Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed), PC
The Escapists: Walking Dead was not what I expected. I thought it would be a deep, intricate simulation about managing survivors and fending off zombies, but what I got instead was a hybrid RPG/life simulation. In the end, the whole experience was better than I anticipated.
With The Walking Dead's popularity extending across distinct continuities (including TV, comics, and video games) it's important to note that The Escapists: Walking Dead is based on the original comic series. What this means is that characters from the show will appear out of the sequence you might be familiar with, so characters who don’t appear until season three on the show might appear in the scenario that the show explores in season two.
Different scenarios from the comics are turned into sandboxes where a main objective must be completed in order to progress to the next level. At the same time, daily tasks must be completed such as laundry, eating breakfast, and doing a head count of survivors.
Harvest Moon….Of the Dead
Since players take on the role of Rick Grimes, group morale must be kept up, and the stakes of basic tasks like not taking that laundry out to dry are high. Not completing a task increases the likelihood of walkers (zombies) overrunning your base, which can lead to survivors being knocked out and dying -- and if certain characters die, it's game over.
All of this is presented with 16-bit esqe graphics, making The Escapists: The Walking Dead resemble a morbid version of Final Fantasy (or maybe an English version of Resident Evil's inspiration Sweet Home). The graphics have their charm, and the splitting-up of the scenarios really makes each feel like the first town from the beginning of an old school RPG. It also makes character deaths pretty funny, especially when the randomness aligns with the comic's story. The music has a unique feel and the sound adds character to the game, reminding you that this is, after all, a zombie apocalypse.
The hard part of the escape
There's definitely a learning curve to be had, but from my playtime with The Escapists: The Walking Dead my main gripe is that once you figure out a level's layout it gets pretty easy. Each level's tasks are unique, and balancing exploration with the need to complete the main objectives simultaneously is where most of the game's challenge comes from. I simply played the levels once horribly to learn the layout of each, and then again to complete the level perfectly. This essentially makes the game pretty easy, but it's also pretty much a pick-up-and-play game overall.
Combat also wasn't really fun because the walkers move very fast and there are no hit reactions (though that might actually make sense for zombies). Although there are a few characters known for their weapons throughout the series, I just didn’t feel like any of the weapons were doing anything to protect my characters, nor did I feel in control during combat.
Finally, there’s also the fact that these walkers move just as fast as the characters in the game who aren't undead! This makes having the walkers overruning your shelter that much worse, because they're relentless and speedy, rather than the lurching corpses you might be expecting.
While it wasn't quite what I was expecting, The Escapists: Walking Dead was a satisfying experience. The sandbox levels may not have a ton of depth, but what's here is a fun retro twist on the stories from the comics. Think of it as a Sims game in scenario mode with the aesthetics of a 16-bit RPG, and you won't be far off what the game offers.