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Overkill’s The Walking Dead is an uneven, grueling affair — so far

Come back when there’s voice chat and mission checkpoints

Overkill/Starbreeze Publishing
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

After a few days trying to play through Overkill’s The Walking Dead, I’m in a lot of pain. In fact, my mousing hand hasn’t hurt this much since I reviewed Fortnite’s original Save The World mode. Aside from the physical discomfort, though, I’m extremely frustrated with numerous things: my lack of progression; the massive difficulty spikes; and, worst of all, the monotonous, one-note combat.

For fans of the comics or the TV show interested in what the game has to offer, it’s probably best to look elsewhere for your next zombie fix. My recommendation to hardcore players: Wait this one out and see if Overkill makes big changes.

If you’ve played any of Overkill’s titles in the Payday series, you already know how the company’s interpretation of The Walking Dead is going to play out. The game is a linked series of four-player cooperative missions that take players through a ravaged Washington, D.C., in a battle against the zombie apocalypse’s traditional big bad — other survivors. This time, you’re up against the Family, a generic gang of local thugs.

Or, at least, that’s what the Family seems like so far. I’ll let you know more if I ever manage to get any further into the game.

The gameplay is pretty standard stuff. Each mission requires a bit of stealth, a little luck, a lot of skill, and, most importantly, good communication to pull off. That last part is hard to come by, however, since there’s no in-game voice chat right now. The solution for playing with random people is to invite them to your friends list or into a group chat using the Steam Overlay, but that’s really a level of intimacy that I’m not keen on in 2018.

When you run out of life, you fall to the ground and pull your pistol. More often than not, you’re out of ammo by this point. So you just sort of wave it around.
Overkill/Starbreeze Publishing

And neither are the other random players I’ve teamed up with, it seems. I simply can’t get anyone to talk to me.

Ironically, silence is the key to success in this game — the in-game silence of your characters, that is. What you’ve got to do is utilize melee weapons exclusively until you find a clot of human enemies. That’s when it’s safe to “go loud.”

However, noise is cumulative for an entire mission. If you get too loud, bad things happen. Say that you bumble into a trap or come across a nasty little mob and have to start firing your gun unsuppressed. Pile up enough noise, and that will trigger a zombie horde, where dozens of the undead start piling into the map from all directions. Ninety-nine percent of the time, in my experience, that means game over. But not before wrecking your hand trying to beat zombies to death with a baseball bat.

Missions are made even more grueling by the lack of a checkpointing system of any kind. If your party goes down, you’re forced back to the lobby to start over. Combined with the glacial pace at which perks unlock, much of my time spent with the game has felt like wasted effort.

The carrot on the end of the stick in Overkill’s The Walking Dead is the chance to unlock new abilities, and earn unique weapons and modifications. But it’s hard to muster up the energy when the combat itself isn’t much fun.

I take that back. The game’s gunplay is excellent. Plinking zombies in the head with a suppressed pistol is satisfying. Laying into them with heavier weapons is great as well. Human targets, in particular, behave intelligently and soak up a lot of damage in realistic ways. Everything gives feedback when you connect, whether it’s gobs of flesh falling off the undead with each blow or a human adversary getting laid out before standing up and running for cover. It’s just that weapon suppressors only last for a few shots before they break, and ammo is incredibly scarce.

In this way, Overkill’s The Walking Dead punishes you for enjoying its gunplay, which is its best part. And that’s a real shame. Inevitably, you’re forced to make do with your melee weapon. So I’ve been clicking. And clicking. And clicking. And it’s just not any fun.

After a long session yesterday, I flipped over to Twitch to find the streamer Squirrel winding down after his own six-hour ordeal with the game. He looked simply exhausted. But he also seemed to be having some of the same issues that I was. His chief complaints were also the checkpointing and the uneven difficulty curve, so I’m not alone.

One other highlight, however, is the game’s environments. Overkill’s version of D.C. feels spot on, mimicking the grimy dystopian visuals of the Walking Dead TV show nicely. The scale is perfect, with levels that are large enough to provide interesting gun battles where maneuver and cover are the keys to victory. The set-piece engagements are an excellent contrast to the cramped, claustrophobic corridors leading up to them.

But I’ve had enough for now. I’ll be putting this one aside. The best way to play The Walking Dead, should you want to, is tackle it with a group of dedicated friends — or not to bother with it at all until improvements are made. The game is simply too frustrating to play right now. Hopefully things will improve before the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions come out sometime next year.