’s a criticism that might not hold as much weight when you play the game through in order from start to finish, but there’s definitely a steep learning curve.
Ultimately, however, there’s a great quote that sums up The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners from one of the game’s behind-the-scenes videos.
“You don’t have to choose between story and skull splitting,” Skydance explains. “You get both with this game.”
Indeed, Saints and Sinners has some of the most satisfying zombie-killing action in any video game, not to mention an intriguing narrative and surprisingly deep survival elements.
Definitely one to keep your eye on, The Walking Dead Saints and Sinners has a January 23 release date on SteamVR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive. A PlayStation VR version will launch at some point in the future.