“When there is no more room in hell, a vaguely threatening red cloud will walk the Earth.” Wise words from George Romero, the undisputed father of the zombie genre.
All facetiousness aside, reducing the zombie horde to a colour filter and a few cardboard cutouts is just one of the many mess-ups that hobbles The Walking Dead Onslaught. It’s not just that VR already has the superior The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners; Onslaught’s repetitive scavenger missions and imprecise controls make it a wholly underwhelming experience.
The Walking Dead Onslaught is based on AMC’s series, giving you the chance to play as Rick, Michonne, Daryl and Carol. Other characters from the show put in an appearance, though only a handful are voiced by the original cast (Rick, aka Andrew Lincoln, isn’t one of them). Norman Reedus’ tedious turn is a world away from his performance in Death Stranding, and Rick Grimes sounds like someone’s dad doing a bad Clint Eastwood impersonation.
So, not a good start, but bad voice acting doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. And, to its credit, there are things that The Walking Dead Onslaught gets right. Wisely ignoring that a single zombie bite is ultimately fatal, Onslaught‘s undead are threatening in exactly the right way. As you make your way through the first Daryl-centric story mission, you’ll quickly discover that one zombie is no big deal. Using the compulsory PSVR move controllers, you can grab a walking corpse and finish it off with a knife to the head, if you’re lucky. There’s a good chance you’ll just swipe at the zombie, since the controls sometimes do their own thing.
Then you notice the rest of the shamblers, and you realise that, slow as they are, you’re in danger of getting outnumbered. Your instinct might be to fight, but what happens if you’re cornered? And so, defying your urge to clear the level, you make a run for it. It helps that, unlike Telltale’s point-and-click series, Onslaught’s zombies are recognisably human, even if twins do turn up from time to time. You can very much imagine Daryl joining their ranks if you’re too cocky.
Onslaught also sports a halfway decent story; a human interest tale that, despite his star power, isn’t all about Daryl. Unfortunately, you can only experience his story in bite-size chunks, when Onslaught deems you’ve completed enough scavenger missions. Ostensibly, you’re supposed to be building up Alexandria, the settlement featured in AMC’s series. You can add buildings, recruit survivors and so forth, but since you can’t actually explore these new buildings, only gaze upon them from afar, it’s really just padding, forcing you to grind until the game deems you’re worthy of progress. So, while you might want to pick up Daryl’s crossbow and get on with his story, you’re stuck crafting and gathering.
Completing a scavenger mission doesn’t mean you’re done with it, either. On average, you’ll be revisiting each area three or four times before you can move on. You can tweak the difficulty, giving you a greater risk vs reward factor, but the layout of each remains the same. The zones are a little linear, but you have some freedom to explore. So, at least you can pick through the zone to make sure you’re not missing anything, right? Wrong.
This is where the horde comes in. You’re on a timer, with a horde of the undead advancing on your position. Every single time. Revisit the zone? Horde. Come back three missions later? Horde. But instead of a horde of actual zombies, who are beholden to actual physics, you get an advancing red cloud, with a smattering of cardboard cutouts. It’s a baffling choice that makes the already tedious scavenger missions more of a chore.
One time, knowing the horde were advancing, I retreated into a shop, ready to make my last stand. A consequence of Onslaught‘s wobbly controls is that actually closing a door behind you is a trial, but I managed it. The horde was almost upon me, I laid in wait. I expected I’d either be overwhelmed or bypassed by the horde; you could cut the tension with a knife.
What actually happened was the red cloud phased through the wall, sapping my health, even though there were no zombies in sight. It’s not the only situation where the horde can be frustrating, either. You’re encouraged to explore but you can find yourself in an area where you have to back through a previous room to hit the main street. Except the cloud is behind you and you’re being punished for backtracking.
For the most part, when you do face off against the dead, you’ll stick to hand-to-hand weapons. The controls are still clunky, but at least with hand-to-hand you’ve got a good chance of doing real damage. Use ranged weapons and you can shoot a zombie in the head several times before it drops. In theory, you should be agonising over whether to save ammo, but guns are so ineffective you often don’t bother.
Stealth is a non-issue, too – zombies spawn both in story and scavenger missions, so you’re going to be overwhelmed sooner or later. Onslaught offers relatively few options when it comes to evading the dead; you might get the bright idea of jumping into a truck bed to fight the zombies off, but with no jump button, you’re having none of that. Being a VR experience barely elevates things either; firing Daryl’s crossbow in VR should be a revelation, but the grinding you have to through to get and upgrade weapons detracts from that joy.
Ultimately, The Walking Dead: Onslaught feels like a VR version of The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, 2013’s mediocre first person shooter, also a Daryl-centric experience. There’s fun to be had if you experience it in small bites, but it’s so grind-heavy, repetitive and limited in scope that even if you’re a die-hard fan of the show, it’s barely worth sinking your teeth into.