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February 2023

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners - Chapter 2: Retribution

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Skydance Interactive
Release Date: Dec. 1, 2022

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Quest 2 VR Review - 'The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners - Chapter 2: Retribution'

by Andreas Salmen on Dec. 29, 2022 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners Ch. 2 serves as a continuation of the original game, where players will take on the mantle of the Tourist in their gruesome adventure to survive the unforgiving and infested remains of New Orleans.

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a rare breed in the VR realm. Although its original release is nearing the third anniversary, it still counts as one of the best VR titles on any platform to date. I might have even considered it the best VR game until Half Life: Alyx dethroned it a few months later. Things have been quiet since 2020. The pandemic and the shift to mobile devices like the Quest 2 put a dent in the supply of ambitious VR releases. Interestingly, TWD: S&S - Chapter 2: Retribution also falls victim to these circumstances, with a timed Quest 2 exclusivity window and a scope that is more akin to an ambitious expansion than a full sequel. While it's not pushing the envelope nearly as much as the first entry did, it's a thoroughly entertaining romp through the zombie-infested neighborhoods of New Orleans.

In fairness, Retribution doesn't claim to be a full-fledged sequel; it's another chapter in the story of the Tourist, who was also the protagonist in the first outing. In Chapter 1, we tried to locate the Reserve, an old army bunker stocked with supplies, and this second chapter pits us against the Tower, one of the human factions. The general format stays the same, but the game adds more structure to the story and mission design, such as antagonists being slowly introduced and built up over time; it even culminates in a boss encounter. More allies and mission objectives add to the story variety, even though the delivery is the same. We hide in an old, but expanded, base on the cemetery grounds and head into town each day to scavenge for supplies, occasionally completing a mission objective for an ally.

You can even import your original save file if you care about continuity. Given the continuity, it is strongly recommended that you play the first entry before jumping into this one, especially since the second chapter has a better story structure that builds on the first. What I enjoyed is that some decisions change the outcome of the story, and it's still possible to kill a quest-giver if you want. That said, the tale is not a nail-biter, and apart from stiff interactions with stiff NPCs, Retribution treads the same path as the first. Thankfully, the moment-to-moment story delivery isn't a huge issue. We're here to brain a few zombies in VR, after all.

Once Retribution gets going, it's like a homecoming. As the Tourist, we now have an expanded base set up in the same cemetery, filled with handy ammunition, resources and weapons. While that seems at odds with the premise of a survival-horror game, Retribution melts away that cushion of safety and comfort. Each day, we head out to one of several locations in and around New Orleans to scavenge supplies or advance the plot. It doesn't take long to realize that many locations are packed to the brim with enemies, human and otherwise. That means two things: more action-packed confrontations and a constant need for more resources to craft and refill the dwindling stockpile of goodies. The game has a few tricks to introduce some novelty, but by and large, you'll do the same things as you did in the first entry, except that the available weaponry is greatly expanded to ensure your survival.

It strikes a good balance between visiting familiar places from Chapter 1 and introducing new locations that feature more interiors and more verticality, which can be challenging when zombies start dropping on you instead of ambling toward you. The more impactful change is the introduction of night missions. Previously, we could only visit a single location a day, and now, it can be up to two locations if you visit one at night.

Interestingly, this is where I found most of my enjoyment. I didn't immediately gel with the increased number of enemies and resources during the daytime encounters, which made the experience feel more like an action shooter than a stealthy survival title. Night missions go in the direction of a traditional stealth game, with added weapons and tools that enable you to survive at night. Flares can be thrown or shot, and zombies promptly flock to the light source.

It's not a completely new experience because the lights are out, but the reduced visibility and tools make night missions infinitely more tense to experience — especially when things are too quiet during your scavenger hunt. Your flashlight is equipped with an ultraviolet light that reveals resources and hidden messages in the environment. Night missions reveal new resources that can only be found at night, such as phosphorus and little bugs/critters that advance the two new crafting tables, each featuring a few enticing upgrades, the most notable of which is a chainsaw.

Running around with a chainsaw and mowing down the undead feels incredibly awesome and adds another layer of carnage to the excellent combat system in Retribution. It's still a physics-based model, with the ability to grab heads and lodge overly sharp objects in them with great force — or using an ax to remove them. It's not nearly as fresh as it was three years ago, but it still works great in simulating the weight of objects and their devastating interaction with moving bodies. Interactions were often limited to the head portion of enemies, but the chainsaw easily dismantles anything that gets caught in its sharp rotating chains. While fuel is a concern, it's fun to cut your way out of a zombie horde.

Those aren't the only additions, though. Uzis, gloves to bash in heads, sawed-off shotguns, and a grenade launcher complete your arsenal of death, and each is quite satisfying to use. If that's not enough, silencers and laser pointers are great minor additions that make some weapons more interesting. Retribution doesn't reinvent, but it expands upon the enjoyable gameplay and the scavenging and crafting loop in so many fun ways that it's easy to lose yourself in it again. If Chapter 1 is anything to go by, Chapter 2 will likely see more content added over time.

Retribution is a great game and incredibly fun to play in VR, but you may be let down by the lack of effort to evolve the gameplay. There are more varied ways to experience the gameplay that Saints & Sinners established in 2020, but it doesn't reinvent itself or the use of VR, and that's fine. Retribution will keep you busy for 15 hours or more, with some hidden collectible blueprints, side missions, and other goodies or crafting. For a VR game, that is already on the longer side, which is sorely needed and appreciated. The only real gripe I have is that the technical foundation isn't that impressive on the Quest 2.

Saints & Sinners already didn't look or run extraordinarily well on the Quest 2, but the second chapter doesn't push that bar. I encountered fewer frame drops than with the first game on the Quest 2, but Chapter 2 also looks decidedly rougher in presentation. Details are missing everywhere, character models look laughably bad at times, and texture pop-in is a regularity. It still manages to immerse you with its gameplay, but the visuals never trick you into thinking that you've been submerged in an alternate reality. That is somewhat expected on the Quest 2 — but we have seen more impressive recent examples, like Red Matter 2 — it's not great since the PC and PSVR versions won't release until February and March, respectively.

On the bright side, it seems like Skydance is supporting cross-buy, so if you own the Quest 2 version, you can claim the Oculus PC version on release. That said, I hope the experience is improved on more powerful systems, since I've encountered a ton of bugs with glitching or floating items in the environment and zombies that suddenly appear or disappear. The latter can have a tangible impact on gameplay and immersion, and I'm not sure when or how this bug is triggered, since it happens at the most random intervals. It is perfectly playable, but in a matter of months, it'll be the worst version of Retribution to play. If you cannot wait for the full PC release or are limited to a Quest 2, this may still be a great way to spend several hours in one of the best VR games we've seen in recent years.

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners - Chapter 2: Retribution is an exercise in restraint. It adds content where it makes sense and expands the known formula in a few different directions. It never reinvents any part of what made the first game so revolutionary, and it doesn't need to. By the time you start swinging a chainsaw through a group of zombies, you've probably forgotten about the lack of innovation on display and are appreciating Retribution for what it is: more of the same fun in one of the best VR games to date. The only real downside is that the Quest 2's technical limitations put a noticeable dent in the presentation. If you have the means and patience, waiting for the full PC release in February would be my recommendation. For everyone else, this is a good, if technically flawed, version of a great VR game.

Score: 8.5/10

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