OVERKILL’s The Walking Dead is a Grindfest with Potential

While George Romero might have pioneered the zombie genre, the modern day version doesn’t get enough credit. While AMC’s The Walking Dead television show might have brought a zombie apocalypse to the masses, the story and characters came from a comic book series. Robert Kirkman, author of The Walking Dead, has helped propel the zombie horror genre into the future. Overkill, the team behind the Payday franchise, has released OVERKILL’s The Walking Dead as a survival cooperative action shooter that takes place in the comic book universe. The game and characters are considered canon, as the team worked directly with Kirkman on the story. The game also features a seasonal format to help keep players enthralled in the progression of the story and the game itself.

OVERKILL’s The Walking Dead is not an open-world game. Players will participate in missions either alone or with others via matchmaking as the focus of the game is to be online. Progression is earned by completing missions that grant XP to one of four characters and loot is obtained at the end of each mission. The four characters each have a back story, as the first season focuses on taking down The Family as they have a hold on Washington D.C. Players will not only encounter zombies but also human defenses. There are a ton of weapons and mods in the game as there are different tiers of weapons that feels similar to Tom Clancy’s The Division. Players can progress through the story missions, but will ultimately hit a wall that will require them to replay old missions at a higher difficulty. The positive to doing this is the ability to get rare weapons.

There are also timed missions and side missions that can be used to expand areas of Washington D.C. that can be played. Defense missions also pop up that require the homebase to be saved. Players will need to fortify gates as they fight off waves of enemies. On top of this, survivors can be saved while on missions and put to work. There are allocated side missions that survivors can be designated to do that will gain XP for the player’s camp and also level up the survivors, themselves. The camp can be upgraded for better defense as camp morale is also judged in TWD. The game features elements of an open-world title but doesn’t allow its players to become overwhelmed with boring tasks and that is a positive.

If you are familiar with how the Payday franchise plays, the gameplay will feel right at home. This first-person shooter plays fast and loose and is rough around the edges. Gathering supplies during missions allow for crafting of items. Each character has their own special skill such as using a lock pick or a power kit to have access to certain items in the field. There are no weapons picked up during gameplay as all rewards come at the end. There’s also the option to spot and identify enemies which may bring a bonus to a kill. Each mission has four basic difficulty levels that will dynamically change with the number of people in the room.

TWD runs on the Unreal Engine, which points to the fast pace and rough edges feel. Playing this on PC with a NVIDIA GTX 1070 in 4K on high settings produced solid visuals. At times, the game can look great. If you are attacked by a zombie and you are in the process of dying, the zombies look amazing. Overall, the player models look good up close, but they lack details from a distance. Washington D.C.’s areas are done up well especially when progressing through city neighborhoods. The lighting is also well done especially when sunlight peaks through trees and windows in city streets. The blood and gore is where the game’s visuals shine, however. A good bit of zombies can be on screen at once and you will probably see a hit in your frame rate.  This is where the issues with the game come in.

While the game is currently available on PC, it’s coming to consoles in a couple months. I can’t help but think that PC players are extended beta testers for the game, as there are a good bit of technical issues with TWD. Load times are horrendous and this may be due to a connection sync with other players, but even going back to the camp alone isn’t a quick transitions. Lots of times during the loading sequence, I just got a black screen and wasn’t sure if the game locked up. On a few occasions, a respawn had me locked in place and I could not move. Other players have reported the same thing. At times, shooting a gun at point blank range doesn’t register a hit especially if you are being revived. I have seen enemies warp and get stuck behind items. The game isn’t unplayable by any means, but a lot of these technical issues do hold back the experience. This doesn’t include the fair amount of disconnects I have received.

Despite the issues, OVERKILL’S The Walking Dead is a unique experience. The game lacks in-game voice chat, but text chat is there. The more I played the game, I did discover that the focus is strictly grinding. The story has the chance to progress into something respectable, but the idea of having seasons and gaining loot to keep up with your friends or others strictly points to a grind to keep people playing on the servers. The matchmaking basically finds people doing the same mission at that difficulty level and doesn’t put people of the same level close together. If you can survive with the high level players thanks to the dynamic difficulty, however, you will reap benefits. Missions can still be completed by the team even if you die and are still in the room.

While the game does have that dynamic difficulty, it gets quickly cheapened. While the gun tiers feel similar to The Division, so does the enemies. Zombies can be taken down with a headshot, but human enemies are bullet sponges. Shooting them in the head doesn’t equate to an instant death. On top of that, the AI is an absolute joke. I have had enemies with guns stand in front of me or run in front of me and do nothing. They’re not at all aware of their surroundings. Having one or the other issue isn’t as bad as having both a bad AI and bullet sponging, especially when that is used to based the difficulty level.

While TWD isn’t barebones like the Left 4 Dead series was, it’s still linear and focuses on grinding. The game currently retails for $60 on Steam and it’s hard to justify that price with the technical issues and a need to always be online. This is on top of the seasonal format and while season 2 is coming in only a few weeks, there has been no announcement beyond that other than the game launching on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. I do like how you can truly replicate that moment where you see your friend dying and have to make a decision to leave them or try and save them and usually saving them is too far gone by that point. The positive moments in the game this early, however, do not justify the price point.