Walking Dead: Survival Instinct isn’t a shooter, OK?

Wednesday, 13th March 2013 08:33 GMT By Dave Cook

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is the first-person survival horror title from Terminal Reality. VG247′s Dave Cook speaks with the team to learn more about its TV adaptation.

Survival Instinct

Survival Instinct is based on the AMC show The Walking Dead, which in turn is based on Robert Kirkman’s comic series.

The game stars Daryl and Merle Dixon, played in the show by Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker. Both have lent their likenesses and voices to the game.

You can watch the most recent Walking Dead: Survival Instinct trailer here. It features very little shooting.

Activision has announced the Walker Herd Survival Pack DLC for all gamers who pre-order the game before launch. If you want it you better hurry, because the game’s out next week.

Perception is a funny old thing. When The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct was revealed by Activision it was perceived by many gamers to be a first-person shooter.

Given the publisher’s track record with pumping out Call of Duty titles, it’s a natural conclusion to reach.

Yes, the game has guns – just like The Walking Dead comics and TV show have guns – but you’d have to be a bit daft to assume that Survival Instinct is just a re-skin of Black Ops 2 Zombies mode. That’d be the king of dick moves.

My real worry is that Activision and Terminal Reality haven’t shown much of the game running. How are we supposed to know what kind of game it is based on teaser trailers that show next to bugger all?

Why hasn’t there been more footage? If the game has triggered a backlash based on false perception, then why hasn’t either party done more to separate truth from myth?

The game is out next week and I wanted answers. So in an attempt to better understand Survival Instinct’s gameplay, I spoke with the studio’s principal effects art and system designer Glenn Gamble.

He explained that Survival Instinct sees brothers Daryl and Merle Dixon fleeing their Georgian home and blazing a trail cross-State to a military safe zone in Atlanta City. You’re free to choose your own route, but besides the sea of Walkers standing in your way, resources are your main concern.

Your car needs gas to run, so it’s the backbone of Terminal Reality’s scavenging mechanic. Each stage sees you fending off the undead while looking for survivors and resources to help you progress a little further. This is where things start to get interesting, but again I must make clear – I’ve seen none of this with my own eyes.

“If you’ve ever watched those Discovery Channel shows about survival, you’ll know that survival is not this straight line”, Gamble explained. “You have to be opportunistic, so one of the things we do in our game is – you can pick up survivors and you can have them scavenge for you when you’re on your main missions.

“But what we did was made all the resources you collect – be it the weapons you carry, the food – everything you get is shared across all of the survivors. So if you get a nice fancy new shotgun, you can choose to equip it yourself or give it to one of your survivors, to aid him when he goes off on his own mission to collect – hopefully – more supplies for the group.

“If you do that he has a higher chance of coming back alive. But unfortunately because this is The Walking Dead, he may never come back and you lose that nice new shotgun that you just found.”

Already I’m thinking about the new recruit missions first introduced in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, where Ezio would train up and send his apprentices around the world on missions. If successful they would earn the player rewards, but it was entirely possible for them to be killed in action.

The same is true here, and while you’re not actively controlling the Dixon’s car, you still have to decide where they go. Fail to stockpile enough gas and you could be forced to take a shorter, much deadlier route.

Much like Dragon Age: Origins, you can sometimes be attacked on the trail, triggering random “Road Event” encounters that see the brothers and their fellow survivors fending off Walkers in farms or camp sites. Saving as many people as possible is the next vital ingredient towards survival.

“You actually have to get survivors to join your group first” Gamble explained. “The survivors all have their own back-story and character, so some of them might be terrified, hiding in a boarded up gas station, and they’re like, ‘Dude! I haven’t seen anybody in three days. I’ll be glad to join you’.

“But then you have others who say, ‘I’m doing just fine. You’ve got to prove to me that it’s better for me to come with you, than it is to stay where I’m at.’ So then you might have to do a mission for them. So our survivors aren’t just simply plot-thin, and some of them may not join you until later in the game.

“It’s this cross-cut of the different types of people you would encounter. Some have it better, some have it worse. We took those archetypes and sat down in a meeting and said, ‘OK, if the Walker populace attacked tomorrow, what would we do?’ Then we tried to base the characters on what our initial gut reaction was.”

Unfortunately, you won’t have room in your car or truck for every survivor in a level, which leads to a difficult moral choice. Do you take the weak, gibbering scaredy cat who also happens to have more resources, or do you take the battle-hardened thug with little to offer besides muscle? It’s your call.

Gamble explained another type of choice that players might encounter, depending on their chosen path. Just like season two of the Walking Dead show, the brothers can become blocked by a string of abandoned cars on the freeway.

The player can choose to spend more gas on driving around the blockage, or you can get out and fight off the horde as you push the cars aside manually. Either way there appears to be more depth on offer here than the initial, first-person shooter presumption suggested.

I asked Gamble how he felt about the initial outcry over the game’s reveal and he replied, “I can understand how that happened. You have Activision who is well known for Call of Duty, and then you hear , ‘Oh my God, a first-person Walking Dead game’.

“At the beginning the game just kind of announced and we didn’t really go into much detail at the time – we wanted to build up to it. I don’t understand how PR works. I actually do system design and stuff, but people have responded well to ‘talking to the dev’ kind of thing.

“I don’t know all that magic stuff, but being a gamer and somebody who actually loves gaming journalism – I’m just eating up everything that’s out there about BioShock and all the upcoming games -so I can sometimes see how those jumps in logic can happen if you just don’t have the details.”

Speaking of not having the details, I’m still concerned that little has been shown of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, because the concepts that Gamble explained to me sound genuinely appealing as a survival horror fan, but I must make clear that I also haven’t seen them with my own eyes. The same goes for you.

Can you honestly say that you’ve seen enough of Survival Instinct to accurately describe it to your friends? Have you only just learned about the mechanics discussed above by reading this article? Does that make you fear for the overall quality of the game?

I wish I could tell you that Terminal Reality has created a solid tie in on par with TellTale’s adventure spin-off, or that this is the title to make survival horror games on consoles scary again, but I just don’t have the information to hand. That troubles me because I really should.

Don’t get me wrong though, because I really do want to see Terminal Reality smash presumptions. I want them to deliver a game that really nails what it would feel like to be in The Walking Dead show, and to prove that console horror isn’t just about Resident Evil 6, or other games that miss the point entirely.

Survival horror isn’t just about big guns and explosions. It never was. Instead it’s about genuine terror, resource management and the constant, nagging, nerve-shredding fear that comes with feeling underpowered no matter what you do.

Should the game deliver all of the above, then it would be a genuine breath of fresh air into my weary lungs. But we really need more than trailers full of cut-scenes, large flashing words and the rasp of Michael Rooker saying things to convince us otherwise.

Come next week we’ll know everything.

The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct is out on PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U from March 19 in the US and March 22 across Europe.



  1. woe

    This game looks bloody awful.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. KrazyKraut

    so they copycating Zombie U..a little bit..?

    #2 2 years ago
  3. Dave Cook

    I hope my sentiment hasn’t been lost above, as I know some folk don’t read beyond headlines. I’m not saying the game is good, as I haven’t seen it. I’m just hoping the game will be good as a survival horror fan, but I’m sceptical as I’m yet to see it. There’s just not enough info out there and only a handful of screens.

    It’s Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse all over again.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. Samoan Spider

    This is one that’s on my ‘please don’t be shit’ list along with Rambo and several others. Hope for the best, expect the worst.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. smoke.tetsu

    Wasn’t it canned on the PC? I see it available for preorder as a digitial distribution title on amazon but still. I heard it was cancelled on PC!

    #5 2 years ago
  6. KrazyKraut

    At least I know what you wrote, but atm it looks like a FPS with no so many tools and weapons to survive. Like in Zombie U.

    #6 2 years ago
  7. manamana

    I still don’t get why they go with the “must be Activision/CoD” stuff. Their only trailer and the gameplay shown are nothing else but first person shooter stuff. All of their ideas are great and sound intriguing but until they don’t show anything beyond shooting Zombies and running away, I’ll be cautious.

    Damn how I would love me a decent survival game. TLOU can’t come soon enough!

    #7 2 years ago
  8. Dave Cook

    @6 it may well be. The point is I’ve not seen enough of it to yell you otherwise. That worries me.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. harr0w

    The fact acti haven’t backed this game with a massive advertising campaign rings alarm bells or they think the name alone will sell the product. I must admit it reeks of low budget and probably will be, but saying that the guy has some nice ideas and when I first saw telltales stuff I was less than impressed until I got to play it. I hope it will be good but everything points to it being a large pile of dog squeeze.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Djoenz

    Im curious about the gameplay.

    #10 2 years ago
  11. Kloudrunner

    The ad campaign exists. The games advertised about 78 Gagillion times during an episode of The Walking Dead. First trailers looked terrible. I’m remaining stealthily hopeful that its not a train wreck.

    #11 2 years ago
  12. SplatteredHouse

    Q1. Can you honestly say that you’ve seen enough of Survival Instinct to accurately describe it to your friends?

    A. Not even remotely. Not by a country mile! All I’ve seen is the two actors from the show, and I’ve heard what sound like particularly wooden delivery of lines from them, supposedly taken from the game. Not impressive/reassuring.

    Q2. Have you only just learned about the mechanics discussed above by reading this article?

    A. Yes. I have not previously heard as much as a whisper about these mechanics (which Dave was unfortunately unable to offer illustration as to how they worked during play)

    Q3. Should the marketing/promotion crew for this game have found better uses for their hands, than sitting on them for the duration.

    A. It might have helped matters/too right they should have.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. ps3fanboy

    as dave cook says bugger off!

    #13 2 years ago
  14. povu

    It’s obvious Activision has no faith in the game considering how little its gameplay has been advertised, even though we’re really close to its release.

    If they want to convince people that this isn’t just some crappy cash in they’re going to have to do better than that.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. unclejibjab

    Let me guess.. review embargo until release day?

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Moonwalker1982

    They should have moved this one to next-gen. I was at Gamescom last year and i saw a demonstration from the devs about this game. No video or anything, simply a slideshow with some screenshots and they told their plans. Quite ambitious plans they had for this game. Now it’s almost coming out, little to no marketing, has FAIL written al over it. A shame.

    #16 2 years ago
  17. Lengendaryboss

    Hmm this reminds me of the COD Black ops declassified, which is unfortunately the best selling third party game on PS Vita. One teaser trailer that doesn’t show the final product quality, few interviews and this game is never mentioned again. One of many reasons why i don’t like Activision. Anyway the walking dead fans deserve a true game based on the TV show not some crappy cash in.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. SplatteredHouse

    They should retool (Forbidden) Siren, but theme it around AMC TWD!

    #18 2 years ago
  19. rusty_shackleford

    Game will be out soon and we still haven’t seen any actual in game footage of it being played. That is BAD and will kill any hopes they have of massive pre-orders.

    All the screenshots and 1 teaser they did show look like crap visually. The game looks like it was made in Unity with default assets?

    And after reading this doesn’t make me excited for the game, just more confused and less hopeful. There’s a car and its a major part of the game, but you don’t actually get to drive? SOUNDS GREAT

    I urge others to wait till its actually out and reviewable to even consider buying this.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. Stace Harman

    I’m amazed that this is out next week. I don’t know anyone who has seen it in action, let alone played a preview build.

    I’d love to think it’s just because the PR-ball has been dropped but it’s Activision, and they know how to crank the PR machine.

    The signs are not good.

    #20 2 years ago
  21. Phoenixblight


    Activision have never really gone out for marketing on non-COD or Blizzard games. Its their thing.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. bitsnark



    Also, the brand is very much in the public’s eye after Telltale’s cracking take on the license and the huge ratings that the TV show (regardless of what you might think of it vis-a-vis the original source material) has been getting, so you would think that this would have otherwise been a home run.

    After this gets put out to die (quietly) at retail, I’d expect to see and hear tales of its troubled development to start slowly filtering through if they haven’t already.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. SplatteredHouse

    @21: Exactly. Examples include Singularity, and Blur which instantly spring to mind. Bizarre gave Blur a lot of love (remember the team videos where they’d talk it up, feature blowouts, plenty of gameplay, etc) so they kind of picked up the ball which their publisher all but fumbled. Singularity came in under the radar, for the most part, but was aided by fairly positive trade show reception along with the accomplishment of the game itself.

    Although, I wouldn’t blame anybody for having misgivings about this particular game, since not even as much as an overview of TWD:SI in action has been released – let alone a cohesive description of the objective, or what takes place, other than some vague idea that it is set before Rick wakes.

    If Acti felt they had something worth pushing, here, it does strike me that they’d probably be a good deal more vocal.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. unknownhero

    great article. other than the one minute trailer, we have not seen a damn thing which is worrying not to mention the fact that we do not know of the exact development time. I fear that activision had TR make this in a rush and hope that it will sell because of the walking dead name. hell, there isn’t even any leaked gameplay of it yet or any reviews. alarms are going off everywhere.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. manamana

    ^ and yet it’s still in the top ten of

    /scratches head

    #25 2 years ago
  26. Dave Cook

    @23 Singularity is a bloody gem of a game. Highly enjoyed it. It’s a shame all Raven does now is make CoD DLC (to the best of my knowledge).

    That said they do make the best CoD maps around.

    #26 2 years ago
  27. bitsnark

    @26 I completely agree mate.

    I remember when Raven were chucking out the likes of Hexen 2 back in the day; a far cry from current times where Activision only feed them CoD scraps.

    Also stick me down for one of the Singularity crowd; I really enjoyed it.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. Dave Cook

    @27 Yeah, oh god Hexen 2 that’s right. I read Masters of Doom back in January and they are mentioned a few times as John Romero worked with them to make one of the Hexen games. They were pretty tight with each other as I recall.

    They should seriously be allowed to make a full game again. Give them the CoD budget one year and let them make something new.

    #28 2 years ago
  29. bitsnark

    @28 They were a tight unit definitely and had a similar relationship with id Software that the likes of Treyarch do with Infinity Ward right now, in so far as they were often commissioned to lend a coding hand on a fair amount of id Software IP (Hexen, Wolfenstein etc.).

    As far as a completely new Raven Software game goes, I’m totally on board with that.

    #29 2 years ago
  30. smoke.tetsu

    If by lend a coding hand you mean “be entirely responsible for developing the game with id software lending them a coding hand” then yeah. Raven lended a coding hand in Hexen, Wolfenstein (2009), etc.

    #30 2 years ago

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