Move over Beat Saber, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners could be VR's new Flagship title
VR Game Rankings is now approaching it's 3rd anniversary, and in all our time covering VR games, there's been one sure bet, Beat Saber is the game to beat. In fact, the name recognition was getting so stratospheric, that Facebook decided to buy the franchise and developer outright, to ensure they'd always have the games available on their platforms. Well, it looks like Beat Saber finally has some legit competition in the coveted killer-app category. The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners has arrived, and VR gamers everywhere are sitting up and taking notice!
We've known about The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners for quite some time now. In fact, the game was announced for PC-VR platforms eons ago. Still, it seemed like years had passed without any screenshots or trailers. The project itself was shrouded in mystery. If anything, we we're crossing our fingers, that the title wasn't cancelled.
The truth is, development of Saints and Sinners was never troubled, nor in any kind of danger. Skydance Interactive was simply banging away on the game in stealth mode. Keeping their heads down to the grindstone, working away on what could potentially change the landscape for Virtual Reality gaming going forward. The truth is, it takes years to make a game this special. Developers need time to figure out exactly how to approach a brand new medium.
Luckily, Skydance already had one VR game under their belt. They released Archangel on PlayStation VR back on July 18th, 2017. It arrived on Steam and the Oculus Store (for Rift) a few months later. Here at VR Game Rankings, we've always been fans of Archangel. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the title, but the truth is, among the wider VR gaming populace it was mostly written off. Word quickly spread that Archangel was "on rails", and many VR gamers didn't give it a second thought. Under normal circumstances, this would have devastated an up and coming studio. However, Skydance Interactive isn't some rinky-dink operation. They're a subsidiary of Skydance Media, a behemoth in the entertainment industry. Skydance Media wants to dip it's toes in every facet of marketable artistic content, and Virtual Reality is no exception.
So, despite tepid sales of their first VR venture, Skydance Interactive pressed forward. Luckily, with the financial backing of their parent company, they were able to secure the rights to one of the most sought after properties in all of entertainment. The Walking Dead franchise. It seemed like a match made in heaven right? Well, appearances can be deceiving. VR gaming has been absolutely inundated with zombie based games of all varieties. We have more zombie games in VR than you can shake a stick at. In fact, some of the best VR games we've seen so far have featured zombies. Arizona Sunshine of course, tops the list. So, there's definitely a concern about zombie fatigue. Would gamers pony up $40 for another zombie slugfest? The other concern was, they wouldn't be the only game in town. Quite literally. Another Walking Dead VR game was going to release around the same time. Survios, developer of Raw Data and Westworld: Awakening, also has The Walking Dead: Onslaught on the way to VR headsets.
The Walking Dead: Onslaught by Survios is coming later this year to major VR platforms
In addition to all these market pressures, Skydance Interactive was developing this game while VR gaming was going through some rough times. Most analysts would agree that we're still very much in the "Trough of Disillusionment", despite the gains made late last year with the arrival of Quest and big games like Asgard's and Boneworks. Even more crazy, is the fact this title is launching a mere two months prior to VR's most anticipated game ever... Half-Life: Alyx. The timing is interesting to say the least. One could argue, had Saints and Sinners arrived in December instead of January, it would have been crashing all the Game of the Year parties. Asgard's Wrath likely walked away with the lion's share of the GOTY awards, but if Saints & Sinners had also been available, things may have been different.
So, you might be wondering what exactly is it about Saints and Sinners that makes it so special? In one word, combat. The combat is a game changer. You physically interact with these zombies in a more personal, visceral fashion. In fact, if you look up the word "visceral" in the dictionary, it should probably have a screenshot of Saints and Sinners right beside it. The AMC TV show is famous for how the protagonists dispatch the zombies with extreme prejudice. Normally a swift knife to the temple ensures the zombie no longer poses a threat. It's almost as if Skydance Interactive wanted to perfect that very specific interaction, then build a game around it. If they could get the knife to zombie head mechanic down pat, then everything else would be icing on the cake. Well, let me tell you, they absolutely nailed it! The act of grabbing a zombie's head with your left hand, then violently stabbing him with the shank in you right hand is about as satisfying as it gets. Joe Biden be damned! Seriously, after a long day of work at the office, come unwind in the zombie-infested streets of New Orleans... You'll be feeling better in no time!
As much as I was floored by the combat in my early play sessions, I did wonder if this mechanic would grow old. The truth is, it did get old. But here's the kicker.... there's more than one way to carve a zombie pumpkin! That's the beauty of this game. The standard grab the zombies head and introduce it to your shiv technique does get played out, but you'll find new and interesting ways to do them in. You'll also find new tools to get the job done. Or rather, create new tools via the well designed crafting system. You start off with a shiv, but then you realize that a screwdriver is almost as good. You'll have various handguns, with the ability to craft even better firearms as you collect raw materials.
Early in the game, you'll likely find a two-handed axe, that also gives it's own unique spin on the melee combat. The axe feels like it was borrowed from Boneworks, because it has heft and weight. This weight is conveyed to the player via your sloppy control over the weapon. You might start off struggling with it, but you'll quickly learn to wield it in just the right way. Next thing you know, you'll be splitting the zombies heads like a woodchucker chucks wood. Again, the feeling you get when performing these acts is quite therapeutic.
Of course, this kind of visceral violence does lead to the question of how realistic is too realistic? When are we going to cross the proverbial line? The violence in VR debate is mostly sidestepped with this game thanks to the cellshaded aesthetic that might remind some of Borderlands. While the game is darker than Borderlands, not as much technicolor, you still get a cartoonish vibe from the art-design.
The star of the show without question is the combat, but the world building is also amazing. Skydance Interactive is to be commended on how real this place feels . The game isn't open world, but it's just open enough that you'll want to explore every dilapidated alley and backyard. There's so many details everywhere. So many items you can salvage and collect. Every one of these items had to be meticulously created by the team at Skydance. The sheer amount of unique things is testament to what it takes to make a great game spectacular. The developers seemed to want to go way beyond the call of duty with this project. The results shine through. Everybody is talking about this game. Even Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR owners are talking about it. Drooling all over the floor in anticipation of it's eventual arrival on their platforms! The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners is available now on the Oculus Store for Rift and Rift S, and also on Steam for various PC-VR headsets. ($39.99 USD) The game will be making it's way to PlayStation VR this Spring, and to the Oculus Quest later this year.