The Walking Dead’s VR game turned me into zombie mincemeat

When I entered Skybound Interactive’s press room at Gamescom, the developers on staff asked how familiar I was with VR games. I apparently claimed that while I’d never played The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners, I would have no trouble picking up Chapter 2. I say “apparently” because I soon swallowed those words faster than a zombie chowing down on some delicious brains.

It’s not The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution that’s to blame for my incompetence. On the contrary, the latest installment of the shooter is an expertly designed VR game filled with some of the most complex interactions I’ve ever experienced in the medium. Instead, my own hubris was my downfall, as I thought I was experienced enough to rush into combat with no plan. If my demo taught me anything, it’s that I wouldn’t last two minutes in a real zombie apocalypse.

Preparation is everything

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution ratchets up the scale and intensity of the first game in some key ways. For one, it takes place in a more sprawling world as players are placed in New Orleans’ French Quarter. The game promises to give players more freedom to explore the city and tackle objectives in the order they see fit.

But don’t ask me how that part of the game plays out. I couldn’t tell you.

The demo gave me a seemingly easy task. I’d just have to infiltrate a building guarded by unfriendly humans and zombies alike and locate a hidden speakeasy. I’m not sure what was supposed to happen after that because I died a million deaths before really moving the plot along.

While it may seem like I’d be salty about that, I actually believe it’s a testament to the game. I went into the demo assuming I could wing it, but The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution is a game about preparation. Before setting out into the French Quarter, you have to make sure you have a survival plan in order. That means knowing where every tool on your body is, carefully assigning weapons to each of your holsters based on the situation you’re about to run into, and being able to reload without a second thought. The game rewards players who have a real-life zombie apocalypse plan sketched out in their heads. I thought I was one of those people, but it turns out I’m a terrible prepper.

The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners - Chapter 2: Retribution teaser image.

I don’t think you can blame me, though, when Retribution includes so many fun toys to raise hell with. For instance, I came across a bow and arrow lying in a tight hallway. After equipping a laser sight to it, a developer informed me that I didn’t just have access to regular arrows but explosive ones too. He was about to say that I should probably wait to use them when there’s more open space, but before he could finish that sentence, I shot one at a zombie point blank, killing us both. You can’t tell me I can shoot an exploding arrow using the tactile nature of VR and then expect me to act responsibly, right?

That same conundrum came up when I grabbed this chapter’s signature weapon: a chainsaw. Cooler heads would tell you that you might want to take a second to learn how it works. The massive weapon requires that you handle it with two hands like you would a real chainsaw. It has a rip cord that needs to be pulled to turn it on, an action that really needs some practice before letting it rip. You can bet your pretty little head that I didn’t take that advice and started juggling it around as I gleefully tried to saw zombies in half and get some sweet haptic feedback for doing so.

In all of those encounters, I died like a buffoon. It wasn’t until I actually stopped and met the game on its terms that I started to survive. In one moment, I crawled through an air duct and found some zombies clustered together on the other side. Instead of jumping down and going full Leroy Jenkins, I equipped my explosive arrow and shot it at the pack. I waited as more zombies tumbled into the room from the floors above, another new feature in Retribution. I steadied myself and fired off three perfect headshots in a row, making the room safe to traverse.

The player chainsaws a zombie in The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners Chapter 2: Retribution.

That moment made it clear that Skydance Interactive is set to deliver a thoughtful shooter built for actual VR pros who enjoy the tech for its immersion, not its instant tactile gratification. Those who learn the ropes and take the time to execute a plan will master Retribution’s devastating new tools as they explore a larger swath of New Orleans.

Or, you can be like me and completely miss a crucial mission briefing because you’re too busy trying to push bottles off a bar with the tip of your katana. Guess which one of us is getting fed to the zombies first when push comes to shove?

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution is scheduled to launch in late 2022.

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