I like killing zombies. I like Payday 2. The two should make a good combination, right? While it certainly seems like a great idea, I feel the execution may have been lacking. I really want to love this game, and in some sense I like what I am playing. At the same time, I cannot deny the flaws that plague this game. This is Overkill’s The Walking Dead, and sometimes I ask if the nightmare comes from the zombies or the game.
OTWD is a first person co-op zombie game that takes place in the Walking Dead universe (which in reality is just a title they slapped on). You and your crew try to do good in a world that has gone bad, but life just isn’t that easy. It isn’t long until you meet The Family, a human enemy faction that takes from others to sustain themselves. You deny them, and soon war breaks out. But as the game goes along, you find out why they do what they do and you soon find yourself trying to fight your way to the top of the food chain just so then you can live normal again.
Like I said earlier, the Walking Dead title feels slapped on. Maybe this story is linked to the comic book or something, but nothing about this game resembles the show. It’s misleading, but I am fine with it because I don’t feel the Walking Dead property is all that special. This is a zombie game about killing zombies, so trying to spend time wondering if I could find Rick Grime’s hat or something feels wasteful. The story in this game on the other hand isn’t half bad. While it’s nothing to write home about, it still felt pretty good considering this is a co-op gameplay-focused game. The characters felt generic but the story took some twists and turns, and seeing the gameplay change because of those story bits was interesting to see.
But let’s be real: you didn’t come to this review expecting a story-driven game. You came because of the gameplay. So how is the gameplay? Well, that is a complicated answer. So I’ll talk about how it works.
The game can be broken down to three types of missions: story missions, defense missions, and side missions. Story missions are what you expect from a co-op shooter: getting from point a to point b with objectives, obstacles, and enemies in your way. Defense missions are a wave-based mode where you defend your camp from either zombies or humans for a few waves. The tasks range from shutting the gates to defending zones from being stolen from or being planted with a bomb. Finally, side missions play out as mini-story missions where you get from point a to point b with one task on hand. The task ranges from picking up survivors to picking up loot and a few others. The game takes on a scavenging aspect to the game, so you’ll be spending time in each level looking around for camp supplies, crafting equipment, ammo, and maybe even a sweet little weapon or mod case.
Outside of the game itself, you have three different supplies that you pick up in-game that is spent on either camp upgrades or camp upkeep. Each character has their own level, so you are spending time leveling them up and picking out better weapons for them to use. You also have survivors that can used to complete missions that can level them up and can bring stuff to your camp. They can also be assigned to jobs based on their specialties and can give you in-game boosts. Finally, you can go to HQ where you can pick up some mission rewards and bounties as well as shop and check out your inventory.
So, do all of these elements work together? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is more complicated than that. One of the biggest issues I have with co-op shooters is a lack of a meta-game, which usually ends with me leaving after playing all of the levels once; but this game doesn’t have that issue. This game has a ton going on outside of the game to keep you sticking with it. It’s a nice loop of scavenging around for stuff and then using that stuff to upgrade your stats outside of the gameplay. It is this loop that keeps me playing because I having something to work towards. But while this loop works, there are some rough edges with it.
The biggest issue I have with the metagame is the HQ. The idea is to load into HQ after each mission, but the whole experience is worthless. They force you to because you need to pick up rewards from somebody in HQ to progress forward, but I feel everything you can do in HQ should just be a menu. I also hit other issues with the metagame as well. Side missions and survivor missions aren’t consistent, which meant I had moments where I had nothing for my survivors to do. Also, some of the camp upgrades are really hard to get, which wouldn’t be much of an issue if the player leveling wasn’t directly tied to camp upgrades. Overall, the metagame is good, but it is rough around the edges.
Rough around the edges is the theme of this game, because the gameplay itself is just that: good, but rough around the edges. The highlight of this experience is just how hard enemies can be. There are a lot of zombie games where the zombies eventually become a joke, but this game isn’t that. No matter how powerful your melee weapon is, it won’t take long before a horde of zombies comes in and backs you into a corner. Human enemies also prove to be rather difficult as well, but that’s mostly because I find them to be bullet sponges. The enemies always kept me on my toes because I know if I screw up, it could be the end for me.
Beyond hard enemies, the game proves to be fun at its core. It plays out like a lot of other co-op shooters, but this one has the Overkill twist. The thing I like about Overkill co-op games is how they randomize the levels. Getting through obstacles doesn’t always play out the same every time, and with certain levels I even found myself on a completely different path in a new area. This level of randomization has me wanting to go back to levels and seeing how my path could be different. What is also different about this game compared to others is how there are two enemy factions in this game: humans and zombies. Because of that, the different types of enemies are split into three types for the two factions instead of six types for one. More that, having the two changes up the gameplay. It keeps the gameplay from being monotonous, and having the two fight each other and using that to your advantage is rewarding. The gameplay in-and-of-itself is fun, and killing zombies is still a fun thing for me to do. But this game has a lot of bad stuff around the edges as well.
For starters, the game is filled with technical issues. It is nothing game-breaking, but there are a lot of annoyances that can be fixed. Slow loading times and the game stuttering really bad when a new player is about to join are the worst offenders, but other smaller issues also await. The biggest issue gameplay-wise I have is how bad the game is solo. Obviously, co-op games are meant to be played with others, but I can usually find some level of fun playing by myself with these games; which is something I could not find with this one. The gameplay was frustrating and dull solo, and it has got to be the worst co-op game I have ever played solo. Other issues I had include the noise meter and stealth. The game has a noise meter, where shooting a gun without a silencer will raise the noise meter. Once it hits a certain threshold, then zombies will start constantly spawning to your area. Hit the other two thresholds, and more will spawn. I like this idea, but I feel that the meter needs to be able to drop because of how impossible it is to keep the meter down. Stealth in this game is borderline impossible, and none of the human enemies carry silenced weapons. What you end up with is fighting enemies and almost being guaranteed to cross a noise meter threshold. This issue is a big reason why solo sucks, because imagine trying to kill all of those guys by yourself, then being forced to deal with the zombie repercussions. On top of that, human areas will have some things like a gate full of zombies that you just want to release on them, but you know you can’t because they are just going to make more noise. The noise meter really throws things off, and I wish it was implemented better.
Remember when I talked about the other two mission types? Well, so far I have, in large part, been talking about the main missions. What about the defense and side missions? Well, defense missions are about as fun as you expect. The gameplay is different because the game constantly offers you supplies whereas the other two modes have you scavenge around for them, but defense missions just suck. What’s worse is that they make up either thirty or forty percent of the main missions, which means less main missions and more defense. Side missions on the other hand could be fun if they didn’t feel so cut-and-paste. All of the side missions take place in only two or three areas, and they both follow the same exact path, but with something different at the very end. Since they don’t pop up consistently and they go away after awhile, I always did them; but I wish they were better. Finally, I had issues with the lobby system because I could never choose if I wanted to start my own game or not. They just threw you into a match and you have to hope they didn’t start it if you wanted to start from the beginning. Overall, I would say that despite its fun gameplay, this game has a lot of issues that holds it back.
In conclusion, I think this game needs more time. If Overkill supports this game like they did with Payday 2, then I think this game could be great. But as it stands, this game has issues holding it back. It’s fun to play, and if you have a friend you can play with then there can be a good time here, but as it stands I do not think this game is worth its $60 price tag.