Robert Kirkman’s world of decomposing flesh-eaters has seen so many interactive adaptations, you’re probably wondering what new can be done with The Walking Dead in video game form. Well, developer Skydance Interactive clearly did too, having the initiative to take this established universe and present it in a way never experienced by players before. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a first-person survival game that pits you face to face with the undead head on using the wonders of virtual reality. And while it may have already released last year for Oculus, it’s recent surprise launch on PlayStation VR now ensures console players get to enjoy the scares.
You take on the role of a survivor known only as the tourist, arriving in a dilapidated version of New Orleans in search of safety in somewhere called The Reserve. Getting there involves building up a good amount of vital materials, undergoing various resource runs to stay alive and just generally learning to always stay weary of your surroundings. You wouldn’t want to get unexpectedly overrun by an undead herd, after all. Mechanics like this are the basis of any decent survival game, sure, but while a lot of these titles tend to hinder you to the point of tedium, Saints & Sinners blends these aspects seamlessly with fun physics and combat.
Speaking of which, it’s worth mentioning that this is a PSVR game solely compatible with the PSVR move wands. That might irk some who are used to playing first-person VR games on the Dualshock, but for the most part The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners handles pretty well – and that’s despite having to accommodate the move wands. Reaching for your backpack (where all your resources are stored) is as easy as reaching over your left shoulder, and similarly, pulling out your map by grabbing the right side of your chest feels natural. Simple motions like this do well to make you feel like a one-man swiss army knife, and really sells the idea that you’re this lone wanderer trying to survive.
In between missions you’ll return to a graveyard area which acts as your main hub, upgrading specific tables relating to guns, melee weapons and food in order to craft new and useful recipes. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners starts off with you only having a limited number of slots available in your backpack, which constantly forces you to judge exactly which resources to bring back with you. Eventually, though, you’ll learn what items are more useful than others, making you a far more effective scrounger. The Walking Dead – in all its adaptations – is an IP known for featuring tough character decisions, so it’s nice that as well as the expected faction alignment stuff, an element of this also plays a key part in the moment to moment gameplay.
Speaking to the horror aspect, and in the very early hours The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners succeeds at setting an immensely creepy atmosphere. One of the major benefits of playing a game in virtual reality anyway is that there’s an inherent feeling of claustrophobia (whether that’s intended or not), but here it’s greatly benefiting – especially when you’re required to explore such settings as a crumbling tomb, creaky mansion and more. Throw a bunch of hungry walkers into the mix, and you can be sure that completing objectives is far from a breezy cakewalk.
The walkers themselves function extremely similarly to how they do in the TV show. Equipped with either a heavy melee weapon or shiv, you can creep up behind them while crouched to take them out silently. This sounds like a relatively simple manoeuvre to pull off but doing so without alerting other members of a herd and accounting for their unpredictable sudden movements is never easy. Plus, if taking down walkers calmly ever goes wrong most scenarios end up with you having to shoot your way out, which is obviously less preferable and means needing to authentically fumble with reloading your weapon. Instances like this really keeps the pressure on.
Another major boon The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has going for it is in its length. Whereas even now, almost four years on, most PSVR titles struggle to engage you for more than four or five hours, Skydance Interactive has done an excellent job at keeping you invested for the length of a full game. For the most part, this is a Triple-A quality first-person VR game that should take you anywhere between 10 – 12 hours to complete. So, if you’ve been looking for that next meaty experience to really justify either to yourself or to friends that VR is still worth it, Saints & Sinners is the prime candidate – providing you can stomach a few scares.
Unfortunately, when it comes to visual clarity, some compromises have been made in order to get this version of Saints & Sinners running smoothly on PlayStation VR. Sony’s hardware is obviously nowhere near as powerful as the Oculus Rift, but despite the odd muddied texture and less than impressive draw distance, the varied environments available to explore still keep you immersed. Then there’s the fact that a lot of precise actions – like twisting a key into a lock and reloading a revolver - means that the PSVR move wands are always being asked to pull off a lot, and more than once while playing would the hand tracking let us down. Sometimes this failure even led to death.
For the most part, however, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners on PSVR should be considered a crowning achievement. Not only does it manage to present Kirkman’s storied universe in a surprisingly fresh light, but its ability to truly make you feel like a lone journeyman through smart controls and an emphasis on survival and resource management acts as the perfect cherry on top.
It’s clear that Skydance Interactive had a clear vision for the type of game Saints & Sinners would be, and the final product is a noticeably authored zombie game that takes full advantage of the virtual reality medium.