The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners sets a new gold standard for VR immersion despite an underwhelming narrative and a few minor flaws.
Developers: Skydance Interactive, Skybound Entertainment
Publisher: Skydance Interactive
Platforms: Oculus Rift, Steam, Oculus Quest
Release Date: January 23, 2020 (PlayStation VR version slated for a Q2 2020 release)
The Walking Dead’s popularity continues to climb even after the comic book’s successful television adaptation nearly a full decade ago. The show’s success led to later spin-offs in television, board games, potential feature films, and of course, video games.
When discussing video games in the Walking Dead franchise, the only standouts are the critically acclaimed Telltale adventure titles, which are narrative-heavy adventure games that relied more on dialogue choices than player actions. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a title that, by comparison, excels due to the game’s incredible immersion factor.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a first-person survival horror action title that takes full advantage of the game’s VR capabilities. The environment, a fictionalized New Orléans ravaged by floods (likely based on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina), has the dark and gritty detail needed to set the stage for the player. Areas like the cemetery crypt and the abandoned high school have a genuinely creepy atmosphere, enhanced by great lighting effects and chilling audio tones.
The players primarily operate at a central hub, using a map on a modified air boat to travel to the game’s different areas. These areas are not only littered with undead zombies, but also some New Orléans residents, most of which are hostile towards trespassers. The character models have a cel shaded design that coincidently looks like the character models from the Telltale series, which does a respectable job in making the world feel “alive” through its NPC population.
Even though the Fallout similarities are fairly obvious, approaching The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners as a typical first-person shooter is a potentially fatal mistake, since this game properly uses several survival horror tropes. Items like ammunition and medicine are scarce, requiring players to strategize when to fight, when to sneak, or when to run.
Taking a cue from the Silent Hill series, players only have a limited time to complete their objectives before the “bells” start to ring, signaling the night’s arrival. This time limit is cleverly integrated into the game by way of a colored watch on the player’s left wrist. When the bells ring, the entire area becomes infested with zombies.
In addition to this element, the game also has another time mechanic implemented that advances the story by only letting the player complete one area per “day.” Since players are unable to travel anywhere at night, the only way to advance to the next day is to drink from a flask at the player’s base camp. The player will wake up the next day, with the numbered day being followed by the notice that the dead have increased and supplies have dwindled. In other words, as the days increase, so does the game’s difficulty.
Without the amazing VR immersion that the game provides, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners would just be another average survival horror game at best. Fortunately, the developers approached this project with VR as the main focus, and the overall results are stunning.
The game’s physics are incredibly realistic, from intuitively using weapons to picking up heavy items that actually felt weighted down (like a propane tank). Its little details like this which shows just how vital in-game physics are to the core gameplay, especially within the VR realm.
Another important immersion element is the game’s interactive environments. Players can open cabinets, climb up drain pipes, and break down wooden planks that are blocking a potential doorway. However, actions like climbing, fighting off zombie attacks, and running will quickly reduce stamina. Fortunately, a player’s current stamina refills automatically after a few seconds of inactivity, and the player’s overall stamina meter restores by consuming food.
The player’s health meter works in a similar way, though the terms for restoring and refilling health are quite different. For example, the player can become sick after killing a “diseased” walker, which lowers the player’s overall health meter. Taking medication will restore the player’s overall health meter, while wrapping the player’s arm in a bandage will refill the current health meter.
Further adding to the immersion is the absent on-screen HUD. In place of an inventory screen, the player uses an interactive backpack to maintain items and weapons. As mentioned earlier, the wristwatch represents the time limit. Objectives, safe codes, drawings, and even the map are all kept in the player’s personal journal, activated by literally grabbing it off the player’s chest.
The player can holster small weapons, like knives and handguns, next to both the player’s left and right hips. A rechargeable flashlight is always at the ready, an invaluable resource since the game has a lot of dark rooms and corridors. The game doesn’t offer an option to display any HUDs, but I think that only adds to the overall experience.
Thanks to The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners incredibly tight and responsive controls, attacking with weapons isn’t reminiscent of dated motion controls that plagued many early VR titles. The game translates the player’s actions well, from impaling a shiv into a zombie’s skull to slicing off a guard’s arm with a katana. Large melee weapons need both hands to properly wield, but each mighty swing will drain some stamina. When a gun needs reloaded, the player has to actually pantomime the actions.
For example, a player reloads the revolver a single bullet at a time, but the pistol is easily reloaded by jamming in one magazine. However, it’s important to remember to cock your guns after reloading them, a subtle but welcome difference (from typical console games) that further increases the game’s overall immersion.
Unfortunately, every weapon in the game has a “durability” rating, a gameplay mechanic seen in popular game genres like action RPGs where most common weapons have a “finite” amount of uses before “breaking.” Once a weapon’s durability ends, the weapon is permanently gone. Most weapons found in the game usually don’t even have a full durability meter, which places even more importance on learning the crafting system.
The crafting system used in The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners takes direct inspiration from the Fallout series. Players can scrap most found items at the base camp, which is also where the crafting stations are. Due to the book bag’s limited storage, simply grabbing every item in sight isn’t a practical strategy. Players can see what components an item will yield when scrapped by closely examining the item, but this can become tedious.
The game tries to offset this by allowing the player to “track” the needed components for a crafting recipe, but the player still needs to pick up and check the items to even see if the needed components are there. Another issue with this system is the inability to repair weapons. The durability ratings are far from generous, so oftentimes a found shotgun may only get off two shots before becoming junk. Granted, your character isn’t a blacksmith, but if I’m able to craft rifles and explosives, then weapon repairs should also be possible.
Players can also craft better food and medicine, as well as permanent upgrades like more bag storage or a stamina boost. The crafting system works because the formula has already been proven in countless action RPGs, but certain aspects definitely fell flat.
The actual gameplay feels like most first person action games, again seemingly borrowing more ideas from the Fallout series. However, players can also use stealth throughout the game, which is simply done by pressing a button to crouch. The stealth element is necessary at times, especially since direct assaults usually fail spectacularly. Zombies are easy enough to get by unless being swarmed, but human guards present a much tougher challenge. Although I didn’t use it all the time, the stealth mechanic was one of my favorite aspects about the gameplay. I enjoyed the extra tension and strategy choices that came from the stealth gameplay. If this game ends up getting a sequel or DLC, then hopefully the developers incorporate more stealth elements into it.
The entire Walking Dead franchise set itself apart through great storytelling, so even my own expectations for the game’s narrative were high (especially due to the critical praise that Telltale’s Walking Dead series received). The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, unfortunately, fails to tell a gripping story. Aside from the player, there’s really only a couple of characters that have any personality (thanks to some talented voice acting).
Furthermore, the game tries to present plot “choices” to the player at certain points in the story, but those “choices” don’t really seem to affect the narrative at all. The game’s anticlimactic ending really punctuates this point, as it fails to wrap up all the loose threads, instead ending abruptly before the credits roll. You can continue playing the game after the ending, complete with everything that you collected, but after finishing a twelve-hour campaign there really isn’t much else to do.
Weak storytelling aside, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is an incredible, must-own title that sets a new bar for VR gaming. The in-game physics, interactive environments, clever time mechanics, and superb controls combine to create an amazing VR experience.
Along with Superhot VR and Vader Immortal, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has one of the deepest levels of immersion in VR that I have personally ever experienced. The crafting system has a few flaws, such as the inability to repair weapons, but it still compliments the gameplay well.
Those gamers wanting a compelling narrative will likely be very disappointed, especially with an unsatisfying ending. However, in terms of virtual reality and video games, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has set a new high standard as the first must-have VR title for 2020.
The Walking Dead: Saints and SinnersSkydance Interactive
A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.