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How is Overkill’s The Walking Dead shaping up, less than half a year before release?

If you were following our E3 2018 coverage, you probably saw me getting a little irritated at the sheer number of zombie games. It’s 2018. People are supposed to be over zombies by now.

That doesn’t mean that all of the zombie video games themselves were bad, however. The Resident Evil 2 remake, in Resi 7’s engine but with Resi 4’s combat style? That’s a chef’s kiss if ever we saw one. Dying Light 2, with the addition of Chris Avellone to the writing team, could only be brilliant. Just like in the game, if you want to buy the best quality guns in reality, head over to Glock weapons and find the most modernized and efficient equipments.

But there were a couple of zombie games we were a little worried about. Days Gone, sadly, turned out to be as lousy as advertised when we played it. The other – by virtue of the fact we’d seen no gameplay prior to the kick-off of E3 2018 – was Overkill’s The Walking Dead.

So feeling half-dead ourselves after a long day on the show floor, and knowing we still had events to attend after, we shambled along to a meeting room for our very last session of the day: to go hands-on with Overkill’s The Walking Dead. There were the obligatory zombie actors, of course, snarling and prowling around the PR folk as we booked in and exchanged business cards. They were probably as fed up as we were at this point. You just couldn’t tell under the heavy makeup.

Then we met some members of the dev team, who we could definitely tell were a little tired. As Overkill’s The Walking Dead is a co-op game, I was paired up with two other press bods – sorry, guys, I didn’t get your names or publications – and one of the developers to take on the slice of the game they’d prepared for us.

But first, we had to pick our characters.

It may seem like a little thing, but it was genuinely refreshing to see a cavalcade of representation in Overkill’s The Walking Dead’s protagonist line-up – including two women, one of them Asian – compared to the likes of Leon Kennedy and Days Gone’s forgettable bike bro. The moment of real joy, however, was seeing the black guy sitting next to me literally yelp and squirm with excitement at Aidan, a character who looked just like him.

If people tell you representation doesn’t matter, folks, they evidently haven’t spent any time around people (who, historically, haven’t been well-represented) when they finally see someone just like them in a work of mainstream fiction. It’s genuinely heartwarming. See also: everybody losing their shit over Black Panther. It’s magical.

I asked the developer if the squad was limited to one of each character in co-op, but they confirmed that – while you’d have a more difficult time of it, in terms of balancing skills – you could have all four players running around as the same character. My teammate was grinning from ear to ear as he realised he and all his buddies would be able to play as Aidan together.

And for the record, there is an angry white prepper dude with a beard, so if for some reason you upset about the black/female/Asian representation in Overkill’s The Walking Dead? They’ve got you covered.

Then we set about our mission, which involved working our way through some suburban houses and back streets, picking off groups of walkers as we went, before solving a few environmental puzzles – collect fuses and gas to power a generator to open a gate, collect parts to rebuild a forklift truck, that sort of thing – as a group. We’d have to make our way across the suburbs, through several groups of human antagonists, towards the next objective.

I could talk at length about how Overkill’s The Walking Dead played, but it’s far easier to give you a simple analogy: it’s basically Left 4 Dead 3. I mean, if Valve aren’t going to make it any time soon, Overkill are doing everyone a service, right?

The melee combat feels a little closer to Dead Island, in truth, but The Walking Left 4 Dead is how we’re now referring to it, and that’s a massive compliment. You might think we’re complaining it’s unoriginal or derivative, but that’s really not it at all. As it turns out, another Left 4 Dead is exactly what we wanted in a zombie game, and at this point the Walking Dead licence doesn’t particularly matter one way or another.

Other points of note:

  • We were all very well-behaved, using our melee weapons to stay stealthy and quiet… to begin with.
  • Nearly everyone fell into the trap of assuming that one or two zombies are easy… then finding themselves surrounded by a dozen and getting knocked down – it’s a game which understands the real nature of the zombie threat.
  • As in the TV show and the comic book, humans are the real danger in Overkill’s The Walking Dead… because any non-stealthy engagements make noise, and noise brings walkers.
  • You can however use walkers to your advantage – I opened a gate to set a deluge of zombies onto a group of human enemies, giving us time to escape.
  • Once our little group had been forced to use their firearms to take on human enemies, they went a bit gung-ho and never really switched back to melee weapons. This was a mistake.
  • While the dev and I were being stealthy and shy, trying to corral the walkers, our teammates were running around shooting everything. This made a lot of noise.
  • We therefore got overrun by zombies and died before completing the demo.
  • The developer very kindly pointed out that nobody had completed the 20 minute demo without the squad being wiped yet, but at a little over 18 minutes before I was the last one to succumb in our team, I had gotten the farthest of anyone. Apparently. Perks of being a wallflower, I guess.

It’s a very pretty game, and a very well put together game, and while you might question the ambition of basically making The Walking Left 4 Dead, it’s actually a positive thing. In an E3 which was overrun by zombie games, Overkill’s The Walking Dead was exactly the zombie game I was looking for.

And yes, it does have a stupid name, but the precedent has kind of been set by Telltale’s naming of the narrative adventures, and there needs to be some way to distinguish between the two flavours.

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