The four-player cooperative multiplayer Overkill’s The Walking Dead essentially lifts the core concept of Valve’s classic Left 4 Dead and dresses it up a little, but not too much. In the end, it feels less like its own entry into the existing Walking Dead universe than a reskin of Payday 2, complete with all of the issues that encumbered that game while introducing new ones.
Players assume the roles of four characters, unrelated to the comic or TV source material, and work together to take out threats, both alive and undead. Levels are divided between wave-based survival stages, where increasingly large areas must be protected from hordes of enemies (think a simpler version of the popular Call of Duty Zombies mode), and objective-based exploration missions, where players must traverse suburbs and buildings in search of various flimsy MacGuffins that lead to rescue set pieces in the Left 4 Dead mold. Like Payday 2‘s heists, each of these missions is punctuated by tiresome busy work, like finding six individual car batteries in abandoned garages, or reassembling a faulty forklift, or transferring three fuses to a fuse box, the latter of which will be repeated multiple times across a playthrough.
The game tries to emulate survival-horror tropes by making ammunition sparse, forcing you to rely on new and unwieldy melee combat, where various blunt and bladed weapons can be clumsily used to batter enemies. Different weapons are more effective than others, and can be used to master the game in unintended ways, but they all feel awkward and clumsy to handle.
These weapons seemingly exist to support the game’s new stealth sequences, where each player must slowly move around hordes of zombies or armed human threats, covertly dispatching enemies in order to reach objectives. Some might argue that this design adds variety to the formula, that carefully sneaking around and methodically slaying enemies is the optimal way to engage with the scenarios, but as the game’s inconsistent AI ensures that enemies are only a glance away from engaging you in massive gunfights, these new mechanics are effectively rendered moot. And, indeed, most missions descend into shootouts regardless. Coupled with the shoddy controls, playing Overkill’s The Walking Dead feels less hectic or stressful than it does cumbersome, rendering victories empty rather than satisfying.
The decision to keep this game’s narrative separate from the Walking Dead universe is sure to cool player interest. The four protagonists playable from the outset aren’t generic—the headliner, for one, is Maya, an Asian-American surgeon—but they’re also not particularly interesting and offer little for the player to invest in. The game’s initial antagonists, a group known only as “The Family,” are interchangeable with any number of adversarial organizations from the existing Walking Dead lore, but there’s no thrillingly menacing Negan type among their ranks to stoke our attention and ire.
Another downside to Overkill’s The Walking Dead is that it transplants Payday 2‘s nauseating upgrade system, where acquiring minor upgrades forces replay of the game’s handful of existing missions. As repetition takes hold, what little narrative there is here dissolves into a shallow puddle.
To the game’s credit, its environments are suitably detailed, and the moans and shuffles of the undead are appropriately hefty. But it’s almost impossible to truly enjoy the game’s impressive video and audio presentation given all the unreasonable load times and other technical issues. Disconnections frustratingly plague many cooperative multiplayers, but they’re maddening here due to the long missions having no checkpoints. Imagine reaching the final minutes of an hour-long mission only for your connection to drop and, in turn, your progress to be lost. Overkill’s The Walking Dead certainly stokes the player’s despair, but not the sort that its developers intended.