The bells tolled as my watch beeped. Someone had mentioned that this was bad in passing, but I hadn’t really heeded the warning. This was just a game, right? With exploitable systems and an arcadey nature that wouldn’t really present too much danger? I couldn’t have been more wrong. The music ramped up, a stressful melody that drove home the kind of trouble that I was really in. One of the corpses appeared in the doorway, followed by another, and another. I grabbed one more thing from the shelf and attempted to stuff it into my overly full backpack before darting to the window. The dead crowded the once empty street below me, but the hallway behind me was filling up. I took my chances with the ledge.
I hung from the narrow drain spout and made my way to the corner of the house, but lost my grip and plummeted to the ground below, knocking off a good chunk of my health. It’s fine, I can squeeze through this hole in the fence and make my way down the alley, back to the safety of my boat. But my fall had caught the attention of the horde and they all began moving towards me. My stamina was low and I couldn’t run anymore, so I turned around to fight.
I quickly loaded the last of my rounds into my pistol, took aim and started firing. I missed the first one, but my wide shot landed in the skull of another. By the time I had collected myself, the zombie was on me. I grasped at its face with one hand, holding its head back and spattered its brains with a point-blank shot. Aiming at the incoming crowd, I took a couple of wildly placed shots as I grasped for the screwdriver on my hip, plunging it into the skull of the next corpse to reach me. And then a horrifying moment as I tried to yank it out but it stayed stuck. It took a couple of hard tugs, but the screwdriver dislodged as I dropped both my gun and makeshift shank. I dropped to the ground in a panic. I couldn’t find either weapon, but there was a bottle nearby. I grabbed it, shattered it across one zombie’s skull and stabbed the shards into another. With the dead now truly dead in piles around me, I gathered myself, picked up my dropped weapons, and took the boat back to my camp.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners Review – Symphony of Systems
And that’s just a single moment, a brief interaction with a few of the animated corpses that haunt The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners‘ world. However, this isn’t just an arcade “player vs. zombie” simulator. It’s a symphony of systems working harmony to make you feel like you are actually there. You have to worry about survival, gearing up, watching the time, checking for zombies, and not pissing off the human factions at war with each other. Then there’s the story to care about, and whether helping somebody else is worth potentially putting yourself at risk. And you can play it all your way, even though it’s guaranteed that not everything in this apocalypse is going to go your way.
All of this is made possible by the intensely immersive systems that translate gamified elements into real actions. You have to put stuff over your shoulder into your backpack to collect it. You have to manually reload each bullet in a six-shooter. A shiv in a zombie skull isn’t just going to slide out easily, requiring either leverage with the other hand, or a couple of good tugs. After each session playing The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, I was mentally and physically exhausted. It transports you right into The Walking Dead’s zombie-filled world, and when a horde of creepy zombies is bearing down on you, it’s easy to forget you’re playing a game.
And that immersion is what makes The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners so truly scary. No, it’s not “scripted moments of horror” scary. It’s immersively terrifying. It’s the dread of racing against the clock, taking on more zombies than your current weapons will allow, or sneaking through a human encampment. In particular, the music that plays after the bells toll and darkness envelops the world sends a chill of hopelessness, and I’m always immensely relieved to make it back to the safe haven of my camp after night has fallen. Never has a survival game felt so primal and intense, not just physically, but the emotional strain of just making it to the next day.
It’s in the tiny details too. Some of the zombies wandering around aren’t the rotting long-dead corpses you’re used to. Didn’t kill that person by shooting them in the head? Maybe they got taken down by a zombie bite? They’ll be back, and coming for you, and forgetting this little fact while murdering your way through a human camp can be quite surprising when that guard gets back up and starts chewing on your arm.
The load times are a bit long at times and can definitely take you out of the experience. It’s one of the biggest facets that reminds me I’m playing a game as I travel to each node area, waiting for the loading screens in between. Given that you’ll be hitting these points at least twice each in-game day (once out to whatever location and once to get back to your camp), it would have been nice if the game offered more than a black screen featuring the game’s logo and a loading bar. Technical limitations may be the root cause of this, and I hope future iterations of PSVR give us more seamless and immersive open worlds because this is really the only downside to this game. Move Controllers are required, but if you’re a PSVR owner and you don’t have Moves, you’ve already been missing out on the platforms best and most immersive experiences.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners Review – Life Among the Dead
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners expertly recreates every feeling I’ve had while watching or reading The Walking Dead. The hope. The dread. Moments of respite. Moments of panic. Wondering if every day might be your last. It puts you in that world, and the decisions of survival are in your hands. At the end of each in-game day, it all comes back to whether or not you’re still breathing. The story and many of the game’s very mechanics are ancillary as it puts the focus on you. Ignore the pleas coming over the radio as you scavenge for supplies. Or venture into somewhere unsafe to help someone else at the expense of your own health. The choice is entirely up to you. Not being dragged along the experience, but having the freedom to make my own fate makes The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners feel real.
And make no mistake, this is a full-length game. Completing the story will take an average of about 15 hours, but I found myself off the beaten path rather often, either by my own volition or forced by the necessity of survival. Scrounging up medicine to restore my max health took away a whole day even as the voice on the radio was worrying about drowning where he was trapped. Completing a task for the voice left me facing a horde of zombies and unprepared to assist another survivor I met shortly after.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is for people who want to test their mettle living in the world of The Walking Dead, both physically and emotionally. It can be a heavy game, and returning to camp empty-handed or failing someone you were trying to help can be mentally defeating. Numerous gameplay systems work together to create one of the most intense and immersive survival experiences in VR, held back only somewhat by dated technology. If you can muster up the fortitude try and survive in this world, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is an essential VR experience that speaks volumes to the unique possibilities of virtual reality.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on a launch PlayStation 4 with PSVR. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.