The official social game adaptation of The Walking Dead has finally launched into open beta on Facebook after a number of delays. Beginning prior to the AMC TV series’ first season and continuing alongside this part of the franchise’s continuity, the game casts players in the role of a survivor attempting to make the best of their life in a Walker-infested world.
The Walking Dead is best described as a tactical role-playing game somewhat similar in execution to console titles such as Final Fantasy Tactics — though highly simplified in an attempt to appeal to a broad audience. Players take control of survivor characters — beginning with just their own avatar and later expanding to a larger party — and attempt to complete a series of missions, most of which involve either defeating Walkers, gathering supplies or, on special occasions, defeating Walkers and gathering supplies.
The game is turn-based, and players must expend energy for all actions, including movement. Because the game is played in a turn-based manner like a board game, a single energy point will only allow the player to move a limited distance, meaning it is very easy to run out of energy even during the initial tutorial mission without carefully planning out one’s moves.
On a mission map, players may move, hide behind objects, interact with mission items and attack Walkers. Walkers normally shamble around in real-time, exempt from the normal turn-based rules, but when the player is spotted the game enters “Danger” mode, at which point turns alternate between the survivors and the Walkers. The player may both move and attack during their turn if they click on an enemy and are capable of moving far enough in a single action, but if the player moves and does not attack, the Walkers get a chance to attack the player and seemingly always hit. Meanwhile, if the player wishes to deal damage to a Walker, they must complete a simple minigame where a reticule moves back and forth over the enemy and the player must click at the optimum moment to deal maximum damage. The pattern of movement varies according to the weapon being used, and after leveling up a couple of times the player will receive “Perfect Hit” bonuses for headshots, dealing additional damage.
Between missions, players have the opportunity to talk to other survivors in the camp and acquire new tasks. Talking to other survivors costs energy, but movement is free during this phase of the game. Various actions around the camp also cost energy and build up resources that are required to begin new missions. Mission rewards also sometimes include these resources.
On the surface, The Walking Dead Social game appears to be a reasonably good game. The turn-based tactical combat is implemented well — if a little simply for “core” players — and there certainly seems to be plenty of content for players to work through. There are three major issues with the game, however: the art style, the energy system and the fact the game doesn’t pause when browsing its menu screens.
The art style is a matter of taste, but it is not really in keeping with the black-and-white comic nor the muted, dark tones of TV series. Characters are colorful and cartoonish in their proportions, looking more like they have stepped out of The Ville than post-apocalyptic Atlanta. Likewise, the Walkers at times have something of a resemblance to the comic caricatures of PopCap’s Plants vs Zombies series — hardly the stuff of nightmares. There seems to be an unspoken rule among Facebook developers that realistic or “gritty” art styles will not be appealing to a wide audience, but in the case of distinctly “adult” properties such as The Walking Dead, the somewhat childish, cartoony visuals may prove offputting to fans of the show or “core” gamers looking for a deep, mature experience on the social network.
The energy system is a more serious issue. The fact that energy points are required for movement means that it is possible to be forced into either waiting or paying even during the game’s tutorial, which will be more than enough to turn some players away before they have even got into the game proper. It also means that players can find themselves “stranded” halfway through a mission, which doesn’t help with immersion. A better implementation used by other similar games — Atari’s Heroes of Neverwinter is a good example — is to use a larger amount of energy to trigger a mission in the first place, then allow players to perform actions for “free” within the mission itself. This doesn’t have to compromise the turn-based nature of the game, either.
It is, however, worth noting that after the player reaches level 4, they unlock “Expert Mode” which allows both them and the Walkers to move considerably further in a single turn, but also makes the combat minigame significantly harder to complete. In theory, playing in Expert mode means that the player uses significantly less energy, which is good, but the truth of the matter is that the whole system is deeply flawed and very unfriendly to players in its current implementation.
The fact that the game doesn’t pause when browsing menus becomes an issue when the player levels up mid-mission. Upon each level up, the player is invited to spend skill points to improve their abilities such as combat power, movement range and health. However, if the game is in “Danger” mode while this menu pops up, Walkers will continue to take their turns if the player does not perform an action for a short period. This means the Walkers can — and will — kill the player while they are browsing menu screens, leading to further wasted energy as the player is sent back to the start of the mission.
Beneath these many, rather major flaws, there’s a potentially good game struggling to get out — but in its current, rather miserly form, The Walking Dead is likely to discourage as many players as it attracts, particularly from the relatively untapped core market that the game is seemingly attempting to court. The game needs some significant adjustments and rebalancing before it can be recommended with confidence.
The Walking Dead Social Game is not yet listed on our traffic tracking service AppData. Check back shortly to follow its progress by MAU, DAU and user retention figures. Note that this AppData page refers to the standalone episodic adventure game series from Telltale, not this social game.
Not exactly dead on arrival, but needs a good few transplants before it’s ready to stand up by itself.