At a time when The Walking Dead television series’ popularity is hotter than ever, it makes sense to offer a new way to experience the stories from within the universe. Step forward Team17, who saw an opportunity to work with Skybound Entertainment to merge The Escapists with The Walking Dead comic book series. Can these brands team up to create a strategy simulation title to die for or will it need to be put out of its misery like a roaming walker?
Having not played The Escapists, I had no idea what to expect. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that the thought of an 8-bit game put me off; it’ll not be worthy of The Walking Dead name. But I was wrong, which is why you shouldn’t judge a game before you’ve given it a fair chance!
The Escapists: The Walking Dead is a standalone digital title and consists of five levels in total that are based on places found in the comics that fans of the TV show will recognise too. There’s the Harrison Memorial Hospital, the Greene Family Farm, the Meriwether Correctional Facility, Woodbury and Alexandria. The way to succeed is pretty straightforward; survive and escape each level by any means possible.
Waking up in the hospital where all the madness begins, you’re as lost as Rick Grimes is for the time being. Having to come to terms with the outbreak that’s surrounding the area and not knowing how to deal with these walkers is something that needs to be learnt. That’s why the opening level works as a tutorial, explaining the need to craft useful items or weapons to handle the threats ahead, whilst also using items to create new routes to reach the exit. The main thing it taught me was that when a horde of walkers are coming your way, RUUUUUUUUN!
Controlling Rick throughout the entire game, it’ll test your strategic mind and leadership qualities when attempting to keep everyone safe on the way to completing the main objectives of levels. The tutorial didn’t cover every puzzling obstacle that’ll be thrust upon your path but there’s enough knowledge given to stay alive. Focusing on the survivors around Rick can often be more important than solely looking after him because when the going gets tough you’ll need a competent, combative selection of people as back up. Making sure everyone has a weapon will ensure they’ll stay alive longer; however you’ll not have to worry about Michonne who always has her trusty sword.
Although the goals of each level are different, the presence of time is important and days pass by at a quicker rate compared to real-time. For example in the prison, despite not being actually locked up, the days are regimented and structured in order to keep morale high amongst the group and to keep the walkers at bay. There’s a head count to start the day, the need to turn up at meal times and fit in the necessary chores such as collecting rations from outside. Having these small objectives to do can limit your exploration a little, but as a leader you’ve got to make it work and timing is everything.
Optional favours can pop up from your group of survivors, with Rick given tasks to track down things like barber scissors, necklaces, files (which can be of more use for yourself to breach fences) and even walkers they’ve got a vendetta with. Doing these jobs will earn money which can then be spent with the vendors whom randomly appear during the night bearing all sorts of useful items.
Another key part of Rick surviving can be placed on his attributes – Speed, Strength and Intellect. Speed comes from working out on a treadmill by hammering the triggers at a rhythmic pace. Hitting the punch bags or lifting weights using two different trigger motions will increase Strength and reading books or playing games will add to the Intellect, which sadly occurs just by pressing A at a bookcase or games table. They are all pretty important and with a limited amount of energy you’ll have to plan your routines around rest times. I found the Strength attribute to be vital because it increases Rick’s health massively.
And you’ll have a keen eye on the HP of Rick which drains rather rapidly when up against a standard walker. Combat itself is pretty simple; just equip a crafted melee weapon or one found in a desk somewhere then whack away until the walker falls. Luckily there are a few guns to be found in most levels too, these are especially handy when a new enemy are thrown into the mix… humans!
As you progress through the five scenarios, the difficulty will subtly increase with more problems to overcome, more locked doors that require special keys and an even bigger environment to roam around. It cannot and shouldn’t be rushed because that will no doubt lead to deaths of your comrades, and without them it’s a whole lot tougher. I found this out in Woodbury, where that darn Governor resides, when there was just Martinez by my side from the beginning; if I’d lost him I probably wouldn’t have been able to break free either of the captured people.
It’s strange how on paper The Escapists: The Walking Dead seems a really simple idea but when playing it, it became slightly addictive to just have one more run to find a specific item to craft a key component towards the ultimate goal. The main scenario objectives always appeared to be easy and then a couple of hours later you aren’t much closer; not that I minded that most of the time.
The lack of a map forces your mind to remember so much which becomes hard to do later on and that’s one feature I wish it had. Having to participate in the routines on a few levels became monotonous too, I occasionally got to the point where I was wishing time away, waiting for the peace of night time to be free of the shackles.
Team17 have done well to include 8-bit versions of all our favourites from the comics such as Michonne, Hershel, Glenn and Abraham, to name just a few. Key parts of the story are even told using cutscenes, in the form of comic panels; it’s pretty cool and bridges the gaps between each area. The collectibles are all 24 actual volumes of the comic series which is a great nod to the comics even if they are a pain in the backside to find.
I love The Walking Dead and this Escapists’ homage does it justice for the most part. It drew me in for long spells, despite its tendency to frustrate when the keys I desperately needed were constantly in the last room I tried. Overall it tested me strategy wise in multiple ways by having to look after Rick and the others whilst figuring out how to get to the place I need to be.
There may only be five levels but there are plenty of hours to be spent surviving from the dreaded walkers. If you’re a fan of either brand in this merger, just pick The Escapists: The Walking Dead up and it’ll be a great game to fill your gaming schedule.