The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners isn’t the only zombie-slaying VR adventure based on the iconic IP for 2020. The Walking Dead Onslaught (official website) from Survios is still in development and it’s changed a lot since the last time we saw it.
Last week I had the chance to chat with the Lead Designer on The Walking Dead Onslaught, Andrew Abedian. We talked about the game’s new direction, revised structure, and the decision to remove cooperative multiplayer.
Original gameplay reveal trailer from E3 2019:
The Game That Never Was
When I played a demo build of Onslaught back at E3 2019 I was struck by the gory combat and attention to detail with regard to things like dismemberment and zombie corpse mutilation. Technically, it was a marvel and really seemed to set itself apart with the inclusion of replayable co-op and a fun, arcade-style mission structure. But that’s mostly been changed now (more on that in a second).
All that being said, Onslaught still has a lot of the same ideas it once did a year ago. At its core, this is aiming to be the definitive Walking Dead experience for fans of the show, not the comic as with Saints & Sinners. You’ll still be able to play as Daryl, Rick, Carol, and Michonne as you fight your way across the apocalypse to gather resources and rebuild society. Survios is also leveraging their experience developing reactive melee combat systems (best seen in Creed: Rise to Glory) to give The Walking Dead Onslaught some of the best and most immediately satisfying zombie killing you can find in VR. That’s all still here, but the structure has changed.
“For this game to really make sense and for us to do this brand justice, we wanted to do a little bit more with it and make it feel like you are literally dropped into an episode of The Walking Dead,” says Abedian. “Almost every decision we have made over the past year has been made trying to move toward that goal.”
The Game That It Became
According to Abedian, the focus is now placed squarely on narrative. The campaign is an original story from the point-of-view of, primarily, Daryl who is fully voiced by Norman Reedus himself. It centers on tension between him and Rick Grimes just before the events of Season 9 in the TV show.
You’ll come back to Alexandria as a safe zone to build up the settlement and spend resources you’ve gathered. There will even be moments where you get to gather around a campfire and chat with Daryl, as Rick, to gain additional context into the story and what’s going on.
Another new element is the inclusion of ‘Scavenger Runs’ which will let you go out on heart-pounding supply runs to get resources, collect weapons, and more to bring back to Alexandria. These are randomized encounters that are replayable — adding some nuance and longevity to the gameplay.
Notably though, all of this is without co-op now. Previously the co-op was a cornerstone feature, but it was continually pushed to the side in favor of other things until it eventually just wasn’t in the game’s scope anymore.
Then The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners came out earlier this year and totally blew us away.
Not only did it pack incredibly realistic physics into a large, sprawling world set in a unique location, but it wrapped all that up into a nice, bloody package with visceral combat. It was, for all intents and purposes, a complete experience and honestly one of the best Walking Dead games, and indeed VR games, made to date.
As a result, the bar was raised.
“Saints & Sinners released and we all talked about the impact,” says Abedian. “We were making the co-op decision around that time, but we had been working with AMC for this entire process and it was very important to us that we make something that is quality, that utilizes the brand and that the people who hold that brand feel like they got quality out of us.”
Onslaught has a few major things it can hang its hat on though. Namely, the all-star cast. Four of the most iconic characters from AMC’s hit show are here and in the flesh. Survios worked directly with producers and writers to make this game as authentic as possible. That’s a big deal.
“After a certain point it became obvious that the expanded feature set to accomplish that feel of being inside The Walking Dead was ultimately the largest thing we could provide as a differentiator,” says Abedian. “If players are coming into our game and they are literally feeling like it’s the show and they have these awesome memories of watching the show, there is no other game to be able to provide that at this current juncture.”
Considering the success Survios has had with licensed VR games, such as Creed and Westworld Awakening, they’re certainly capable of making Onslaught work.
Just like there is room for more than one Walking Dead TV show, for the most part, there is certainly room for more than one Walking Dead VR game, even if they’re releasing a little too close for comfort. There’s a proven market and fan base now with one success story to look at as either encouragement or perhaps a high bar.
I have faith that The Walking Dead Onslaught has the potential to be an awesome zombie-killing experience and I look forward to wielding Michonne’s sword and Daryl’s crossbow, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m wistful for what could have been. In a world where Saints & Sinners has already seemingly nailed the gritty reality of zombie survival and the choices that requires, I think the door was open for Onslaught to deliver a definitive co-op experience with replayable mission and a heavy focus on visceral, intense combat. Pivoting to focus more on the story could serve them well well, but I’ll always wonder what the original incarnation for the game would have been like had it been carried through to the end.
The Walking Dead Onslaught is slated for a 2020 release date on SteamVR, Oculus Home for Rift, and PSVR. We’ll keep you posted with more details as they’re available.