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August 2022

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Skydance Interactive
Release Date: Jan. 23, 2020

About Chris Barnes

There's few things I'd sell my soul to the devil for. However, the ability to grow a solid moustache? I'd probably sign that contract ... maybe ... (definitely).


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PC Review - 'The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners'

by Chris Barnes on March 18, 2020 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a VR game where you must make gut-wrenching choices and find out who you are in their fight for survival against not just walkers, but the constant threats of violence, disease, and famine.

It's been roughly four years since VR entered the limelight of the gaming industry, but we're still in search of that "killer app." Patience is wearing thin, and every new flopped release closes the door on VR inch by inch.  Enter The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners.  Skydance Interactive and Skybound Entertainment have teamed up to make a first-person survival game set in a zombie-infested New Orleans.  How could a small, newly formed, unproven studio turn around a gaming format that I was slowly losing faith in?  Boy, was I wrong.

Players don't have to be familiar with the "The Walking Dead" franchise and lore (I certainly wasn't) to enjoy this game.  As long as you enjoy smashing in the faces of zombies and facing difficult decisions, you'll feel right at home.  The game starts off on an eerie boat ride through the flooded streets of New Orleans.  The two hostile factions that have overtaken the city welcome you by making examples of the local citizens.  The Reclaimed, a shadowy cult-like faction with goat masks and red robes, sacrifices a man in front of you.  Across the way, a brutal execution is enforced by the Tower faction.  It's an effective, albeit clichéd, way of introducing you to the game's setting. 

After the brief boat ride, you explore a cemetery that serves as your home base for the game.  The loop is simple but effective.  Each morning, you wake up, craft the necessary supplies, and select a zone to scavenge for more gear and supplies to continue the crafting treadmill.  Crafting capabilities range from basic stat increases, like increased stamina and noise reduction, health and stamina boosters like bandages and jambalaya, and weapons.  The variety in weapon choice is plentiful enough to keep combat fresh throughout the game.  You'll have a ton of weapons at your disposal.  Everything from a bolt-action rifle to a nail-filled baseball bat are ready to squash the face of an unfortunate zed. 

Getting the ingredients to craft these items isn't an easy task, though.  Players must brave the surrounding hostile zones for junk and items that can be broken down into materials for crafting.  The Reclaimed, The Tower, and Zombies aren't the only enemy working against you. Time itself is another factor that keeps your heart rate high.  Once the time runs out, a bell tower rings, drawing hordes of zombies into the zone and exponentially increasing the difficulty of escape.  Some may be quick to groan at this mechanic, but the time limit never felt like it was getting in the way of what I needed to do.  Instead, it was the perfect duration to keep me on my toes without feeling rushed.  This may be in part due to the smaller size of the zones. 

It's worth noting that the areas are not randomly generated, so some fatigue sets in by the end of the roughly 12-hour adventure.  I never felt bored by my excursions, though.  In addition to the rather large cemetery and church area surrounding the basecamp, there are eight zones to choose from, and the game randomly selects zones to offer bonus material, enticing you to mix up the zones you're visiting from day to day.  Overall, the progression is a little slow — I had only unlocked half of the weapons upon completion of the game — but players can craft to their heart's desire in the endless survival mode that triggers post-credits.

The scavenging and crafting add longevity and variety to Saints & Sinners, but it's the actual movement and feeling of the gameplay that pushes the game over the top.  Skybound has implemented physics to make the game come alive and immerse the player in the horror that surrounds them.  Weapons have weight, and they bob awkwardly if you don't hold them with both hands.  Your hands and weapons have collision detection with the world around you, instead of clipping through everything like they do in so many other VR games.  Twelve hours later, I wasn't tired of taking hold of a zombie's head with one hand and jamming a knife, ax, or other sharp object through the side of its skull.  The immersive physics don't stop there.  Players must use some force to pull the object back from the brain.  Combat in Saints & Sinners is brutal, grotesque, and a blood-filled mess of fun. 

Subtle but clever additions to the physics take the VR experience over the top, tricking the player even more into feeling like they're really there.  Beyond the combat, movement and traversal are a liberating breath of fresh air compared to other games on the VR market.  Free movement via the left thumbstick (I was playing on an Oculus Rift S) offers a significantly upgraded experience to the teleportation method that so many other games fall back on.  The player also has the ability to climb ladders and drainpipes, which makes for a more immersive experience and adds a layer of depth to the gameplay.  There's never just one path into or around the zones.  Need to get an item from the second floor of a house?  No need to blast your way through the front with a six-shooter revolver — although that is pretty fun.  Instead, you can stealthily climb up a drainpipe and enter an open window on the second floor. 

All of this gameplay is wrapped up in a middling plot that isn't the highlight of the game but does enough to keep the player engaged throughout the journey.  A cache of weapons and supplies is stashed away in a hidden bunker.  On the radio, you come in contact with a young man named Casey who is trapped in this reserve and needs to be rescued.  Throughout the game, Casey doles out tasks to get  you one step closer to the cache of goods and ultimately free himself.  While the tasks are often simple fetch quests in the various zones, players will encounter NPCs in the world that offer up difficult ultimatums, which are reminiscent of the Telltale Walking Dead games.  This often results in you picking sides between The Tower and The Reclaimed, and you never feel good about either choice.  It's a simple but effective way to breathe a bit of life into zones that otherwise serve as hunting playgrounds.

Killing zeds isn't all sunshine and rainbows, though.  There's a handful of downsides to the game.  While the collision detection and weapon weight are critical to the enjoyment of the game, there many times when the physics engine tweaks out, causing zombie corpses to fly across the map, weapons to drop through the ground and vanish into thin air, and a character's hair separating from the head — truly the most horrifying moment of this horror title.  Beyond this, I was enjoying the story all the way up until the end, where I felt that it fizzled out with little resolve and hardly a challenge.  I was growing attached to Casey and his unraveling story, but the game quickly brushes that aside at the end.  None of this marred my overall enjoyment of the game, but they are certainly blemishes on an otherwise fantastic experience.

I had a lot of fun with The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners.  The combat is fun and downright brutal at times.  The story falters at the end, but it's an enjoyable ride that carries you through the 10-20 hour journey.  VR desperately needed a longer experience like this, and Skybound and Skydance have delivered with great success.  This isn't a four-hour, story-driven, escape room-style game.  It's not a shooter on rails or an arena shooter.  This is a full-fledged game, and it's great.  This is not quite the "killer app" that VR needed, but it's one massive step in the right direction for VR.  Any owner of a dedicated PC VR headset owes it to themselves to buy and play this game.  Saints & Sinners sparks hope in me that VR still has a bright future ahead — even if that future is a dark, damp New Orleans.

Score: 8.8/10

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