There’s a certain ‘calm before the storm’ feeling when playing The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, the latest virtual reality (VR) from Skydance Interactive. Slowly wandering the seemingly desolate streets of New Orleans there’s never an eerie silence because no matter where you are, a familiar groan fills the air, a sound that tells you the dead are near and where there’s one, many more can’t be too far behind. If you were or still are a fan of The Walking Dead franchise then prepare yourself for one of the best VR tie-ins, for everyone else it’s about to get really gory.
Just like the franchise it is based on, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a lesson in survival taking place in a world where death is everywhere, enemies are plentiful and friends are a very rare commodity. Set in New Orleans, you play a drifter known as ‘The Tourist’ who happens to be passing through this flood-hit region, befriending a chap called Henri who tells you a tale of a secret military stash of food, meds and military-grade weapons hidden some in the vicinity.
This leads you on a mission to locate the stash before anyone else, in the process getting mixed up between to warring factions with very different ideas regarding how the human race sound continue in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. Offering a decent storyline to give the experience backbone, what carries you through to the end is a visceral mix of brutal gameplay and tense atmosphere.
As mentioned The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is about survival, making sure you’ve got enough provisions to keep yourself healthy and most importantly alive. This means plenty of scavaging, collecting anything that’s not nailed down, from an old shoe and tins of tuna that have seen better days to gun parts, dog bowls and more. It’s all valuable in some way, able to be broken down into several parts for crafting later. And craft you must. All weapons have a certain amount of durability, with the ones found out in the streets the weakest of the bunch. With a backpack that isn’t unlimited, strolls out into the various districts need planning, how much to take with you vs space to bring stuff back.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has a nice sense of realism to it even with it being a zombie apocalypse. You have a base of operations where all the crafting and resupplying takes place. From here you can venture out in the morning and then return at any time. It’s always night when you get back meaning you can’t travel again until you’ve slept and it’s morning again. Each day needs to be maximised as moving it on means more walkers and fewer supplies to find. As such, there’s a lot more strategy and forward-thinking required, this is no action arcade videogame running around with a badass shotgun.
That’s not to say The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is lacking in action, it just requires a more measured approach. Health might be important but its the stamina bar that can really make or break you. That’s because the melee weapons are superb fun to use and highly satisfying. From a simple knife to fireman axe’s and baseball bats wrapped in barbed wire, they provide stealthy kills and sap your stamina at the same time. If walkers spot you they’ll instantly start shuffling over. When by themselves you can grab them and plunge a blade into their head for an instant kill – something you’ll do a lot of. Skydance Interactive has obviously spent a great deal of time getting this right, little swings won’t do anything, it requires force and a little determination. The process also takes a few moments to complete, time which isn’t an option when surrounded by walkers.
So then it’s onto the guns, pistols, rifles and of course the ever trusty shotgun. Great for when you want to keep your distance but lousy when you want to remain hidden and quiet. There isn’t any quick, magical reloading in The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, shells need to be individually put in the shotgun, as do bullets in revolvers, offering another tasty dash of realism.
In between all the guns, blood and gore, there are friendships and allegiances to form, some more important than others to the eventual outcome. This means The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners has plenty of twists and turns instore, as generally speaking siding with one group inevitably leads to killing the opposing group, so once you’ve made your decision it’s final. A good enough reason to venture back in for another blast to see how things turn out.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is by no means perfect, however. The human-AI isn’t exactly high up on the IQ rating as they’ll quite happily shoot at each other and any walkers in range until everything in the vicinity is dead. There were points almost scripted from a comedy B-movie where stepping back and waiting led to a clear path, no wasted bullets or health lost. Another issue was the repetitive feel of the outside locations as if most of the buildings had been swapped about a little too much. Each area has been kept on the small side, usually only offering 2-3 buildings which you can actually explore. Understandable considering your backpack can quickly become full from a single building, no open world wandering here.
On the other hand, exploring the inside of some of the bigger buildings was wonderfully atmospheric and heart-pounding. Knife in hand slowly opening each door to see what could be on the other side easily demonstrates the air of danger the experience elicits.
From the very beginning, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners offers a satisfying zombie experience that’s hard to match. Titles like Arizona Sunshine easily fill that need for straight-up arcade action, for when you want a living dead apocalypse with a bit more depth then The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is your new go-to videogame. With a good 15+ hours of content depending on how slow and methodical you are, the atmosphere and superb physics make a nice cohesive whole.