The Walking Dead Onslaught is this year’s second Walking Dead franchise game for VR, following the release of the The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners (2020) in January. Unlike its scrappy RPG-style older sibling, Onslaught does away with dark and gloomy trepidation of entering a room halfcocked, instead replacing it with a constant pressure to run, gun, and scrounge your way through levels to an oftentimes ineffectual conclusion.
The Walking Dead Onslaught Details:
I quit watching AMC’s The Walking Dead probably after the third season, which, for me, was when the show stopped being about surviving zombies and sort of became a zombie it is own right. It shambled along in a way that made me question: where the hell is this all going?
Whatever your level of fandom though, if you’re going to play The Walking Dead Onslaught, you only really need to know a few things to succeed: methodically search through every building for supplies, have a balanced loadout with at least one edged weapon, make sure to point the shooty part of the gun at the zombie’s head. And run.
You don’t need to know where to go, or what to do, and you won’t need to solve any puzzles along the way. Just aim down the sights, shoot, reload, and run from the constantly marching red fog of zombies behind you until the credits roll. The red fog works just like in a battle royale—a zone which drains your health if it catches up to you—which gives you all the motivation you’ll need to make your way to the finish line.
There’s no stamina, thirst, or hunger bars to worry about here (not a bad thing), making it all about moving quickly through the one-way snake-like pathway through each level—but not so fast that you’ll breeze past the inexplicably massive amounts of food, wood, metal scraps, adhesives, etc—all of which either help you upgrade weapons or unlocks the next bit of story.
The game is divided into two discrete sections: Daryl, reprised by Norman Reedus, has a story to tell about trying to save a little girl. As Daryl, you play through a half-dozen levels to meet the conclusion of his story arc. It probably took around three hours to play through Daryl’s bit alone, but you aren’t set loose right away to run through each chapter as you please.
For some reason you need to attract survivors to your encampment which is done by scrounging for food across a map that sequentially unlocks different zones after you meet a survivor number requirement. This basically ties you to grinding through scrounging missions to unlock Daryl’s story which then kicks you back out to more scrounging missions. Rinse and repeat.
It all felt a bit like the game was tacking on a pretty useless bit in the name of extending gameplay length. You’re forced to go through these missions, which have no other purpose than to find stuff, and then make self-serving upgrades to weapons, health, and supply retrieval ability.
Daryl’s story was interesting, and acted somewhat of a retreat from the grind, but I found myself mechanically repeating the same scrounging levels over and over just to get enough supplies to unlock the next chapter. These missions quickly started to feel like a dull chore than an honest way of engaging with the game.
That’s not to say there aren’t some really fun bits in shooting a massive crowd of walkers (all of them slow until they get within striking distance) and seeing the hardest zombies go down. The constant pressure of an enclosing zombie horde fog also keeps you on your toes during scrounging missions, never giving you enough time to search the byways for everything. Stabbing, slicing, shooting, and pushing the physics-based baddies around is all really satisfying.
I also liked that you can attack each level of the game, both story and scrounging missions, in easy, medium or hard difficulty modes, although the amount of stuff you find decreases the easier you take it. Onslaught does those things well, but I feel like it would be better served with a larger, more engaging storyline and significantly less supply grinding.
As for the game’s antagonists, there’s not a ton of functional variation to the slow walking zombies in Onslaught. Later in the game, you’ll meet armored zombies in riot gear or covered in spikes that add additional pressure to the level’s slalom, however its overwhelmingly populated with civilian walkers that can die with a single knife plunge to the brain. Have enough ammo, aim for the head, and eventually all of the bullet sponges will lurch their last step.
In all, both Daryl’s story and the scrounging missions took me a little over seven hours to complete. After the credits roll, you can always head back in to upgrade every weapon, melee and gun alike, but I just didn’t see a need since I’d be playing through all of the same missions again with the only real variation being where key items are located.
Onslaught misses the mark by being a little too simplistic and overly grindy, but it also misses the mark somewhat in the Immersion section too by being too damn predictable.
Level design is nearly always built around a one-way slog through a ruined town, which all starts to feel the same after about the first hour. It’s a shame, because the visual variety of the levels feels actually really quite good. Although you aren’t going to stop and smell the daisies, it’s clear there was some serious love in making the each level feel uniquely ruined by the zombie apocalypse.
Unfortunately there’s no object interaction to speak of as your dominant hand is tied to your weapon until you switch it out for another. Force grab is used in place of actually picking things up. Those aren’t bad things in and of themselves, but the abstraction away from actually holding something with your hands does limit user immersion somewhat.
Both character design and voice acting are however pretty exceptional considering Norman Reedus was the only original actor in the game. There is somewhat of an uncanny valley effect when characters speak, which only happens when you’re back at base, but it’s not very often that you even see another human being in the bulk of the game so it’s mostly a non-issue. Although zombies are functionally the same, with the only variation being their armor level, the designs are extremely well crafted.
Onslaught’s clever use of positional audio is a highlight too. You’ll have to keep your ear out for the foggy horde inching ever closer behind you, free range zombies lurking around the level, and valuable caches of supplies which sound like a soft radio fizzle when you’re near them.
The game’s UI also smartly stays out of the way, which is a nice touch, letting you more fluidly engage with the hordes of zombies. You can also turn the UI completely off in the settings, although you may not even notice it most of the time since it hides in the upper and lower registers of the screen.
The game’s developers, Survios, are old pros when it comes to VR comfort design. You can choose a number of locomotion options including teleport, snap turn, smooth turning, head or hand-relative forward motion, and even the arm-swinging style they’ve used in Creed: Rise to Glory (2018) and Sprint Vector (2017).
All of this, combined with a well-studied use of particle effects to help you stay grounded as you move forward, give you a wide swath of options according to your individual comfort level.
You can play both seated and standing, which is done through an automatic calibration process. An in-game recalibration button is also there if for some reason you want to switch between standing and sitting.