It’s not only one of the best VR games of the year but Saints & Sinners may be the best Walking Dead game so far.
The Walking Dead has had a difficult relationship with video games. The first Telltale Games series, based on the comic rather than the show, appeared over eight years ago now and while at first it was highly acclaimed, like the proverbial zombie it didn’t know when to just give up and die. It was never terrible though, unlike one-off Activision game Survival Instinct. Overkill’s The Walking Dead was only a little better and despite a litany of mobile games there’s never been a decent action game based on the series; until now.
To be fair, The Walking Dead does have an obvious problem, in that once its mythos and setting is translated into a video game it no longer seems quite so unique or special. Most of the games don’t feature the cast from the show – this certainly doesn’t – and at the end of the day a zombie is a zombie, whether people are calling it a walker or not.
But Saints & Sinners is that very unusual kind of licensed game, where as well as being true to the source material it’s also very much its own game and would’ve worked just as well whatever it’s called. It is a VR game, which means only a small proportion of people are ever going to get to play it, but if you do have the means then this is an important step forward in the ongoing attempt to make VR games more than just tech demos.
Despite what you’d normally assume, this is a proper survival (and survival horror) game that lasts well over 12 hours. You have to craft weapons and items, which frequently break, as well as keep an eye on your stamina and the clock. You’ve only got a certain amount of free time each day before the streets are filled with hordes of zombies, with the game leaving it entirely up to you as to whether you want to risk staying out after dark.
The game’s set in New Orleans and the subtitle refers to the fact that, as ever, humans are just as much of a problem as the zombies, with a lawless cult and a fascist paramilitary police group vying for control of the city. The set-up is basically Yojimbo with zombies, as you roll into town as the fabled ‘Tourist’ looking for a huge cache of supplies called the Reserve and playing all groups off against each other.
How you influence control of the city is an important part of the game but there are many smaller moral decisions to make as you complete the various missions. Most of the time you can completely ignore what you’re supposed to be doing and turn on your would-be employer, while seeking reward from their enemies. It’s all far more open-ended than the Telltale games and while the storytelling might not be as cinematic and character-driven it’s much more immersive.
The game isn’t open world exactly, but it does use a series of smaller hub areas that allow for a fair amount of exploration, as well quiet spaces for crafting and sorting out your resources. If you die you have to go back and reclaim your lost items, much like Dark Souls, and while it’s nowhere near as hard as that comparison implies it’s not a pushover either.
Combat feels impressively physical, with many larger weapons needing you to use both hands to work them. PlayStation Move controllers are required as standard, so you can’t use the DualShock, and once again it’s clear they’re nowhere near as flexible or precise as those for PC headsets. This makes chopping off zombie heads – a necessity when dealing with ones that wear headgear – overly difficult and dealing with a horde of the creatures becomes panic-inducing for more reasons than was originally intended.
Although we look forward to seeing if Sony will have a PlayStation VR 2 headset for the next generation it’s the controllers that are in the more dire need of upgrade and as impressive as this is on PlayStation VR you should really try to play it on PC if you can. Fiddling around with the inventory is also a pain, but it’s something you have to do constantly, whether you’re trying to pull out a back-up weapons once your main one breaks or just sorting through your collection of detritus to see what you can build.
But while the technology occasionally lets the game down its own design is impressively ambitious and hugely immersive. Stealth is often very important, for avoiding both humans and zombies, and since you never know where either is going to pop up this ends up being the scariest VR game since Resident Evil 7, and one where you never feel safe no matter how much equipment you have.
The graphics are disappointing though, with a lot of bland looking city streets and surprisingly poor animation. The artificial intelligence is also very rudimentary and the attempts to have characters act independently or different factions fight each other often ends in some embarrassing visual glitches. And while it’s interesting that you can go off script when completing the missions, in their original form they’re almost all essentially just fetch quests.
At times it’s clear Saints & Sinners is biting off more than it can chew but at least it is trying and even with its limitations this is one of the best VR games of the year. Half-Life: Alyx will be rightly seen as a major milestone in moving VR games away from their reputation as mere tech demos, but that will require more than just one game. Smaller budget titles like this are just as important for moving the art of VR forward, and Saints & Sinners is not just a good VR game but a good game, full stop.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners PSVR review summary
In Short: An impressively ambitious survival horror that moves beyond the realm of mere VR tech demo and, despite some technical limitations, is a hugely engrossing game in its own right.
Pros: Unusually open-ended game structure for a VR game, with compelling survival elements and moral decisions to make. Genuinely scary and surprisingly long.
Cons: The PlayStation Move controllers barely keep up with the action. Weak graphics and animation, and ultimately repetitive missions and dialogue options.
Formats: PlayStation VR (reviewed) and PC
Publisher: Skydance Interactive
Developer: Skybound Games
Release Date: 5th May 2020
Age Rating: 18
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