We're taking things slow. Making sure we don't make any noise, avoiding confrontation with walkers as much as we can. In a way they're more of an environmental obstacle than enemies, at least until the shit hits the fan, the main enemy here are other survivors.
Overkill's The Walking Dead has been in development at the studio responsible for Payday and Payday 2 over the last five years. That sounds like a lot of time and the success of Payday 2 has much to do with it. It afforded the team the luxury to experiment and find gameplay mechanics to support the post-apocalyptic world Robert Kirkman has created.
"We worked in close cooperation with Skybound and Robert Kirkman to ensure we really got the right The Walking Dead mood into the game," says Almir Listo, global brand director. "Because immersion is such an integral part of the experience when you're in there together, the four survivors and you're fighting for your life, we want you to really feel that you're a part of The Walking Dead universe."
"We want to explain to the community that this is a unique take," says executive producer Saul Gascon. "It's canon, but it's a unique story. It's not like the TV show or the comic books. It's a story that happens in parallel, it could be like a special issue of the comic books, basically."
We're playing as Heather, she belongs to the scout class and in the build we played she had a pretty sweet crossbow (much like Daryl Dixon), a silenced pistol, and an ominous-looking hatchet for melee purposes. She is joined by Aidan (tank), Maya (support), and Grant (sniper). Each character has abilities that can prove vital to staying alive and tackling a situation, and in the case of Heather, she's able to spot more useful items and loot as crafting will be key to your long-term prospects in the game. For instance, Maya needs to craft her health packs that she can drop, allowing all players to fill up on health. It's also a good indication of the pacing here.
There is an ebb and flow to the action and if you play well together the intense moments of action will be short. If, on the other hand, you mess up you'll need to scramble to survive as waves of both humans and walkers try and take you out. You'll need to scavenge for parts and items to progress from one section of a map to the next, for example, there may be a forklift in need of gas or an elevator in need of fuses. This is a great time to craft, look for ammunition and make sure you're prepared for whatever comes next.
"We wanted, from the beginning, not just to be like a shooter, you'd go out there kill stuff. That's fun, right, but it doesn't pay enough homage to the universe, to the Walking Dead, and to our experience from Payday," says Gascon. "That's why what we built is a game where you need to think, you need to go through the levels trying to understand how to approach each situation, how to solve each puzzle that you find on your way. Then if you do something wrong, shit hits the fan really hard and then walkers will start coming in, over and over."
Each player also brings a tool along, like wire cutters or lock picks, and these allow for alternative routes through a level or additional loot. So not only do you need to create a balanced team in terms of the characters, but their loadout is equally important. The maps themselves are procedural to some extent, so each time you play you need to be prepared for a slightly different experience, much like in Payday 2.
The gunplay is rather subdued, particularly as long as you're going silent. There is an economy to going silent and, at some point at least, you might be forced to go loud. We never got an opportunity to sample Aidan and his shotgun, but from afar it looked awfully satisfying. Overall, it felt like everything was in place in terms of the gunplay and we had a particularly good time with Heather's crossbow. Equally important is melee, particularly when dealing with walkers as you don't want to waste ammunition on them unless things are going really badly. If you sneak up on a walker you can perform a takedown. You can use a standard swipe with your melee weapon or a charged attack, you can also use your fist to punch at the walkers. If they grab you there's a brief little sequence where you mash your mouse button and plant a screwdriver in their skull in a really visceral, up close and personal moment.
Some walkers will be crawling towards you so you need to be aware of different levels as well as directions. If you're downed your able to use your secondary weapon as you wait to be revived by a teammate and as you'd expect there's going to be some massive scrambles when you go down in chokepoints. In particular, we had an issue involving a bridge in an underpass map where snipers had us pinned down. We eventually had to make a run for it to reach some sort of cover even though that took us closer to our enemies.
The characters are a big part of the game too. They're not only there to fill their respective roles, but they are also there at Camp Anderson, providing the sort of narrative you'd expect from a Walking Dead experience. Each has their own story and background, their own issues and baggage, their own goals. Anderson is the leader, and he's the one handing out the missions. It might be that you're sent out on supply runs or, as in the case of the Georgetown map, you could be tasked with taking back a water purifier from the hands of "The Family" - a rival camp of survivors that are not operating with much concern for common decency.
Having played a couple of levels we're intrigued by what Overkill's The Walking Dead offers. It's got some of the intensity and teamwork of Payday, yet it also has elements of games like Vermintide in there too. There are specific walker types (we encountered the exploding Bloaters, for example), and you'll need to plan and coordinate your team similar to how you would if you were playing Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six. Most importantly there's the opportunity for emergent gameplay around every corner. Could those walkers be used to take out human enemies? Do we risk entering a house to scavenge for supplies or should we take a more direct route towards the objective? Do we stick together as a group or split up to flank the enemies running the risk of getting overrun by walkers?
Overkill's The Walking Dead has taken its sweet time getting ready for deployment, but it has the potential to be something truly special when it arrives this November on PC, PS4, and Xbox One.