Before diving into our hands-on session of Overkill's The Walking Dead, Starbreeze Studio's Global Brand Director Almir Listo provided SYFY WIRE some context as to how the game's approaching Robert Kirkman's walker-infested world. "It's an action-focused game within The Walking Dead universe, where you can actually feel like you're a survivor trying to survive with your friends or by yourself depending on how well it's going," he said.
Within 30 or so seconds of hitting the start button, things were not going well for us. As Grant, one of the game's four original playable characters, we blasted the head off a shuffling corpse but set off a car alarm in the process. The blaring sound attracted a swarm of walkers, all intent on flossing their rotting teeth with our intestines.
Upon re-spawning into the game's Georgetown, Washington D.C., setting, we holstered Grant's gun in favor of his makeshift spear. The sharpened stick turned out to be an extremely effective and stealthy melee weapon, allowing us to skewer targets through their squishy heads without making a sound. Sneaky and satisfying, this strategy allowed us to navigate a number of streets and alleys that had apparently become popular hangouts of the undead.
While quietly turning our targets into shish kebabs left a sizable trail of corpses in our wake, we can't take all the credit for the carnage. The Walking Dead can be played with up to four players, and coordinating and communicating with your partners is an integral part of the experience. We scored a few gruesome kills on our own, but most were collaborative efforts that came from friends calling out enemy locations or distracting targets while we crept up behind them.
The game's quartet of survivors also represent different classes with unique weapons, gear, and abilities, so leaning on each other's strengths — and compensating for each other's weaknesses — is important if you want to keep your guts on the inside. As Grant, for example, we filled the role of tactician, favoring strategic, stabby attacks over a more aggressive approach to combating walkers.
Our preview session tasked us with not only silencing the undead, but also completing a task necessary to progress. Blocked behind a locked gate, we needed to find the fuses that powered the generator that would ultimately grant us passage. Initially, the objective seemed like the sort of arbitrary fetch quest we've done in a million other survival games. Tackling the familiar task, however, turned out to be a nerve-fraying affair that left our team feeling rewarded — and relieved — when it was finally completed.
Trust us, when you're desperately searching a cluttered garage — while your buddies are doing their best to buy you some time and keep the walkers at bay — it feels pretty damn satisfying when you finally find that fuse. According to Listo, though, it's exactly this sort of scenario that separates the game from the hundreds of other zombie shooters we've played. "Our goal is to make a mature game for adults, who are hardcore fans of not only The Walking Dead but also cooperative action-based gameplay," he said. "It's dangerous out there, so it's imperative that you play together."
Trying to survive in a harsh world with the help of your friends is a concept that'll be familiar to fans of both the Walking Dead comics and AMC's television series. Starbreeze's respect for the source material doesn't end there, though. As followers of this universe are well aware, man is far more dangerous than the monsters they've created. We learned this the hard way upon breaching that electronically locked gate and meeting "The Family," the game's main, human antagonists.
We know little about this group other than that they shoot first and don't ask questions at all. Our demo concluded, rather unceremoniously, when these gun-toting adversaries slaughtered our entire team in the blink of an eye. While our group became comfortable, confident even, piling undead corpses like cordwood, these human threats made it readily apparent we'd need more than team spirit and a sharp stick to survive in this world.
We look forward to encountering The Family again — this time with a plan and plenty of ammo, of course — when Overkill's The Walking Dead brings the post-apocalypse to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC this fall.