When Overkill’s The Walking Dead was first announced in 2014, I doubt too many people were really looking forward to it that much. Whether thinking of comic books, TV, or video games, The Walking Dead has always been about the people and surviving human-made hardship amidst a zombie apocalypse. As we’re coming to the end of Telltale’s much lauded series, which brought us just that style of storytelling, Overkill, who are best known for their gun-toting heist ’em up Payday games, are going in a different direction.
Of course, the four years since this game’s announcement have given people long enough to tire of Telltale’s storytelling formula, so Overkill’s spin is looking all the more appealing. Taking players to Washington, it will tell a new story that’s been created in partnership with Robert Kirkman, making it a canonical entry in the fiction. It’s set to expand post-release as well, but I wouldn’t expect this to be a narrative tour de force. Instead, by feeling like a cross between Payday and Left 4 Dead, it scratches a very different itch.
There’s four characters to choose from before a level, each of which slots into a role and archetype. Grant is the tactician with a silenced sniper rifle, Maya the SMG-toting support, Aiden the frontline tank with his shotgun, and Heather the lighter scout. As always in this world, your protagonists are the underdogs, the outsiders that rail against the oppressive gangs and factions that look to exploit those around them. In this case, it’s The Family, who had raided and stolen your water purifier back in the demo at E3, and as we played the game last month at Gamescom, it was time to try and get revenge with a nighttime raid.
Where the Payday games often consigned themselves to having you heist and/or fight your way through a single arena, keeping you locked to a single room as a pneumatic drill went to town on a door, or having you fetch items within a building or relatively small area, this game takes a much more traditional approach, giving you a lengthy level to work your way through.
Starting on the outskirts of The Family’s base, it was a case of sneakily working our way inside, dispatching zombies and guards alike as quietly as possible to avoid the alarm being raised. There’s zombies dotted around a lot of areas, congregated around gates, or milling around in the dark and foreboding underpass, but they’re not too difficult to deal with through a mixture of stealth takedowns and straight up melee weapon bashing. Still, if you’re being told to scavenge and find canisters of fuel or gears for a door mechanism, they can surprise you on occasion.
While you have all these guns, it’s best not to use them unless you absolutely have to. Make too much noise and a horde of zombies will soon be crashing through barricaded doors and chainlink fences to get to you and take a bite out of your tasty flesh. The risk is presented to you in game by the Horde-o-meter, gradually filling up as you disturb the peace.
A mass of walkers turning up instantly changes the complexion of any fight, as you suddenly have to weigh up battling the humans that are firing guns at you and trying to defend yourself from zombies. Generally you want to try and finish off the living before trying to tackle the dead, which can be fairly easily led around an area as you pick them off one by one, use a few of your crafted signature abilities like molotov cocktails to take out big groups, or simply try to complete the objectives to open the next door and escape.
Overkill’s The Walking Dead is looking like a pretty safe bet for fans of co-op shooters when it releases on PC in November. It’s not reinventing the wheel with its mixture of stealth and gunplay, but the way it dangles the threat of zombies over your head raises the stakes in a strikingly different way to Overkill’s own Payday games.