The Walking Dead franchise makes its first attempt at a VR game feel like a dream and nightmare come true for even the most zombie-fatigued fans.
Skydance Interactive (Archangel VR) uses its atmosphere to varying degrees, under a chilling backdrop of isolation and unsettling George A. Romero-style
zombies walkers wandering the world. More importantly, Saints & Sinners pulls off its engaging fight for survival by taking the best elements from VR shooters such as Arizona Sunshine and Drop Dead. Resource driven mechanics also set the game apart from titles before.
Unlike many tie-ins for other franchises, the game surprisingly avoids common production trappings and intricately delivers a 15-hour story with branching RPG narratives. Details from Robert Kirkman’s universe are also preserved in the gameplay - making this a recreation that deserves a nod as a licensed product.
The game is also the first of two walker-killing experiences produced this year. Survios’ upcoming The Walking Dead: Onslaught is directly based on the TV series with its characters being playable.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners brings the walkers to a post-apocalyptic New Orleans. You play as “The Tourist,” a well-known survivor on the hunt for a special cache of supplies mysteriously hidden under the parish. Unfortunately, you’re welcomed by hordes of walkers vying to sink their jaws into anyone still alive. This is where your boat immediately capsizes, weapons run empty and things turn desperate. Five minutes in, I felt hopeless and scared (as anyone should be in a
zombie apocalypse simulator).
The game establishes your accountability for how Saints & Sinners plays out. Everything from body gestures to keen observations will make a difference in staying one step ahead of the unrelenting walkers. A sense of hope comes from collecting a plethora of trash and fashionable weapons to stand a chance. These objects and supplies are scattered across the game’s bleak neighbourhoods. Busted cars are littered as effective covers to slip past wandering undead. Bent street signs have unique names at every corner - a small level of detail that makes this VR world more believable.
Coloured houses hint at what places need to be explored for story missions. Many others can be hollowed-out for supplies. Under these dark and claustrophobic settings, scouring wooden drawers for scraps become tedious, but pay off in building resources later on. In most cases, you’ll either run out of storage space or daylight during every run.
Saints & Sinners also features its own unique day/night cycle. You’re given a certain amount of time to visit towns easier until the church bells ring. During these times, walkers attracted to the tolls will fill the streets and even swarm the building you’re scavenging in if discovered.
These are the most dangerous times to go out, as hordes of walkers force you to hide in the dark, or escape back to your raft. As bleak as the odds seem, you do have a breathing space if things get too overwhelming. A walker-free hub lets you rest and maintains a self-sustaining inventory of food, weapons and resources. Creatively, the area is also a part of the story and expands when you return from missions.
Saints & Sinners’ full-length experience means you’ll be in VR for longer than usual. For newcomers, it becomes a challenge to stay comfortable for hours at a time without breaks. The game also employs the VR controller’s thumbstick for walking and sprinting through the world. For those still gaining their “VR Legs”, this moving-on-the-spot mechanic could lead to disorientation between the real world and Kirkman's.
During my playthrough, I was shocked to not see a teleport option included in the settings. As someone who gets motion sick, the feature could have been accessible while preventing headaches. Luckily, a slider in the option’s menu adds tunnel vision to reduce these symptoms. Lens from older headsets such as the Oculus Rift CV1 or first-generation HTC Vive might also have issues with reading the game’s journal containing important objectives, written lore and map details to help navigate New Orleans.
Strangely enough, you can’t physically crouch in the game like most motion VR games. Instead, a button is reserved on controllers to shrink down for stealth situations and in opening lower cabinets. The button also became a habit for accidental presses, causing me to drop to the ground when I wanted to reload a weapon.
Many of the concerns come as a slight distraction from Saints & Sinners’ fun and satisfying combat. If you’ve seen the TV shows, taking down a walker works almost exactly as you’d expect; to go for the head. But it’s easier said than done, as melee weapons have added weight to them. This requires you to swing your weapon with force in order to penetrate a walker’s skull. As an added bonus, you’ll have to grab their heads and unlodge your tool out. Every. Time.
Performing this chore is a faithful gesture to the series, making the experience feel even more dangerous when walkers come in numbers.
Guns are an integral part of the game, handled by aiming and firing with personal accuracy. Pistols are generally handy for close-quarters. Bigger, heavier shotguns and rifles require both hands to use effectively against walkers. These feel hefty and pack an empowering punch each time you shoot one down. Walkers also move erratically when they see you, leading to a couple of missed shots as they close in. Moments like these can make the revolver or double-barrel your greatest enemy while you’re scrambling to load bullets in.
All weapons also come with a deterioration bar and can break apart when they’re fully exhausted. Luckily, these can be crafted again with the resources you (literally) recycle back at the resting place. This also lets you build some diabolical melee weapons which have a higher durability compared to scavenged ones. Adding to the fun is the ability to create your own ammo and health resources. If you scavenge enough each time, you wouldn’t need to worry about an itchy trigger finger or a weapon running dry.
Gunfights with human survivors can be both fun and wacky (if
zombies randomly interfere). I found that sneaking around different territories was slow, leading me to ring a shot in the air to trigger shootouts out of sheer boredom. Survivors also drop valuable weapons and resources when killed, leading to a more rewarding experience.
Be warned: VR walkers are terrifying up-close and having them grab me for a bite never fails to cause a real scare.
But you’re not the only fully-voiced survivor running around either. New Orleans is home to different groups all fighting for scraps. On one side, a well-equipped but authoritarian body keep their borders closed to any outsiders needing help. The rest consists of a raider-type society making ends meet with aggression.
Saints & Sinners feature a sparing cast of individuals who treat you differently based on your actions - adding more tensions with people as much as walkers. If you accidentally point a weapon mid-conversation, NPCs stop and assess you as a threat. If walkers close in, survivors stop talking and immediately deal with them before turning their attention back to you.
But these interactions are also a source of side missions which rarely put you on the same fetch quest twice. These opportunities vary with each faction and surprisingly force you to pick sides when both are involved. The game’s RPG mechanics kick into full speed, starting with the first interaction. A snappy dialogue tree comes with even-snappier lines from your custom male/female protagonist.
Some of the lines are shy of corny, but the unpredictable responses can go against your better judgement. Realistically, this isn’t an RPG where you can keep people around and most survivors in these quests are forgettable once the transaction is over. But Saints & Sinners’ staple characters were strange enough to keep me invested, while audio notes from posters expanded their backstories to some degree before going face-to-face with them.
Saints & Sinners emphasizes on its survival roots extensively in VR. As a scavenger, you’re finding valuable objects to keep your health and stamina up at all times. Some foods you put in your mouth can give back some stamina, at the cost of getting sick and losing health. Other items including medicine and cooked stew can counteract your character’s varying conditions.
One of the most interesting ways to heal are through bandages. Sterile or dirty, you physically wrap one around your arm to regenerate health. This oddly makes the process exciting after taking a bite, hit or fall and adds to the game’s immersion.
Anything you pick up can also be stashed in your backpack for three pages of inventory at start. But the bag’s slots can run out quick if you’re not selective with what to take and leave. I appreciated each item’s purpose for crafting, letting me know what I need for the game’s abundant recipes.
Weapons can also be carried in left and right holsters on your hip, while larger two-handed ones are put over your shoulder. In a considerate detail, small messages will let you know if something is properly stored in case you accidentally drop it.
Saints & Sinners' most notable feature comes from a recycling bin (no, really).
This is where you can discard any items you want and extract their materials for crafting. It’s a unique way of offloading your backpack after a supply run as the number of resources you have started to add up. The materials themselves are also abundant for unlocking new items. Crafting took much faster than I expected. Early in the game, it only took one supply run to upgrade one of three workbenches, letting you access higher-tier weapons and perks based on haul.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners doesn't exist just for the sake of bringing a franchise into a VR space. Skydance Interactive adopts creative ways to make players feel like a part of their own series. The game leans heavily on survival-horror mechanics to a serious degree, succeeding in delivering a fun apocalypse simulator in the process. To fully thrive in Kirkman's world, quick wits and bravery are essential from every headset user in the fight against the undead.