You could say The Walking Dead franchise is doing quite well for itself. What began as a comic book exploded into a multi-media venture at the turn of the decade, encompassing television series, the monthly graphic novel, and multiple video games. Telltale Games confronted people with the joys, horrors, and remorse of human interaction in the zombie apocalypse. Even The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct sewed broken battles together to empower players against the starving infected. So where does that leave The Escapists: The Walking Dead? With the chores.
As a stand-alone expansion to The Escapists, The Escapists: The Walking Dead utilizes 8-bit aesthetics and role-playing tropes to recount Robert Kirkman’s downfall of civilization. Whatever caused the flesh-eating outbreak is of no concern. Only survival matters now. Players command Rick Grimes in each of the survival scenarios, starring iconic locations like Woodbury, Hershel’s farm, and Alexandria. As Rick crafts tools and weapons, bolsters group morale, and settles into his daily routine, nothing will stop him from completing the most repetitive objectives of all: fetch quests.
Every survivor needs something from Rick in this hellish cataclysm: Lori wants a pillow, Hershel demands chocolate, Michonne requires a family photo. While you aren’t forced to accept these errands, retrieving the necessary items provides money, which various traders expect when you intend to purchase their wares. Those wares, including medkits and guns, remain vital when journeying outside the confines of your safehouse. The Meriwether Correctional Facility, for example, litters its prison yards and parking lots with infected that impede Rick’s missions.
The trouble lies with the types of fetch quests. Some quests allow you to hand over any old duct tape or nails. Other tasks ask you to retrieve a specific object located on the base, or murder a walker that stole a survivor’s precious item. But those trinkets seldom classify as special. What distinguishes Glenn’s lighter from any of the lighters sitting in someone’s desk? Why does Dale need me to obtain a misplaced bucket from an infested barn? I found two sitting in the box of a nearby game room. What use does does Carl have for a metal file?
I wrapped up most quests by rummaging through everyone’s bedroom drawers, but I disregarded the “kill this zombie” or “go here and bring back this knick-knack” objectives without regret. They contain all the fun of bringing somebody scissors or a chisel in real life, and The Escapists: The Walking Dead limits your hours as is. Like The Escapists proper, every in-game day follows a routine. Wake up, attend the morning head count, eat three meals, and do the chores. Carrying out these duties exhibits actual benefits. Joining Rick’s friends and family for breakfast, washing dirty clothes, and so on raises the gang’s morale, thereby reducing potential walker attacks.
I detest the side quests because they disrupted my routine. In between chow time and chores, players relegate their free time to other activities. You could scavenge for supplies and arm your fellow survivors. You can hit the gym to enhance Rick’s strength and speed, or play games and read books to boost his intellect. Why I would waste precious hours running halfway across the camp to deliver a bar of soap? Managing my duties while preparing for the worst is a balancing act I otherwise loved. Repping out bench presses yielded extra health – an asset for zombie encounters – yet I still made time to attend communal dinners.
Is this daily routine stuff the reason people love Animal Crossing? I admit, I found the endeavor relaxing, though The Walking Dead universe never allows its inhabitants to get complacent. The Escapists: The Walking Dead is more story centric than The Escapists, detailing pixel Rick’s harrowing hospital breakout, the horrors at Alexandria, and the events in between. As someone that applauds The Walking Dead comic books for their gratuitous illustrations, however, retro visuals deprive viewers of the shock factor. The Escapists: The Walking Dead’s story also skips over character deaths, many of which impacted me when I first witnessed them.
The story also costs The Escapists: The Walking Dead in terms of The Escapists’ original vision. In the latter, your overarching goal – to escape prison – never changed. How you got out did. In The Escapists: The Walking Dead, Team17’s developers lay out the primary objectives one at a time. At the Meriwether Correctional Facility, for example, players must find a generator, locate body armor, and then siphon gas to power the compound. The strict adherence to the subject matter leaves me conflicted. I respect Team17 for sticking to the canon, and yet the game lacks deviation. You always build a makeshift ladder to reach the generator; you cannot knock down walls like you can elsewhere.
Well, you can bust up walls and ventilation shafts, but not into important rooms. The Escapists: The Walking Dead enables you to craft the path of least resistance. I chiseled through concrete when breaching locked areas or avoiding enemies. While I had other options, like hunting for colored keys, forging stronger weapons, or initiating distractions, I kept playthroughs convenient for me. The Escapists: The Walking Dead allows players to explore and fulfill missions according to their schedules. You could shirk your responsibilities if you really want to collect the hidden comics, or pull an all-nighter while everyone sleeps to eradicate the undead from your base.
The Escapists: The Walking Dead overflows with minor details that streamline the experience. Showing up for a meeting at the crack of dawn sounds wearisome, until you realize you aren’t required to stand at attention for the hour. The same approach applies to breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Provided players step into the general area in which these activities occur, Rick can rest easy knowing the infected menace won’t grow stronger. I cherish such forward thinking – even more than Team17 highlighting lockers, desks, and backpacks to decrease confusion when stripping buildings of their valuables.
The developers almost get the crafting system right, too – another holdover from The Escapists. Rick’s resourcefulness helps him construct higher quality tools or deadlier zombie repellent, so long as he has the intellect to match. A nail bat cleaves through undead hordes, just as sturdier wire cutters sheer through air vents and grates. The idea, I approve. The notion maintains The Walking Dead’s scavenger motif, but not the execution. You can build modified firearms from sunup to sundown, if you recall the recipes. The Escapists: The Walking Dead scatters crafting notes about your base, and Rick’s journal records each one. For the rest of his ramshackle arsenal, gamers need to experiment and jot down the formulas themselves.
Is it the ’90s again? Between the 8-bit graphics and taking notes, I can’t say, but The Escapists: The Walking Dead held my attention for the long afternoon it lasted. I suspect Animal Crossing enthusiasts derive the same pleasure from a structured routine, and at least Team17 treats The Walking Dead franchise better than half its licensees. I stopped “borrowing” belongings from people, too, after seeing Tyreese stash a cooked meatloaf in his desk. You stumped me, The Escapists: The Walking Dead. Bravo.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided.
The Escapists: The Walking Dead brings a normalcy to the franchise, with methodical routines and chances to explore, better yourself, or help others at will.