There were a plethora of games aiming to steal the spotlight at this years E3 Expo. Whether it was another installment in a huge action franchise or the newest competitive game that everyone’s been waiting for, the show floor was packed with games screaming over each other for your attention. That’s probably why when I saw the over the top booth for a new The Walking Dead game, I was pretty skeptical that it might be another cash grab on a familiar name. That is, until I played the game and quickly realized that Overkill’s The Walking Dead was giving me the Left 4 Dead fix I have been needing.
For those of you who are saying to yourself, “Overkill sounds familiar,” it’s because they are the studio behind PayDay 2. A wildly successful cooperative shooter in which players must work together to pull off elaborate heists. The game was released in August of 2013 and has had such success that it has been re-released several times including just earlier this year on the Nintendo Switch.
So if anyone was to make a cooperative zombie killing game feel right, it had to be Overkill. I was about to find out for myself at least. As three friends and I were invited to play the game together. We were each given a character to play as and I immediately noticed how varied they were. You have Grant who is the sharpshooting sniper, Aiden whose strength gives him an advantage with melee weapons, Heather the scavenger that has well-rounded stats with all weapons, and finally, Maya who plays the support role and is the most effective at reviving fallen allies.
Given the diversity of character roles, it was surprising to discover that other skills and load outs could be fully customized. This meant that our team had to discuss which skills to assign to whom before the game even began. The skills included lock picking, mechanic, wire cutter, and more. This means it’s up to you and your group to discuss what you’ll need before you head out.
This was a pretty great way to get our group working together. Having a specified skill like lockpicking meant that every player in the group was important to completing our mission. This was something we learned the hard way as our first go we immediately split up and were devoured by Walkers.
You see, like the legendary Left 4 Dead you have to stick together to survive. If you are taken down by an enemy it is up to your teammates to revive you. There is no other way to recover. This is where the similarities end because in many ways Overkill’s The Walking Dead becomes a much smarter and tactical game. Think of it as the Rainbow Six Siege of zombie survival games. You will be planning every move carefully and precisely if you want to pull off a mission and live.
The zombies are slow and won’t be winning any Olympic gold in track and field like they might in other games. But zombies are not your only threat as you’ll soon discover other groups of survivors are just as much a threat in this world. Enemy territory is littered with traps and trip wires that are not only going to take down a member of your team, but alert both walkers and other survivors of your whereabouts.
It’s here where you start to see the necessity of the skills. The character who has the wire cutter needs to disarm the trip wires, while the person with the lock picking skills needs to get the door open. Meanwhile, you might want to have your sniper watching your back and your melee expert on the front lines.
The whole formula is actually brilliantly executed in a way that simulates what it might actually feel like to survive in a chaotic world overrun with zombie hordes. The only bad thing I could say about the experience is that some of the textures could use a little polish as they seemed a little dated, but of course, this is an early build of the game that is obviously not finished. And besides that, the cooperative gameplay was satisfying enough that I could forgive the game for some of its rough edges.
One thing I would like to know a little bit more about is if this game does have some sort of narrative story. The preview trailers for each character seemed to promise some depth and character building, but my demo lacked any sort of narrative. The closest thing to any sort of narrative that I experienced was someone on a radio telling us that our mission was to obtain the water purifier that was apparently stolen from our camp during an attack.
The best thing I can say about Overkill’s The Walking Dead is that it certainly seems like the type of game that could develop a dedicated community. Much in the way that we still see many people playing Left 4 Dead 2 or even PayDay 2. There’s not an abundance of cooperative online experiences out there and for the most part, they tend to garner some attention. Especially when the gameplay is as engaging as what I experienced during my short time with the game.