The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is not the first game based on the popular post-apocalyptic zombie franchise. We’ve seen many TWD games before. But Saints & Sinners does something different by being a virtual reality experience. Because of that, it makes playing through the familiar TWD setting feel new again. This was my general impression after getting a hands-on demonstration of the game on Oculus Rift.
The demo began in a makeshift training area where I familiarized myself with the controls (which were standard for FPS games). I first picked up a knife and stabbed a few zombies in the head. I had to use quite a bit of force to get the knife through each rotten skull. Because of the physics engine, it all felt quite real despite the somewhat stylized comic book art style. I even had to use force to pull the knife out. Since this is a VR game, I could stab from multiple angles. The same rules applied when I used an axe to chop and cleave heads. After learning how to use firearms, I went to the next objective.
For the purposes of the demo, my character came equipped with a wide array of melee weapons (knives, axes, bats) and firearms (handguns, shotguns, assault rifles). In the full game, players will need to find and craft these items on their own. I nabbed some healing items and food from my base of operations before venturing out into the world.
Saints & Sinners takes place in a flooded New Orleans. There is a faction that resides in a large edifice called “The Tower.” Using bells, this group herds zombies to different parts of the city. They are the enemy of the various groups that also call the city their home. As the devs told me, if I heard bells ringing, it was best to stop whatever I was doing and run.
My primary mission was finding machine parts for my group of survivors. To do that, I had to find the leader of a local gang. Getting to this man wasn’t easy as zombies littered the streets. I did my best to take them out stealthily. I could have gone in with all guns blazing but that would attract more zombies. Coming up behind the undead, I was able to jam a knife into their heads and move along without a sound. Of course, there were certain times when zombies would grab me from behind. I had to physically shake them off in order to free myself. Even though this portion took place during the day, I was very much on edge.
I eventually found the faction leader. He said he’d help if I passed his loyalty test. He led me upstairs where they held a scared young man captive. Apparently, he had killed the faction leader’s little girl. To prove my loyalty, I had to kill him. I considered stabbing him in the head like I did the zombies but opted to be merciful by blowing his brains out with a handgun. If I wanted, I could have let him live. The world of The Walking Dead is harsh so I felt no pity putting this guy down. After the questionable murder, the faction leader led me and his group to a rival gang’s home turf where I could find the machine parts I needed.
This portion of Saints & Sinners demonstrated the game’s dynamic nature. I stormed the house and blasted anyone in my way. After accidentally killing a member of the group I was with, I had to deal with two enemy factions. I ran upstairs and let them take each other out. Things became really interesting when the dead came back to life. In the middle of the chaos, I gathered the machine parts and ran out of the home. I stopped outside and watched the carnage I unwillingly unleashed play out. Without trying, I had all of my enemies (living or otherwise) murdering each other.
The ringing of the tower’s bells cut my moment of triumph short. As the developers warned me, a giant horde of zombies overtook the streets. My heart raced as I pushed past dozens of undead. Whenever I thought I was free, a shambling monstrosity would grab me and try to pull me into the undead mob. With only a minuscule amount of health left, I made it to my raft and got the hell out of the neighborhood.
Virtual Reality games are always hit or miss with me. Some are great (like Resident Evil 7) but most feel awkward and unintuitive. The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners makes a great case for VR as a gaming platform. Not only is it a super fun VR experience, but it also captures the spirit of the original property. I’m interested to see how the final game plays, particularly how one’s choices affect the overall narrative. If Saints & Sinners can maintain the level of excitement I experienced in the demo for its 15-hour duration, I can see it overtaking Telltales’ The Walking Dead series as the best game based on the franchise.