Occasionally here at Player2.net.au we will play something that deserves your attention but probably doesn’t need a full review written for it. Be it DLC for the latest AAA title, a little indie game or even an Android/iOS title. We play these titles for a blockbusting amount of time (2 – 5 hours) and report back to you the reader on what we found. So grab your popcorn and settle in for the latest episode of Blockbuster Gaming.
Blockbuster Gaming – The Escapists: The Walking Dead
I’m a big fan of the Walking Dead, both comic and TV series and I’ve been reading the comics in the yearly hardcover collections which also work well as gifts for non-comic readers. I’ve even gotten the series in the Library at the school where I work and each new volume is booked out by students for weeks (it’s been an amazing way to get boys to read). The TV show has been an accurate realisation of the series and has shown the courage to grow and develop its own path too. Gamers have been exposed to some awesome and crappy games based on this property, with the Escapists now being the latest.
I haven’t played an Escapists game before, so I can’t attest to how true it is to the original game design, but the Walking Dead version looks like it has leaped from the pages of Retro Gamer magazine. It wears its 16-bit influences with pride, not only with how it looks but also how it plays. Its blocky, minimally animated characters fit well into the top down levels showing a quirky twist on the zombie genre.
The game is split into map areas, each corresponding to a key story location from the comics & TV show. The tutorial level has you awaken in hospital, further levels include Hershel’s Farm, the Prison and Woodbury etc. Each level contains key characters and buildings from the comic story lines as well as a plethora of walkers.
Each area needs to be explored fully in order to figure out the ultimate goal of escape. The player must keep a regular cycle of roll calls and meals to keep the zombie threat level down as well as do menial tasks for the group. I washed clothes, farmed and mopped up blood which is about as fun as it sounds. Within these routine tasks the game emerges as one of exploration and discovery. Rooms contain desks full of items that can be combined in certain combinations through a crafting screen. The player can find some crafting notes but many objects must be made by trial and error.
The learning curve for the game is steep as the tutorial only hints at the main controls. When entering the first level you can feel lost as to what to do. I was quickly introduced to the mission of needed to kill the zombies in Hershel’s barn, but they easily killed me when I tried. Exploration was needed. Heading outside the farm and exploring several buildings let me begin to make armour for the residents (all characters from the comic / TV series) as well as upgrade weapons. Members could be co-opted for shared missions and money for weapons etc can be earned by solving fetch quests and spent at night when visitors approach the camp.
This game punishes the unwary and rewards the diligent. You need to explore and chip away at your progress, rather than expect a direct, linear solution to every problem. The day to day routine needs to be kept, and improving your characters stats through exercise and reading makes a huge difference to what you can do. This gameplay is fun in the sense that each little discovery feels like relief after false leads and frustration over progress. Where this game works best is the realisation that each level has multiple paths to ultimately solve them. Making armour and weapons is important to protect your team, but so is making tools to complete the jobs more effectively.
Graphically, this game captures the 16bit look well as your pixelated characters are cute and crudely animated. Overall though, I didn’t find this particularly immersive. Characters are drawn so small that it doesn’t provide much of a sense of who they are and the zombies are vaguely designed. I found myself enjoying the grind to a degree, but wishing overall that the Walking Dead licence was more utilised beyond feeling like a skin pack for an existing game series.
Unlike other Walking Dead games, this hardly feels like an essential purchase. If you were a fan of the escapists, this probably represents a worthy sequel to that game, if you are a Walking Dead fan I’d recommend the Telltale series instead.