[Early Impressions] Overkill’s ‘The Walking Dead’ Nails the TV Show’s Grit, But Frustrates With Repetition

A co-op shooter set in The Walking Dead universe? From the makers of Payday? Read why that’s both exciting and frustrating in our first impressions of Overkill’s The Walking Dead.

While many have been following Overkill’s The Walking Dead with a keen interest, others may be surprised to hear that the game has already launched, at least for PC players. It’s been an alarmingly quiet launch for a game that’s been hyped up for more than four years, attached to one of the biggest names in television. As long-time fans of the show, we were curious to see how this latest video game adaptation shapes up.

For those who have absolutely no idea who Overkill are, they’re the team that brought us Payday, an incredibly popular co-operative shooter in which you and a gang of up to three friends stage a series of daring heists. Its sequel, Payday 2, is still among one of the most played online games in circulation so when it was announced Overkill would be taking a swing at The Walking Dead, it was hard not to get excited.

Sticking to what the studio knows best, this is another first-person shooter strictly focused on 4-player co-op. While it can be run solo, Overkill has geared the core gameplay and level design in a way that makes it almost impossible to progress as a sole survivor. The sheer number of enemies, both living and dead, as well as the way objectives are structured demands a full squad of four, ideally communicating with one another.

Overkill’s The Walking Dead focuses on an entirely new cast of characters – a band of survivors protecting their Washington settlement from zombies and a rival faction calling themselves The Family. From what we’ve seen, Overkill has made an effort to flesh out this change of setting and those key characters who inhabit it, but not in a way that’s particularly memorable or impactful.

The four main protagonists each belong to a specific class with their own unique perks, abilities, and weapon proficiencies. It’s a choice that ultimately determines your role in combat – whether you want to get up close, pick enemies off from afar, or support your squad with buffs and items. Starting out, you’ll feel somewhat underpowered though as you complete missions and rank up, characters will grow stronger and more versatile.

The Walking Dead Set to Get 3 Movie Spinoffs

In many ways, these design choices mirror that of Payday 2 and it’s true that, in broad strokes, The Walking Dead can feel like somewhat of a zombie-themed reskin of Overkill’s flagship shooter. However, the overall flow and feel of combat, paired with the gritty post-apocalyptic setting, help obscure any overlap.

Fighting the undead usually goes one of two ways. You and your fellow survivors can either go for the efficient route, performing stealth takedowns and going unnoticed. Then there’s the more direct approach, hacking, slashing, swinging, and shooting. It depends on the scenario, as well as who you’re teamed up with.

However, some missions demand a quieter, more methodical approach. When coming up against The Family, you’ll need to change gears, using cover and limiting exposure as you would in a normal shooter. Make too much noise, and you’ll also fill a meter that populates the entire level with more walkers. Go in all guns blazing and you’ll quickly find your backs against the wall.

The Walking Dead tries to keep you plugged in, even between missions. You can spend any resources found on camp upgrades, recruit survivors, and send them on missions. It’s similar to the metagame Naughty Dog featured in The Last of Us and one that has you thinking about more than just gunning down zombies when out in the field.

It’s a brutal, fairly unforgiving co-op experience that’s rough around the edges and isn’t as fully-featured as some might expect (there’s no in-game voice chat, for example. Time to jump on Skype/Discord!). That said, our first impressions of Overkill’s The Walking Dead are mostly positive, overall. It successfully nails that grit of the television show and while the game can become repetitive – even frustrating – in spots, it’s a rewarding co-op shooter and one that will hopefully be refined to work out some of those awkward kinks. If you’re considering taking the plunge, just make sure you have friends to watch your six.

Overkill’s The Walking Dead code provided by the publisher.

Overkill’s The Walking Dead is out now on PC.

This ‘PT’ Remake Demo on PC Almost Perfectly Captures the Original’s Spirit

PT has been in the news feeds again recently after a clunky bit of hysteria claimed Konami had been secretly patching the infamous Silent Hills teaser to make it no longer run (it wasn’t the case, thankfully). It did give plenty of worry about the idea of it being lost forever, so any way that the now iconic slice of marketing genius for a product that will unfortunately never be ould be kept alive is welcome.

On PC there’s been several attempts at bottling that particular magic, and they’ve been pulled by Konami one by one, but until now, none have come as close as Artur Łączkowski’s remake in Unreal Engine 4 on itch.io.

Brought to our attention by PC Gamer‘s Samuel Roberts, Łączkowski’s remake isn’t perfect, but it’s the most authentic stab at Hideo Kojima’s looping corridor madness. It’s missing just a couple of parts currently (the first room and the loop-resetting staircase), but otherwise, it’s a pretty bang on replica.

Below are a couple of screens from the remake.

It may well suffer the same ironic similar fate as the previous attempts and the actual demo itself, which got pulled from the PlayStation Store after the cancellation of Kojima’s Silent Hills.

Best check it out while you can!

How Survival Horror Game ‘Stifled’ Uses Darkness to Pit Your Instincts Against You

Tendrils that crawl out of every pore in your skin? Stilted, faceless entities that gurgle incoherently while lurching hungrily towards you? These are some of the more nightmarish sights my mind can conjure. Yet, what could be more unnerving are sights and intangible forces that can’t be seen with the naked eye, beings unforgeable even by the most imaginative of minds.

Survival horror game Stifled is innately familiar with this tenet of horror. Not only does the game put players in environments draped in absolute darkness, but it also leaves them helpless as a child, in the presence of unseen, screeching monsters. To visualize the obstacles and boundaries in your surroundings, you’ll have to rely on echolocation, with only the outlines of objects illuminated when you murmur cautiously—or bawl unwittingly. What seals the game’s horrifying premise is this cherry on top of a very ghastly cake: these creatures are also drawn to sounds. And as a virtual reality experience, it’s impossible to avoid the creeping gloom around you: your senses are practically enveloped by it.

These may sound downright unsettling, but of course, they are: Stifled is triggering a deeply wired phobia, a biological fear. The fear of the dark is a primitive emotion from our evolutionary past, stemming from humanity’s earliest days when our ancestors are wary of the shadows. After all, that’s mostly where predatory animals—and therefore, danger—lay in wait. So this darkness in Stifled is more than just an obstacle; it’s predicated on pitting our basest instincts against us.

stifled 2

Playing as a man who’s plagued by a sordid past—which seems to involve a painful relationship and dead babies—Stifled takes the player through a series of eerie caves, underground passages, and other places where the sun can never reach. Since these areas are impenetrable by light, sounds become the primary means of piercing through this murkiness; the crash of waterfalls illuminates the vicinity, and the creaking of rusty valves as conspicuous as a blindingly bright spotlight. Lending a palpable sense of despair to the experience is the lack of atmospheric music, which makes the silence and your isolation even more apparent.

Interview With The Developer of VR Thriller ‘Blind’

Yet when most sounds attract unwanted attention, acting against your involuntary reflex to scream when spooked becomes crucial. This maneuver is thus tethered to a different sense of sight; we learn how to bite our tongues rather than yelp in fright or snap out of paralyzing fear when a phantom draws close, so we could navigate through the darkness safely. In a way, survival boils down to how adept you are at fighting your most primal impulses.

Stripping away your ability to see—such that we mostly rely on audio cues—as you traverse through myriad horrors is a feature some horror games have experimented with (Perception quickly comes to mind). But with Stifled, this also points to the greater juxtaposition between our instincts and actions, particularly in video game horror. In the beginning, the character is left outside an overturned car that’s aglow with fire, right in the middle of a desolate forest. The only way towards progress is to delve into an underground tunnel—a decision that goes against every grain in my body.

stifled 3

Illogicalities like this are plentiful in other forms of horror. Horror logic in films, for instance, can stretch to notoriously absurd standards, like the lone survivor who races upstairs to escape the danger instead of out the front door, or towards the murky shadows of a heavily wooded area. Video games thus return us a modicum of control in these situations, at least allowing us to shoulder some responsibilities of making irrational decisions in frightful scenarios. This is even more pronounced in Stifled, where players often have to leap into dark, ominous crevices. In one instance, I even had to shove aside a heavy shelf and crawl into a passage that’s deliberately concealed behind. All this trouble to squeeze into a seedy hole that is surely home to a horde of undead children.

‘The Light Keeps Us Safe’ Preview

But there’s merit in making its players actively participate in their own scares. Like crawling into a gaping hole of our own accord, it reveals our willingness to suspend our disbelief, to be shaken to our core. We temper our emotions to magnify our frights. We revel in our adrenaline rush, while repulsed by our oppressive surroundings. By forcing us against our instincts, these discrepancies lend some gravitas to these striking terrors. The scares are nerve-wracking but fleeting, becoming a thrilling unease we both loathe and crave. And when our startle response starts to kick in, you may be inclined to scream—but here in the boundless emptiness, that could just be the last thing you do.

A Collection of 90’s-Inspired Horror Games Join Forces in the Spooky Retro Bundle 2 This Weekend

Indie horror games tend to include the most imaginative and bonkers examples of the genre around, and the Spooky Retro Bundle 2 on itch.io is a testament to that.

The bundle features seven horror titles that borrow from the visual stylings of the original PlayStation, N64, and in one case, the Atari 2600. The variety on offer sees you get intentionally glitchy madness, cults, and the highly topical inclusion of a Killer Nun (Praise be).

The bundle is only for this weekend and all seven titles together will set you back just $14.95. The full list of titles is below alongside a retrotastic gif.

So if you fancy a healthy dose of eccentric and intriguing horror on your PC this Halloween just follow the link here.

Otherwise, all 7 games, and many more, are available on indie video game distribution site itch.io.

[Review] ‘Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics’ Brings Turn-Based Terrors, But Needs More Strategic Depth

Turn-based strategy is at its best when it throws in a good bit of sci-fi and/or horror. A fusion of alternate history also helps too it seems. The novelty of the concept Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics brings to the turn-based strategy genre is what really sells it.

A turn-based strategy title that heads to alternate-reality World War II doesn’t sound like too much of a leap, but how about you throw in a technologically-advanced Nazi war machine that’s in league with eldritch abominations?

That’s what you get here, and it serves as a delightful backdrop to a relatively limited strategic stage.

The Nazis are turning the tide of the war thanks to technological advances, and your elite squad of allied forces is deep behind enemy lines. There’s a secret war against the Cult of the Black Sun going on which might have something to do with the creeping death from underground that threatens to become the real problem at any moment. To put it simply, you’re up shit creek and the water’s filled with tentacle monsters and Nazis.

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is part of Modiphius’ tabletop RPG universe of  Achtung! Cthulhu, itself a heady blend of Lovecraft (rather popular in games at the moment) and World War II (Achtung! is an official canon part of the RPG’s lore). In this particular part of the world, your team has a particular set of skills that make them perfect for fighting back the dual threat of Nazis and the brood of Cthulhu. The focus is on managing that team rather than handling a whole organization a la XCOM. A turn-based strategy it may be, but its tactics by name, tactics by nature for Achtung!

achtung cthulhu tactics review

What that means is there’s less tinkering behind the scenes between missions. Yes, you can upgrade your squad in RPG-lite style and change up their loadouts, but that’s pretty much the extent of it, and you have a set four characters throughout who could do with a bit more personality. The meat of the game is on the battlefield though, where the story unfolds from mission to mission, where you face escalating threats as your squad trudges deeper into enemy territory. The focus is on the story and the missions which mean Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is far more scripted and streamlined than XCOM or the recent Cold-War set Phantom Doctrine.

This is not necessarily a bad thing mind, for the tactical essence of the missions is deeper to compensate. When out of combat, your squad can move freely from point to point without any costs to Action Points (AP). Once you spot or are spotted by enemies, the game locks into combat mode, a familiar turn-based, and tile-based, strategy. Here you set the individual directions your four-person squad is to look in. This helps to reveal any foes in that line of sight as the map uses the typical ‘Fog of War’ effect as a more literal threat, always shrouding what isn’t in the eye-line of the squad. It adds a bit of tension to combat when you can’t be exactly sure what’s lurking, but know it’s there. It’s kind of fitting in fact, for a game taking in Lovecraft’s unknown entities. You can illuminate the fog with light sources too, so flares come in handy.

Beyond that it’s pretty much the XCOM set up. shot chance percentages, Overwatch, particular weapons, equipment, and abilities for each squad member. There are even status effects on your squad’s psychological state as the mere sight of the beastlier foes they come across can put them in a panic and eventually shred their sanity. The key difference is that when you kill enemies and complete objectives on a map, you gain momentum points that can be spent on extra moves during a turn. Having that one extra shot at a stubborn Shoggoth can be the difference between victory and failure so it’s a smart move to reward good tactical play this way.

achtung cthulhu tactics review

As time goes on, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics begins to lose some of its shine. The map design, while solid, lacks inspiration, and having little in the way of anything to do outside missions only drives this home harder. Yes, it’s nice to see this format used to focus on characters rather than an overall organization, but the squad is found wanting for personality. Then there’s the enemy variety. You expect the ungodly horrors to escalate as you progress and for a while they do, but it’s a rather limited assortment and there’s not much variance in how they can be dealt with.

While we’re listing gripes, the presentation is a bit drab too. It’s not ugly, just fairly standard visuals both in the missions and on the menu screens with the only flair coming from the character design (which, even then, is nothing spectacular). It’s not the be all and end all, but with the game already feeling a little light in a multitude of ways, looking so ordinary doesn’t do it any favors either.

There’s been the odd technical hiccup, but nothing too major. The odd shuddery camera movement here and there and an occasional brief freeze. Also worth noting is that some enemy turns have taken far too long to be completed and that can boil into frustration. The developer has taken notice of this though and is looking into fixing it. Otherwise, Achtung! is fairly solid.

What Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics does well is offer a fairly approachable turn-based strategy for fans of the tabletop RPG, and also act as a nice introduction to that RPG for the uninitiated. It lacks an extra bit of polish and a few more bells and whistles, but it’s still an enjoyable enough tactical adventure.

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics Review Code provided by the publisher.

Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics is out now on Steam PC, and at a later date on PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.

[Hands-On Preview] ‘The Blackout Club’ Could Be The Next Great Co-Op Horror Game

There’s an old joke about the Velvet Underground: not many people ever bought one of their albums, but everyone who did immediately started their own band.

I always want to make a parallel between that and anybody who ever worked on a BioShock game. It sometimes seems like everyone who was even tangentially involved with the production of at least one of the BioShocks, up and including the caterers, went on to create an experimental indie game. Question Games, in particular, was co-founded by Jordan Thomas, a designer on BioShock, the creative director of BioShock 2, and the lead writer on BioShock Infinite. Its last game was 2015’s The Magic Circle, a critically if not financially successful game about being trapped in development hell.

Question Games’s new project is The Blackout Club, which has been in production using the Unreal Engine for around two years. It’s been on my radar for a while, if only because it’s a co-op horror game for up to four players. For a while now, cooperative horror has been one of those games-design red herrings, like fun escort missions or the forced stealth level. In theory, you need a sense of isolation before horror can really work in a video game, which means doing it in a co-op game is generally thought to be difficult, if not impossible.

Question Games was aware of that challenge going in. “Part of the fun about this game is being scared with friends,” Michael Kelly told me. Kelly’s a producer on Blackout Club, and another veteran of the BioShock series; he was a producer on BioShock 2 and Infinite. “We’re trying to appeal to people who are like me, where you don’t necessarily want to play a spooky game by yourself and get scared. The way we’ve tackled it is [that] a lot of the dynamic challenges of the game are about unpredictability. We have an enemy called the Shape which you can’t see unless your character closes their eyes, which means that you need to stick together and use that teamwork. One person can be the lookout while someone else is doing something.

“Because we worked on BioShock, because we’ve been on horror games in the past, we wanted to try and do horror that wasn’t blood in your face, that isn’t just gore for gore’s sake. We wanted to do something that was a little more unsettling. We love ‘Twin Peaks’ and things like that, which are just a little uncanny.”

Kelly’s elevator pitch for The Blackout Club is that it’s “Left 4 Dead meets ‘Stranger Things,’” based on a story that Thomas has been working on for around ten years. It’s set in the 2000s, in a small town in Virginia that’s located in a radio quiet zone; nobody has cable TV or Internet access, and even local phone calls can be unreliable. The only way to get information out is to physically carry it out.

Lately, people in town have developed a habit of waking up in strange places, such as in the woods or on train tracks, covered in mud or scratches with no memory of what they did the night before. Worse, the town’s adults don’t think there’s anything weird about it if they remember it at all. Only the local teenagers seem to realize this is happening, or that it’s a problem.

Events come to a head when one of the local kids, Isabella (Ashly Burch, who’s just going to be in every game from now on), disappears, right as she was about to steal a car and drive out of town with a drive full of evidence.

The night leading up to Isabella’s disappearance forms the game’s tutorial level, and I got to play it at PAX. It’s an effective sequence, all the more so because it’s not playing on jump scares at all, but instead on a slowly growing sense of unease and unreality. There’s a particular moment—no spoilers here, but you’ll know it when you see it—that hasn’t left me for a couple of weeks now, where an ordinary conversation turns into a warning bell. It’s easily one of the most effective scares I’ve seen in a recent video game.

In the rest of the game, you and your friends team up to search for Isabelle and find out what’s going on in your town, as members of the titular Blackout Club. There’s a certain twisted children’s-book feel to the whole thing, where you create a character and arm him or her in a small corrugated-steel shack, like some post-apocalyptic treehouse hideout.

Characters in The Blackout Club are all 13- to 15-year-old teenagers, and more importantly, a lot of the enemies in the game are other townspeople who are suffering through one of the blackouts. Even if you weren’t playing as a kid, there’s a good chance you’re fighting against a friend or a family member. As such, the game places a heavy focus on stealth and evasion, without any lethal defensive options.

Right now, you can equip a character with one of three “hero items,” including a taser or a crossbow loaded with tranquilizer darts, and take a special tarot card that gives you a passive buff, such as the ability to sprint for longer periods of time. There are a number of consumable items scattered throughout the world that you can pick up and deploy, such as dart traps, bandages, chocolate bars, or foam grenades.

The biggest problem you’re up against, however, is the Shape. You can only see it when your character closes their eyes (keyed to the Y button on an Xbox controller for the PAX demo), and even then, as a glowing red outline like it’s the only warm object on a thermal scan. If the Shape reaches you, your character gets dragged off to an unknown fate, and it’s almost always waiting in the wings somewhere. You can sometimes reveal it by using foam grenades, so it’s covered in suds or it’s leaving tracks in a puddle, but you can’t stop or slow it at this point. You have to run or hide, and you don’t know how effective either is unless you close your eyes and shut out everything else in the world.

The closed-eyes mechanic adds a lot to the game, as there are a lot of clues and details you can only see, paradoxically, when your character’s eyes are shut. Sometimes, it’s just flavor text; other times, it’s puzzle clues. Either way, it sets up this bizarre sort of alternate reality, where what you can’t see is just as important, if not more, than what you can.

The Blackout Club is currently in closed beta. Question Games handed out codes for the game to anybody who got a chance to play it at PAX, but it’s under an NDA for the next few weeks. (I’m also batting a perfect zero on never managing to play while the servers are actually up.) Once the beta opens up, though, I’m expecting this game to blow up in a big way. It’s sitting at the confluence point of a couple of different popular styles of horror, and it’s working on an atmosphere of slowly building dread, rather than throwing blood and jump scares all over the place. In fact, I respect the hell out of it entirely because The Blackout Club isn’t really built for the streamer horror audience; nothing will torpedo this game’s mood faster than someone mugging it up in the corner.

[Review] ‘Transference’ Takes You on a Creepy Virtual Head-Trip

Nestled among the usual fare at Ubisoft’s E3 2017 showcase was an appearance by Elijah Wood, there to talk up SpectreVision’s VR sci-fi horror title Transference. Once the trailer had finished, it was clear we had something interesting on our hands.

A head-tripping blend of first-person horror game and live action scenes set within a creepy simulation of several people’s brain data is certainly an enticing prospect, but can it deliver an effective brain-bending dose of existential horror?

The entire simulation is set in and around the home of Raymond Hayes, a troubled scientist with a streak of brilliance. He seemingly created a digital representation of himself, his wife Katherine, and their boy by using brain data from each, and those avatars are present in the simulation too. Unfortunately, there’s a corruption running rife inside the simulation as well, and you’re tasked with cleaning up the glitches and errors whilst uncovering the darker side to Raymond’s family life.

Transference is a familial horror underneath the sci-fi gubbins. It’s clear early on that Raymond’s obsession with his projects is taking a toll on his relationship with his wife and child and that may well be playing its own part in the strange and dark avenues this virtual realm takes you down.

You begin just outside the apartment block, tasked with looking for a key to the front door. Once you do find it and enter the building, you’re soon presented with an example of how messed up this simulation is after a disturbing scene in the foyer. So begins a nightmarish look into a botched science project saturated with family issues. What will be more disturbing? The flaws in the software? Or the revelations that could be uncovered about Raymond’s family life? You’ll find out soon enough.

Transference’s greatest strength is in its separation of perceived reality and the virtual world you inhabit. Strapping on a PSVR headset to enter a 3D virtual world is nothing new now, but for a game to actually make that process part of the game? It’s a novel, meta take and the game enjoys messing with its digital realm to disorientate you. There was a claim from Mr. Wood back at E3 that Transference would bridge the gap between games and film with its mix of FMV and digital constructs, but all Transference’s strengths lie in how it plays with the nature of being ‘a game’ and the FMV scenes that do pepper the exposition are actually quite limited. Effective? Yes, but they aren’t a seamless bridge between mediums that was touted.

The constant reminders that you’re in an artificial world include glaring error messages where items should be (usually a hint that you should find that item and restore the data to the program to help ‘clean’ it) and a dark glitchy entity who periodically stalks you around the apartment. You can also switch between different builds of the apartment, clearly taken from more than one point in time in the real world. This is integrated into puzzle-solving, allowing you to bring items from one build to another.

This is a game that’s assured enough to let you take your time discovering its story. That means the pace is on the slow side, and while that’s great for letting you really tuck into the smaller details of the Hayes family and their troubles, it is, unfortunately, a tad cynical with it. The entire game is an escape room, with smaller escape room puzzles chained together to crack the overall puzzle. This causes a fair bit of repetition and fumbling towards the next checkpoint. The puzzles are fair, challenging, and generally in keeping with the themes of the narrative, but certain times it just feels like you’re being tasked with busywork to pad the runtime (Transference clocks in a little under three hours). It’s a shame because Transference can be really good at ratcheting up the unease otherwise, and it’s the time afforded to each dread-induced moment that really brings the payoff.

That disorientation the simulation provides is another key aspect of Transference’s success. Overlapping and distorted sound bites, manic flashing glitch voids, and the shifts between software builds changing parts of the environment. It escalates slowly but surely before usually ending each ‘chapter’ of the simulation with a crescendo of disturbing imagery. It’s never graphic or gory, just an explosion of sensory assaults that are befitting of a game centered on a corrupted artificial world.

The brevity of the story does fit well for the pace, but replayability is limited. Once you’ve discovered all the secrets of the Hayes family the first time around, you’re left with some collectible pickups and little else as the knowledge gained from a first run does detract much of the spectacle, drama, and of course, scares from the story.  At around $25 at launch, three and a bit hours of game is pushing it a bit, no matter how effective and absorbing it can get. Value is all relative of course, but it does feel like Ubisoft has put the game in a tough spot with that price point and it deserves better than that as a drawback.

It is at least playable both in VR and Non-VR modes, and it loses little of its atmosphere without a VR unit on your face. All the same, this feels like it was made for VR, both mechanically and thematically, so you do lose out on something by playing it on a regular screen. Whichever way you play it, savor it, put its occasional structural flaws to one side and drink in the delivery of its story. You may as well squeeze as much juice out of your first time with the game because it’s rapidly diminishing returns from there.

Transference is in some ways, a tighter twist on Bloober Team’s Observer (with a dash of that company’s Layers of Fear in the mix). But it never reaches the loopy and inventive highs of that game’s head-fuckery. Not that there isn’t merit to the strange and disturbing places Transference goes because it definitely has a good line in loopy. It just needed a bit more substance to the quieter moments.

PS4/PSVR Review copy purchased by Reviewer

Transference is out now on PSVR, PS4, Xbox One, and PC (Oculus and Vive)