Gamescom 2015: The Escapists The Walking Dead does what it says on the tin (Xbox One, PC)

What was it?

A 15-minute hands-off gameplay demo showing the opening tutorial plus one of the game’s scenarios.

What did we learn?

— The game follows the plot of the comics rather than the TV series.

— Scenarios will be set in the encampment areas where survivors set up bases, rather than journeying to and from locations.

— Rather than venturing out to different areas for supplies, they’ll be located within the same space.

— The Escapists’ look comes at a consequence of detail in cutscenes.

How was it?

For a name as unimaginative as The Escapists The Walking Dead, you can’t argue that it’s apt. This is literally a new Escapists game set in the world of The Walking Dead comic book series. No more, no less. Rather than trying to break out of a series of prisons, players take on the role of Rick Grimes, a character familiar to fans of both the comic book and TV show, and try to maintain order in recognisable locations for as long as possible and fend off the zombie horde.

The game begins with Rick waking in his hospital bed. Once the basic mechanics of the Escapists are introduced to you, coupled with the narrative of The Walking Dead (all dialogue from the cutscenes are taken from the first comic book), you’re introduced to your first zombie. With The Escapists blocky visuals, it’d be hard to have the finesse of combat that’d be required to kill a zombie the ‘traditional’ way, so a simple punch to the face suffices here. After that, all hell breaks loose and an entire horde is unleashed into the ward as Rick looks for an exit.

As he stumbles outside we find the game’s first gun, a new mechanic for the series. Described as controlling similar to a directional shooter, the player can lock-on to walkers by holding the limited-range cursor over them before shooting. Ammo, as you might expect, is finite, so too its range. Choosing to shoot also means nearby walkers will be alerted to your presence, so is best used sparingly. The tutorial ends once you manage to escape the hospital.

We’re then taken to Hershel’s farm, a place where the Escapists’ gameplay has a chance to breath. The locations were cherry-picked to best-suit the format, as it wouldn’t exactly make sense to include high-speed chases or running from hordes. On the farm we get an insight into the objectives in the game and how Rick is tasked with maintaining camp morale. In the compound, you’ll not only have to complete tasks to keep the integrity of your perimeter and prevent walkers gaining entry, you’ll also be in charge of taking roll calls, giving motivational speeches and also doing menial tasks when requested by other survivors. The meta-objective will be specific for each level, so in Hershel’s farm (*WALKING DEAD SPOILERS*) the level will conclude when you discover Hershel has been housing walkers in his barn, and all the shooting begins.

How much time you get to spend within the compound before its conclusion, I’m not sure, but the idea of maintaining morale did intrigue. The only trouble is the level of depth it offers. Being unable to engage with other survivors on any meaningful level means it’ll simply be a case of A-to-B fetch questing until you’re ready to draw the matter to a close and move on to the next location. More spinning plates than anything else.

It does feel more aligned to Fallout Shelter in terms of depth and complexity than State of Decay. Being unable to leave camp and search for supplies off-campus means that it feels very limited in scope. Plus, with the blocky visuals, cutscenes can look a mess. they’re presented as 2D stills, the details of which can be lost at times thanks to the giant characters lacking detail.

While it stands to keep Escapists fans happy, the limited scope and depth makes it unlikely to attract fans solely of The Walking Dead. There’s huge crafting and customisation options for guns and makeshift tools, but as with the comics and the TV show, it is the relationships between the people that keep zombie shows engaging. Having these people as simply a scale of smiley-to-frowny faces with names means that, unless you’re really into both franchises which collide here, I doubt it’ll hold much intrigue.

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