Last week, we reviewed Sheltered for Windows 10, a pixelated post-apocalyptic survival and resource management game which was extremely challenging and fun to play. Developed by Team17 Digital, we gave it a favorable 9/10 score, praising the gameplay mechanics, replay value and exploratory challenges. Today, we take a look at "The Escapists: The Walking Dead" from the same developer.
Based on Robert Kirkman's popular graphic novel series and AMC's hit TV show, "The Walking Dead", The Escapists: The Walking Dead (referred to as TE: TWD from hereon) follows the story of sheriff Rick Grimes as he strives to survive the zombie apocalypse while trying to keep his family safe.
The game has been available on Steam for quite some time now but just made its way to the Windows 10 Store last month. Surprisingly, the Steam version of the game costs $17.99 while the Windows 10 Store version costs $19.99. However, this could be due to the fact that the Windows 10 Store version of the game also offers Xbox achievements. Meanwhile, the same $19.99 price tag bags both The Escapists and TE: TWD on Steam.
Sporting pixelated graphics and a top-down gameplay, the game doesn't require powerful gaming hardware and the recommended specifications are as follows:
- Processor: Dual Core CPU 2.5 GHz
- Memory: 2 GB RAM
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000, Nvidia GeForce 8000, ATI Radeon HD 4800 Series
- DirectX: Version 10
- Storage: 1 GB available space
Before I start analyzing the game extensively, let me start of by saying that I'm a huge fan of The Walking Dead, and yes, that includes both Kirkman's graphic novel series and AMC's TV show. I've read almost 130 issues of the former and watched and enjoyed the TV show in its entirety, not to mention the beloved "Coral" memes.
However, I must admit that I didn't particularly enjoy the cliffhanger at the end of the last season. With that being said, I purchased this game for $19.99 with high expectations that it would offer me a complete, satisfying, and immersive experience. I was somewhat disappointed, to say the least.
As I discuss the story and narrative elements of the game, I'll try to avoid major spoilers pertaining to both the comics and the TV show for obvious reasons.
TE: TWD follows the story of Rick Grimes through season 1 to the mid-season finale of season 6 of AMC's hit TV show. The game contains five levels. You read that right. The entire game contains five measly levels. These levels deal with the following settings:
- Harrison Memorial Hospital
- Greene Family Farm
- Meriwether Correctional Facility
The first level was basically the tutorial which walked me through the gameplay mechanics of the game. What's worse is that it took me roughly 7-8 minutes to complete this "level" and therein lies the major flaw in this game: it's too short. I completed the entire game in almost seven hours and trust me when I tell you, it simply isn't worth the $20 price tag. I have seen games priced at $1.99, and even $0.99 which offer more playtime as compared to TE: TWD.
What's even more disappointing is the fact that this could have been a lengthier game had the developers opted to fully utilize The Walking Dead license by including more details in the levels themselves, instead of just telling the narrative through shabbily put cut-scenes (which are actually a pixelated take on the panels from the graphic novels) or skipping them all together.
The group's adventures in Dale's RV which spanned the entire first season of the show are omitted in TE: TWD altogether. This is just one of the major storylines that could have been used to flesh out the first level - ahem... tutorial.
I don't mind the fact that the game skimmed through the reasoning behind Rick ending up in the hospital, but seriously, if a character gets shot from a stray bullet (no spoilers!) just 30 seconds after being introduced through cut-scenes, we have a problem. The game lacks any sort of emotional connection or depth whatsoever. I honestly didn't care if zombies (err...walkers) attacked my group or threatened to even kill my character, which is disappointing, to say the least, because the show and graphic novels it's based on makes you care for all the major characters including Rick, Shane, Carl, Carol, Beth, Daryl, Merle, Michonne, Hershel, Glenn, Maggie, and even the Governor (No Lori, no one cares about you).
As a result, the dialog in TE: TWD which is quite similar to the one used in the show, seemed quite shallow. It lacked any sort of emotional punch, largely due to the fact that the game skipped through most of the major details, not allowing me to emotionally connect to the characters.
TE: TWD follows the gameplay style of The Escapists, which means dealing with head counts and chores on a daily basis, which isn't a bad strategy, considering that it would be essential in an actual zombie apocalypse.
While the gameplay isn't entirely perfect, it tries to make up for what it lacks in the narrative department. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the rather vast environments such as Hershel's Farm which were quite detailed. Hershel's Farm had about 20 separate bedrooms, a dining table, fenced farming compartments, laundry rooms and more.
Even though it was almost impossible to accomplish all the daily chores in the given amount of time, it was still quite amusing to see pixelated Rick doing the laundry or running around the farm gathering supplies, which reminds me of another fun aspect of the game: crafting.
TE: TWD has over 200 items scattered throughout its five levels which can be used to craft over 70 items which includes bandages, forceps, pliers, an electric screwdriver and more. While most of the items I crafted were through trial and error, it was an exploratory experience which improved my opinion of the game.
Another thing I noticed is that the game discourages combat against walkers, with running being the most suitable option to escape zombies. While many critics have considered this a negative aspect of TE: TWD, I actually think it fits in wel with the situation. Even in the show and the comics, characters are often discouraged from using firearms seeing that they can attract hordes of walkers, and the game remaining faithful to its license also helped elevate its standard in my eyes.
With that being said, I would still have liked to see a better melee combat system, since those should be the most effective weapons to silently kill walkers. However, this is not the case. If you're alone with a weapon such as a knife or a club, and are faced by two or three walkers, you'll likely end up dead. Running is almost always the best option.
Another gripe I have with TE: TWD is the pointless collectibles spread throughout the various levels. Sure, I could collect The Walking Dead comic books in various levels but then what? Most games have some sort of separate collection where you can marvel at the collectible items; which are sometimes a reference to the story they are based upon, but in TE: TWD, all you can do is collect The Walking Dead graphic novels, pause the game and then view them. And that would have been perfectly fine if I could just decipher what I had collected. The collectible items are simply small blocks with random colors splashed over them, and the name of some TWD issue written below it. Quite frankly, I think I could have made better looking collectibles in Microsoft Paint - and that's saying something.
Honestly, I expected that clicking what appeared to be a pixelated version of "Days Gone Bye" would show a readable or magnified cover or even some panel from the graphic novel, but I could not have been more disappointed. The least the developers could have done would have been to put in a bit more effort to make a collectible item that didn't need a label below it to indicate what it was.
That brings me to my last annoyance with the gameplay in TE: TWD. The game doesn't allow users to manually save during levels. I could only save the game when my character went to sleep which wasn't so often because sleeping was a necessity which I tried to avoid until the twelfth hour. At first, there were a couple of instances when I closed the game thinking that it had auto-saved but then realizing that I needed to sleep to save my progress. While I got the hang of it later on, I still can't fathom why the developers didn't add a simple option to manually save the game in the pause menu.
Before you possibly start scoffing at me for what I'm about to write in this section, keep in mind that I love pixelated 8-bit retro graphics in games, possibly for nostalgic reasons. I loved to play Pokemon games on the Gameboy Advance when I was young, I gave Sheltered for Windows 10 a 9/10 , praising its pixelated visuals, and I included The Last Door: Collector's Edition in my list of some of the best game on Windows 10 Mobile.
But the 8-bit graphics in TE: TWD are simply awful. This is probably due to the game following a top-down perspective, which made it nearly impossible for me to figure out several objects being displayed on the screen numerous times.
The most noteworthy moment which highlighted this flaw was in the first level of the game. I was wandering around the hospital when I heard the groan of a walker. There was a pile of rubble right in front of me and I'm sure the zombie was there because there was no other hiding place in sight, but even after looking at the image from ten different angles, I couldn't find out where the figure of the walker began and where it ended in the debris. See for yourself below.
And that's only one instance, there were numerous times when I couldn't even decipher what was being shown in the pixelated cut-scenes, have a look below.
With that being said, the presentation in TE: TWD wasn't always disappointing, I particularly liked the 3D look the game tried to create when I moved to a floor higher than ground level. It was nice to see the developers' effort in figuring out the best way to showcase the factor of height in a pixelated 2D game.
Lastly, I was slightly disappointed by the absence of the official soundtrack from AMC's show but seeing that there could have been licensing issues and extra hurdles, I won't count that as a negative. The soundtrack of the game itself, though not quite as suspenseful as the show, was good enough to maintain an edgy mood.
This brings me to the conclusion of my review, and as you might have noticed, it isn't pretty. TE: TWD lacks polish, the actual story the game is based upon is not elaborated throughout the different stages in the game. If I wasn't an avid fan of The Walking Dead, I would have lost interest midway, seeing how almost all of the character development was told through brief cut-scenes. If you haven't watched The Walking Dead yet, but still want to play the game, I recommend you watch the show or read the graphic novels, otherwise this is a $20 purchase you're probably going to regret - even I slightly regret it.
The game is extremely brief for its price tag, and you'll have nothing to do with it after you complete it. It lacks replay value, however, it is important to note that the game ends with a "to be continued", so there's hope the developers will add more content. With that being said, I'm not sure if making a sequel is the better approach or adding DLC, I'm leaning towards the latter due to its current length.
As I have discussed in the previous section, the visuals need a hefty amount of work and improvement to be appealing to even retro fans like me. Collectibles are something you'll stop worrying about after finding a couple of them and the inability to manually save the game during levels might annoy you sometimes.
With that being said, TE: TWD does have some redeeming features. There were some particular moments I enjoyed, especially being chased by a group of walkers and also simulating the 3D appearance for some levels I mentioned earlier. I also liked the fact that the game remained faithful to the comics and AMC's show, and as a TWD fan, it was enjoyable to watch pixelated Rick doing "stuff and thangs" he had done in the show before, and even some activities he had not - like doing the laundry.
Xbox achievements in Windows 10 Store games are always a plus, and with 1000 GamerScore to achieve, this title doesn't disappoint.
Lastly, I really enjoyed exploring the vast and detailed environments in the game, even though they lacked some polish. Crafting was fun too, and it was euphoric to finally construct items out from individual materials. With over 70 items to craft from 200 modular components, the game kept me well engrossed, even when it was trial and error most of the time.
All in all, if you're a fan of The Walking Dead, you could consider this $20 purchase a worthy one, but then again, you couldn't - like me. There are some redeeming qualities in the game, but they are ultimately balanced out by the glaring flaws in it, making it an overall average or mediocre game for me, at least. On the other hand, if you're not a fan of The Walking Dead, you should probably reconsider making this purchase, because the game places too little emphasis on the narrative story at play, and you'll probably be bored before you even finish the second level.
On a final note, I can understand why The Escapists: The Walking Dead has a "Mixed" rating in the Steam Store; with most gamers citing the same issues I have, but I hope you make a decision you don't regret with regards to purchasing this game.
What do you think of The Escapists: The Walking Dead, would you like Neowin to review any other Windows 10 Store games? Let us know in the comments below or reach out to me via Twitter @WinPhanPakistan.
The Escapists: The Walking Dead was reviewed via a copy purchased from the Windows Store by the reviewer himself. The game was tested on a Dell Inspiron 5558 with the following specifications:
- Display: 15.6" non-touch, 1366x768 resolution
- OS: Windows 10, 64-bit
- RAM: 8 GB
- Processor: Intel Core i5 5200U CPU, ~2.20 GHz
- GPU: Intel HD Graphics 5500, NVIDIA GeForce 920M (2 GB VRAM)