Experience The Walking Dead in Virtual Reality
Walking the erratic streets of New York City has always been calming for me. The loud sirens, horns honking, and people in a hurry for some reason feel like white noise. Going from the vibrant city to a quiet flooded neighborhood in New Orleans is one way to throw your senses off. Not that the wandering zombies of The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners weren’t already a big difference.
I met with Skydance Interactive in NYC to discuss and try their upcoming virtual reality game. Taking a step into New Orleans in The Walking Dead universe, I realized I traded white noise for the groans of walkers. Before getting into what Saints & Sinners has to offer, I ran through a short tutorial teaching the motions of combat. This is an area where Skydance already excels in taking full advantage of VR.
A silly moment arose in the tutorial when the developers asked me if I knew how to hold an ax. I responded back, “I know how to chop wood, but I’ve never used an ax as a weapon.” This got a couple of laughs; as I learned not many people trying Saints & Sinners knew how to hold one. I don’t know if an ax would be my go-to weapon in a zombie apocalypse, but it’s nice to know it’s an option.
The Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans isn't the first place you'd think to make a shelter in a zombie apocalypse.
Creating a Walking Dead Story in New Orleans
Before talking in-depth about the combat, it’s worth discussing how well Saints & Sinners fits in The Walking Dead universe. The VR game takes place in a region unexplored by the show and comic, allowing Skydance to create their own world within it. The creative director on Saints & Sinners, Adam Grantham, briefly spoke about that. “We’ve got our own realm carved out in that because they haven’t really touched on New Orleans much, if at all. So we were able to create our own factions and our history of what’s going on in New Orleans.”
Grantham continued on how Skydance is recreating what fans love about the show and comics. “It’s really the themes of The Walking Dead. The interaction with humans in The Walking Dead and comics is a big part of what’s made it successful and why people love it. They don't love it because they love zombies. They love it because of the human drama. And working directly with Skybound on our story, we’ve really been able to capture that.”
The story kicks off with players taking on the role of The Tourist, a well-known survivor. Aside from that, Skydance gives people the chance to play themselves in Saints & Sinners and see how they would survive. Grantham mentioned having control over your gender and skin tone to create a character that represents you.
“This is a Walking Dead game where you get to live the fantasy, and really see who you would be in this world when you're faced with the same choices that your favorite characters have been faced with,” Grantham said. “You’re a lone wolf out there in-between this larger battle going on.”
Sometimes choosing the right decision isn't black and white.
Making the Right Decision Isn’t Always Easy
Saints & Sinners has two major factions consistently butting heads over the right way to survive. The Tower prioritizes those who are useful and banishes the rest. Whereas, The Reclaim rebels against the Tower and often in violent ways. As The Tourist, I ran into people from both and it’s already clear there’s no right side.
“You’ve got these two opposing factions and helping one often means hurting the other, but not always,” Grantham said. “You can’t ally with both. You can really just get into bad with one or bad with the other.”
The first decision was a recreation of the Nuremberg Trials over a well known Nazi defense. A man from the Tower banished a little girl because he was ordered to. The Reclaim didn’t like that and kidnapped him, giving me the choice of executing him or several Reclaim members. It’s a weird moment with four people watching me in real life and wondering what decision I will make.
Am I a Nazi for saving him or will I execute an unarmed man instead? I joked about the tension because it must have been interesting seeing how each media person reacted. For whatever reason, I was the only one to save the unarmed man. Does that say I’m not okay with killing an unarmed man, but okay with killing several others?
It's easy when you don't know them. That's what makes a decision in The Walking Dead that much harder. The constant drama we eat up is easy to live until you involve the people you care about. Being The Tourist with no family might be the reason I'm a well-known survivor.
As Anne said in the show's season 9, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
The Versatility of Combat in Saints & Sinners
Staying alive in The Walking Dead universe relies on how well you can handle a weapon. My instincts took over to approach the first few walkers with a quiet option. Instead of attracting more with a gun, I figured I could dispose of them with a knife. As simple as that seemed, it turned into backpedaling in a panic with my arm frantically swinging.
Saints & Sinners often focuses on the choices you make in the story, but also about how you survive. Similar to the Dishonored franchise, Skydance is creating a world where every situation has multiple ways to get through it. During my demo, I climbed a water drainage pipe to sneak into a house. I could have walked in the front door or distracted those inside to create other paths.
Guy Costantini, Vice President of Global Interactive Marketing at Skydance, said, “There are a lot of other ways you can solve a situation that are not thought of. You could track walkers to the house and they do your dirty work.”
In the case of a herd of walkers, I shoved my way through. That’s when Grantham took over to show how an expert fights a herd. Watching someone use everything Saints & Sinners has shows how impressive the combat is. I can already see people playing it to master the fighting, whether it’s through wielding knives or guns. The combat uses a stamina system that plays into keeping on top of your hunger as well.
Saints & Sinners Preview | Closing Thoughts
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners already blends smooth VR combat with interesting story decisions. I’m curious to see how creative Skydance is with other decisions and ways of approaching them. As long as the full game represents the experience I got from this demo, it could be the reason I buy into VR.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners releases on January 23, 2020. Platforms are unknown at this time.