Fans of The Walking Dead have had to say a lot of goodbyes recently. The fall of Telltale games almost led to an abrupt farewell for Clementine. But then enough funding was secured to just barely finish her story, albeit in a bittersweet manner. Show viewers lost Rick Grimes very abruptly, then the same thing happened to comics readers when that suddenly wrapped up as well. All seems pretty bleak, as the series is known to be. Fortunately, fans will soon have a new VR game to say hello to.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners was announced last year. Since then, we've learned very little about it. That is until now, when a new trailer dropped showing more of the game's story and sandbox elements. TheGamer was also invited by developer Skydance Interactive to demo the game. I learned of the ambition behind Saints & Sinners, how true it stays to the source material, and how dang hard it is to fend off a horde of walkers.
It's More Of A Sandbox Than You'd Expect
You're give a map of New Orleans, which is now flooded, and can pick any are you've already been to. You take a skiff there, but once you hit dry land you're free to go where you please. Walkers are roaming around. You can gun them down, or grab nearby sharp objects to stab them with. You can also stick to the alleys and climb up and into houses to quietly loot. It's one of the few VR games I've played that doesn't railroad you onto a specific path. Entire sections of New Orleans are laid out before you for you to traverse as you please. Just watch your timer...
Walkers apparently react to bells in the same way Daenerys Targaryen does. The faction of survivors in control of New Orleans uses bells to attract walkers to certain places. Whenever you're running around the city, you have a watch set with a timer. When the timer beeps, you've got precious little time to get to your skiff and out of there before the bells go off. I spent too much time during my demo looting houses and didn't mind the watch timer. The bells went off, and I was faced with a frenzied walker horde. I learned that using a shotgun to fend off walkers was not as easy as it looks in the show. Having only two shots before needing to reload led to my demise.
Everything Is About Choices
A running theme in The Walking Dead is how there's no right choice. The Telltale games made a habit of testing players by giving them impossible decisions. Skydance aims to do the same with Saints & Sinners, only their vision of choice extends to everything. The ability to free roam areas and loot them means you can treat Saints & Sinners as a slower, survival-based game. You also have a base camp where you can craft weapons, health-giving food, or upgrades.
If story is more your thing, there's plenty of that too. I spent my demo time torn between two factions: the Tower, who control the city, and the Reclaimed, who seek to wrestle away that control. I needed something from the Tower, so I started running missions for them. Then the Reclaimed exposed the Tower as cold-blooded murderers, making me question my allegiance. Next thing you know there was a battle, everyone was dead, and walkers were attracted by the noise. Things could have gone differently, however. The Skydance team told me I could have made a deal that resulted in one side coming out on top. There were also faction points that I could have built up rather than running headfirst into the most violent outcome.
Killing Walkers Is As Brutal (And Satisfying) As It Looks
One of the pro tips I got from the Skydance team was to favor melee combat over guns. That's because more walkers are often drawn to the loud sounds of gunfire. Since my goal was usually to get past a small group without bringing on the horde, the silent option was the better option. But that didn't make the silent option any less fun.
In fact, melee kills bring out the finer points of Saints & Sinner's combat. When you stab a walker through the skull, you really have to drive the knife in there. When you heft a makeshift road sign-axe and plow it into a zombie, you have to then take it out. And it will get a little stuck. There's weight to the melee weapons in Saints & Sinners, and it makes using them all the more rewarding.
VR Item Management Makes Survival Horror More Scary
Horror is effective whenever the person experiencing it feels like they've lost control. Using items and Saints & Sinners can give that feeling, though I'm not sure it's intentional. Like most VR games, Saints & Sinners assigns your inventory to your body. Weapons are holstered at your sides and back, tools and ammo are strapped to your chest, and you put everything you pick up into a backpack. Getting to all of these things in a heated situation almost killed me a few times.
The thing that I had the most trouble with was managing my guns. Reloading is meant to be realistic. For instance, reloading a pistol required me to eject the clip, get a new one from my chest, put it in, and cock back. Sometimes I would have trouble getting the clip in. More often I would try to holster my gun to quickly grab a melee weapon, only to later find that I dropped it somewhere instead. Weapons are scarce in this world, so a dropped gun is a big loss. Again, this might be intentional. Fighting off a horde of zombies with limited ammo is meant to be scary. So I can't say for sure if item management needs fine tuning or if I'm just inept.
Item issues aside, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is shaping up to be as brutal and engrossing as any of the franchise's best. Fans will want to greet it when it comes to VR platforms on January 23, 2020.