The Walking Dead is a franchise that has been running a fine line over the past few years. The show regained relevancy after the introduction of Negan but not long after that, the series began to fade out of the public eye again. While the closure of TellTale games almost took the Walking Dead game series with it. Ironically enough The Walking Dead is a series that still shuffles on even though it’s already dead at this point however, there are times where a team takes the license and manages to give this shambling corpse of a franchise another shot of life. This time it’s Skydance Interactive, a relatively young studio they’ve only been around since 2016.
Game Name: The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners Platform(s): PC Oculus Rift S (reviewed), PlayStation VR Publisher(s): Skydance Interactive Developer(s): Skybound Entertainment, Skydance Interactive Release Date: January 23rd, 2020 Price: £30.99
The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners is a semi-open world survival zombie VR game that sticks to the typical zombie game tropes of resource crafting. While the game never really does anything that’s particularly new there’s comfort in familiarity and that how I feel about this game, even though I’ve never played a VR game like this before it still feels like I’m stepping into shoes I’ve worn for a long time.
The gameplay of Saints and Sinners is pretty basic as far as VR games go. You have your bread and butter which is the melee combat that you’ll become very familiar with. To take out any walkers in your path you’ll need to go for the head so sharp weapons and heavy blunt objects become your closest friends very quickly. Take for example your trusty shiv, in order to bury the knife deep enough into a walker’s skull, you need to bring the knife up and swing it down onto the walker’s skull to ensure that it just doesn’t glance off with little to no damage. The natural human thought process is that more speed = more power but that’s not the case this time around. This does take some getting used to personally because I’m used to playing VR games like Gorn and Blade and Sorcery which have more responsive melee combat.
Firearms are another method of engaging the walkers but Saints and Sinners possess the same issue that quite a few VR games have; aiming is problematic. Trying to aim your weapons effectively is a bit awkward due to how the character’s arms seem to shake even though the player’s arms are steady which normally wouldn’t be a problem. However, when a single shot could bring a horde down on you and each weapon has about 2 clips worth of use before it breaks, this makes using firearms mostly pointless and unreliable at best.
While the Walkers are the biggest draw of the Saints and Sinners, your time will mostly be taken up by exploring the map. At first, the map will be very claustrophobic with tight alleyways and cluttered streets but it adds to the fear that death could be around any corner. Exploration isn’t all sunshine and daisies, as looking for ways into buildings can reveal multiple paths such as shimmying up a gutter pipe into a window or crawling through holes in the basement and making your way up that way. As far as exploration goes Saints and Sinners nails it and due to the ability to freely move your arms. This actions such as looting a breeze, or when you’re being chased down by a horde of walkers being able to grab a bottle of the floor to smack them over the head with little to no thought gives Saints and Sinners that true survival feeling that you rarely get in even the best games.
The gameplay loop of Saints and Sinners is simple. You have a home hub that’s based in a cemetery, there you’re able to craft items and its where you get the majority of your story guests. You’ll also need to venture out into the city to gather supplies and to progress through the story. However, there’s a limited amount of time where you can be out of the safety of your camp before a bell ring is sounded which brings a horde of Walkers descending upon you in force. Every time you head home from venturing out it will become night time which means in order to travel out again you have to sleep. As the game progresses, the amount of available supplies dwindles, while more walkers are spawned. This forces you to decide if it’s worth risking the extra time out in the open or you head back early and screw yourself over down the line.
The art style of Saints and Sinners is emulating the hard drawn cell-shaded look of the TellTale series which goes a long way to ensure the lifespan of Saints and Sinners as VR games currently struggle to create a lasting visual style, for every Gorn there’s a Pavlov VR which has a visual style that becomes outdated the moment it comes out. Not a deal-breaker mind you, but in a rapidly growing industry being able to distinguish yourself will ensure that your game becomes more memorable in the long run.
My only complaint about the look of the game is an unnecessary amount of it is in darkened areas. Which wouldn’t be a problem, except for the provided the torch is perhaps the most useless thing in the history of methods to illuminate dark areas. It’s not uncommon to miss precious resources that you couldn’t see them. I don’t know about you but I can’t see in the dark.
In a VR game sound is very important to your immersion if it’s just a loud mess of noises and garbled music you’re gonna have a bad time. Saints and Sinners rests in the middle of the sound design spectrum. For example, when everything is quiet and you’re sneaking around the city you can hear the hollow breathing of walkers throughout the building. Slowly shuffling around making their way to you and the audio stinger that plays when you get seen sends the shivers up your spine every time. On the other side of the spectrum, however, when the bells ring and the horde descends the music swells up and you hear the zombies all around but the music isn’t contextual. You could be in a building without a single walker around and the music is still blaring away into your ears at full volume and it just becomes obnoxious after a few seconds.
On a slightly more weird note, the sound of weapon impacts on the walkers and other survivors has that satisfying meaty whack you like to hear. Saints and Sinners likes to sweat the small details in the sound design and each weapon and firearm have their own satisfying sounds which go a long way to make the gameplay loop more satisfying.
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The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners is one of the best VR offerings we’ve seen to date with a lot of love and care being put into the making of this game. While it’s not perfect by any means it’s still something that I can recommend to any VR user.