You’re immediately thrown into the world of The Walking Dead, sitting on a skiff and gliding through a New Orleans’ lake; all the while you’re wonderfully introduced to the gritty and gruesome reality of the landscape. People are being executed, some are overcome by walkers, some lurk in the shadows and intimidate you with their presence, while others haunt the rooftops and keep you on edge. Feelings of excitement, paranoia, and stress are all concocted into one deadly cocktail as you try to loot, kill, and survive the horrors around you.The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has by far the best introductory sequence in any VR title I’ve played. The boat sequence quickly divulges from peaceful to stressful as Walkers slowly overtake it, and you’re forced to use up your remaining three bullets in an attempt take them out before they get to you. It becomes clear from here how quickly things will take a turn for the worst in this world.
As you manage to get to shore, you find yourself at the graveyard where you’re supposed to have a meeting with a man named Henri. Here is when you experience the first threat of Walkers, which you can sneak by or avoid, or with one wrong step they can begin attacking you. One issue I faced with this moment of choice, and which took me a bit to get used to, was having to use artificial crouching. It’s not the be-all and end-all of VR gaming, but it does quickly detract from feeling immersive when you don’t have the option to move in every direction. If you do physically crouch, the game corrects itself and keeps your head locked at one position.
As you progress through the cemetery, the threat of Walkers starts getting more prevalent. A fantastic mechanic brought into the game was the damage system. Instead of being eaten or clawed at, the Walkers will grab you. Here, you can shake them off, shoot them, or stab them. It’s terrifying, slowly making your way through this new landscape and getting grabbed by a walker in the dead of night. With optional ways to take them out, it’s immediately clear the title encourages freedom of choice, which is a welcome feature in all VR games.
After traversing the cemetery, you find your friend Henri hung upside down, and slowly losing consciousness. He tells you to find a child and his mother and to kill anyone or anything that stands in your way. After he asks you to give his half of the supplies to the family, he’s overcome with the walker virus and tries attacking you. With obvious plot direction out of the way, you’ll now be able to freely explore.
Progressing further, you find Henri’s base that you’re able to take for your own. Here, the crafting, scavenging, and fast travel system are all presented. The crafting system is intuitive to use, only requiring that you have the right kind of scrap material as a base before you can start making stuff like Lucille. It also showcases the kinds of items and abilities you can craft after you have upgraded the station. There’s a total of three crafting stations: the first lets you craft food recipes and improve your health and stamina, the next is crafting melee weapons, firearms, and bullets, and the last one lets you improve abilities across the board (i.e. improving your stealth ability). The scavenging system is simple — there is a collection bin in the base that will strip down the item’s materials for you. The fast travel system is also very simple, letting you select either a location you’ve previously been to or whatever’s next to be explored in the story.
Your first mission is to locate an elusive location known as the ‘Reserve’. Henri’s notes suggest it’s a Cold War era bunker with enough supplies to survive the outbreak, exactly the kind of place you need right now. To get to this location, you need to collect and assemble parts of a radio to try to get into contact with them. To do this, you must head to the next location, a place known as the ‘Blue Mansion’, that should have your necessary radio parts. This is when the game progressively gets more stressful, more survival-based, and more like you’re playing The Last of Us in VR. After getting off your skiff a young woman asks for your assistance. Since she didn’t have the courage to do so, she asks that you eliminate her husband-turned-walker. At this point, we’re introduced to the RPG element of the game, since you can choose whether or not to help her, and if you’ll do it for free. Like any RPG before it, these moments will shape how people view you across the wasteland.
After reaching the Blue Mansion you’re shown the climbing mechanics, a necessary feature for exploration, avoiding enemies, and even killing them from above. As you make your way up the side of the mansion, you’re introduced to the last feature: looting. You soon realize it’s best to manage available resources rather than hoard whatever’s available. Navigating through this building is tense, as at any point you can be overrun by walkers. Your rechargeable torch isn’t very bright and quickly loses power, making these dark buildings more difficult to explore. Even more terrifying is being spooked by walkers standing behind doors and around corners, who will hunt you down if you’re being too noisy. Alongside this is the pressure of having a limited amount of time to complete your objectives. You keep track of your available time with a wristwatch, and if the sun goes down while you’re out, you’ve got a horde of walkers on approach. Add all these features together and it’s a recipe for immense anxiety.
While the story is strong, the gameplay is fun, and the RPG elements and open-world give you complete freedom of choice, but there are some downsides. As a note, I was given a press build to review the game from, and while it was completely stable, there were just some problems that couldn’t be overlooked. I dislike the way the weapons are tracked to the controls. A very simple fix, but an annoyance nonetheless since the handguns and bow feel an inch off from where they should be. It makes shooting these weapons very awkward, leading me to prefer to rely on melee weapons should I ever have trouble. Alongside this is the audio quality of the NPC voices. Everything else sounds crisp and clear, while the NPCs sound like a 2006 YouTube video. It quickly breaks immersion when everyone sounds so low quality and could be easily fixed in a later patch. As for bugs, I didn’t experience any in my playthrough, which is a huge relief for a game this intricate.
The title also makes you quickly aware that survival elements play a huge part in the gameplay. The stamina gauge will drop in size should you not eat food or if you’re carrying too many resources. If you’re getting sick, you’ll need to eat the right food (out of date food will make you feel worse) or use your medical supplies. If you run for too long, climb for too long, or use melee weapons you’ll lose stamina. Along with all of this is ensuring you pack the right equipment for your travels, and as each day passes the number of supplies reduce and the number of walkers increase. Resource management is therefore of paramount importance. Also as mentioned prior, if the sun goes down while you’re out exploring you’ll face even more walkers, making time management also quintessential.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has been a blast to play. Every aspect feels finely tweaked to make you feel entirely immersed. The gameplay feels deeply rewarding, and there’s a great balance between choosing to be stealth and choosing to go in guns blazing. While I have some faults with the game, overall it’s definitely worth the price tag.
The Walking Dead; Saints & Sinners
There’s a lot to juggle in The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, but it’s not a bad thing since each feature adds a layer of survivalism and immersion. Though certain weapons are uncomfortable, and there’s that NPC audio issue, it’s likely due to being the first available build of the game. The lack of physical crouching is irritating, but the combat, climbing, stealth, and RPG mechanics make up for it, putting you in near-complete control of the character. Every suspenseful moment is an addiction, and it’s an incredible experience all neatly packaged for you to slowly unwrap.