For fans of The Walking Dead – whether the original comic books or AMC’s long-running TV adaptation – there has been no shortage of video game tie-ins. Telltale’s landmark series has long been the best example of what game developers can do with The Walking Dead license, as attempts at more traditional video game experiences have achieved less than favourable results. First we had The Walking Dead: Survival Instincts which turned out to be a complete flop, whereas Overkill’s The Walking Dead spelt disaster for the Payday 2 developer.
While Skydance Interactive haven’t completely cracked the formula, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is by far the best video game tied to the franchise that doesn’t involve solely sifting through dialogue options. It’s also one of the more engrossing, intuitive, and ambitious virtual reality titles we’ve seen ported to PlayStation VR. For those who played their excellent debut game, Archangel, this should come as no surprise.
Skydance have sidestepped the common pitfall of following characters and events from Robert Kirkman’s source material, instead using it as a backdrop for their own post-apocalyptic odyssey. Set in New Orleans, Saints & Sinners has you playing as “The Tourist” – an enigmatic nomad scouring the city for a mythical stockpile known as The Reserve. You choose their body and voice type, sculpting them as a character through the various decisions you make, whether playing the paragon, the pragmatic survivor, or someone that lives in the grey area between.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has an immersive sim streak running through it, somewhat inspired by games like Deus Ex, Prey, and Dishonored where you’re given the freedom to approach most scenarios under complete stealth or to go in all guns blazing with environments being surprisingly layered and often maze-like in design.
The control scheme here is complex, yet familiar to those who have played similarly fleshed out games on PlayStation VR. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners tries to limit the number of actions it assigns to buttons on your PlayStation Move controllers in favour of gestures that feel more organic. Instead of being options on a pause menu, you will need to actually grab the quest journal from your right breast to read it, while your inventory is a physical rucksack slung over your left shoulder. Meanwhile your two equipped weapons are holstered on your two hips
The tutorial does a fantastic job of easing you into The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners with a gauntlet of grabby zombies to test your melee and sharpshooting skills against. From here you’re dropped into the murky bayous of New Orleans, now overrun by walkers with whatever’s left contested between the flooded city’s warring factions.
As mentioned in Jason’s original review of the Oculus Rift release, there’s a satisfyingly weighty feel to the combat. Instead of slicing and dicing, waving your Move wands with reckless abandon, strikes need to be deliberate. You’ll need to perform proper stabbing or swinging motions to kill walkers with your shiv or two-handed melee weapons. The gunplay is also decent, and feels accurate, though you’ll curse at the occasional stray shot. If your aim is truly terrible, you can always grab a zombie’s head with one hand, firing point blank into it with the other.
It’s that kind of interactivity that sets Saints & Sinners apart from the majority of shooters and action games built for virtual reality. Being able to grab then climb or tuck behind walls and obstacles adds a layer of immersion when it comes to exploration.
One aspect that did turn me off was the way The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has you racing against the clock. This isn’t Crazy Taxi with an arcade countdown timer – instead your watch will indicate how much time has passed and when night falls the streets are then overrun with corpses, making it harder to get back to your boat and return to safety.
This is compounded by the fact that once you return to base and rest up, each passing day only adds to your struggle with fewer resources to scavenge and more walkers to avoid. In a game that originally seems to foster exploration and scouring its environments, this felt like a strange design choice . Although it captures the desperate nature of this world, I wanted to carry on exploring every nook and cranny, crossing off side missions, and stuffing my backpack. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners tries to snap you out of these completionist tendencies.
Once you break out of that mindset, it’s easier to appreciate what Skydance have done here. Through the entrancing power of PlayStation VR and the developer’s clever immersive touches, you feel as though you’re genuinely a part of this grim, zombie-infested world. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a must-play for those PSVR power users, finally giving Arizona Sunshine some competition.