The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners from Skydance Interactive keeps surprising me almost 15 hours into my playthrough. First of all, I didn’t think I’d enjoy it as much as I do. I don’t particularly like horror games and we’ve all played a million zombie games before. Plus I bailed on the TV show awhile ago. But here I am, reluctantly writing a review of a game I’d much rather be playing that writing about. If you want to know why I like it so much, keep reading. If not, just go buy the game and enjoy it for yourself.
Saints & Sinners is a simple game. You play as a stranger known as The Tourist, and you’ve just arrived at the iconic American city of New Orleans. Unfortunately, you’re not here to celebrate Mardi Gras and you won’t be collecting any beads. Instead, you’ll be scavenging the flooded streets for any and everything that isn’t nailed down all the while trying to avoid being eaten by the undead. The opening scene introduces an oldtimer named Henri who talks of a mythical cache of goods called The Reserve. I’m not going to spoil the story here, but suffice it to say, this reserve would be the Holy Grail to anyone who wanted to survive the apocalypse.
While the main story revolves around finding the Reserve, there are loads of side missions and the neverending search for junk that you can stuff in your backpack and take back to your “Resting Place” for crafting. Your resting place is an abandoned school bus surround by three crafting tables. At one table you can craft guns and ammo, another allows for food and medical supplies, while the last grants you melee weapons and crude explosives. Each table can also be upgraded witch allows for even better supplies. You’ll find plenty of food and weapons in the wild, but the food is rotten and the weapons are mostly junk. The items you craft here will be necessary for survival. And I can hardly explain how fun it is to wield some of these crafted weapons.
There is a lot to like with Saints & Sinners, but the crown jewel here is the combat. It features a physics-based system that is similar to Boneworks. It doesn’t take it quite as far as Boneworks, but what is here is a blast. The axes, crowbars, and nail-studded baseball bats require two hands as they realistically simulate the weight and feel beautiful. The screwdrivers, shivs, and knives are light and easy to wield but it takes practice to pierce a zombies skull, and that practice is both disgusting and awesome in equal measure. When I first started the game, I would stab at the zombies and the blade would usually glance off the skull or only go in halfway, which doesn’t kill the zombie, but only make them hangry. And then when I did finally drive the blade all of the way home, I could barely pull it out, and there is nothing like having your only weapon stuck in the head of a dead zombie when several more are shambling your way. Once I learned I could grab the walker by the hair, dispatching a single walker was disgustingly, brutally, easy. Now I have the swing speed, angle, and arch mastered, and I can one-handedly drive any blade at my disposal into the hard head of the undead and pull it out with a single smooth movement. This is both wonderfully satisfying and deeply concerning.
The katana, cleaver, and axe can sever arms and heads once you get the hang of it and that is a blast as well, but there is much more than melee combat here. Skydance cleverly dropped in a few undead curveballs at us in the form of infected zombies and zombies that died with different headgear on. If you are standing too close to an infected zombie when it dies it’s final death, you’ll get sick and end of coughing all over town, alerting gang members and zombies alike to your whereabouts. These zombies sport some yellow goo around their mouth and usually down the front of their shirt. If you don’t have your pistol or bow in your hand, you can grab their head and shove them back. This usually gives you enough time to pull a pistol from your holster or bow from your back and blast the offending zombie from a safe distance. The zombie wearing a helmet or mask means you have to be deadly precise with your stabbing weapons, or if you have a chopping weapon handy, you can simply cut its head – headgear and all – completely free from its body.
You’ll find a slew of pistols, shotguns, and various rifles around along with plans on how to craft your own. These all feature manual reloads that take some getting used to. The game launched with some slightly off pistol angles but those were fixed with a very early patch. Subsequent patches have added adjustable pistol angles to satisfy even the pickiest sharpshooter. The inventory system is as good as I’ve seen in VR. You can put pistols or stabbing weapons in your left and right holsters by simply releasing the grip button near those areas. Rifles, axes, bats, bows, etc. you can place over your right shoulder. Reaching over your left shoulder pulls out your backpack. If you see an old shoe, a twinkie, bottle of whiskey or a can soda, just reach for it and press the grab button. Now you can pull out your backpack and place it in one the empty spots or simply drop it over your left shoulder and it will automatically store if for you. It works great, but I have on many occasions dropped a favorite blade or pistol while reaching for an axe over my shoulder in the middle of a tense walker encounter. While that’s frustrating, it’s also very realistic. Plus, if it’s still the same day, I can go back and grab the missing weapon.
The gameplay is measured in days. Once you leave your resting place via a small boat called a skiff and arrive at one of eight neighborhoods, you’ll have about twenty minutes of game time to complete your mission and scavenge for as many goodies as you can cram in your pack. Technically you can stay out longer than twenty minutes, but that is when the town bells go off, which brings all of the zombies out to play. You may think you want that much smoke, but I assure you, you don’t. Killing one or two zombies is fairly easy, but each one takes up precious time and stamina, and in this unforgiving world you can’t afford to waste either of those. Your character smartly has his/her watch set for when the bells go off. You get a jingle at the halfway point and one more shortly before your time is up.
If you make it back alive to the safety of your camp, you can recycle all of your new items by dropping them one by one into a trash can. All of the random household items and foodstuffs break down into valuable ingredients such as sugar, protein, fiber, nuts and bolts, wood, sharp objects, pistol frames etc. Once you’re ready for a new mission, you simply take a shot of whiskey from your flask to fall asleep (seriously) and a new day will start. With each new day, the world sees reduced items to scavenge and more of the walking dead. It’s not as daunting as it sounds, but it does add some strategy. You don’t want to leave an area without a full pack and there is very little time for messing around. It keeps the game moving at a breakneck pace, which is a nice change from VR games that use pointless time-wasting to pad out game length.
Speaking of game length, you can see the credits roll at around 12 hours if you’re in a hurry. Mine took closer to 17 hours, but I played it cautiously. I’m not good a stealth play, but I do it anyway. I could have gone in guns blazing more often to make it faster, but I usually try to complete these things strategically. Plus I’ve never met a sidequest I didn’t like. Need your little brother rescued from a rival gang? I’m your guy. Do you need me to get word to your boyfriend that you don’t care who knows you’re gay as long as you two can spend the apocalypse together? No problem. The game is called Saints & Sinners for a reason, meaning I could play the game as an asshole if I wanted to, but I’m a terrible bad guy. My naivete got me mugged a couple of times, but I still tried to help whenever I could. But if you like to be a videogame dickhead, the option is here.
Despite being a remarkable success and a giant step forward for VR games, The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners isn’t perfect. It shipped without a physical crouch option. I quickly grew accustomed to clicking a button to crouch, but I always prefer to do that in real life when I can. Thankfully, they patched it in just a few days after launch. Now you can still use the button if you play seated, or if you just get tired of kneeling if real life but the option to physically kneel is there. And that’s what we really want isn’t it, options? I still use the button sometimes, but when I’m searching a row of kitchen cupboards in the dark with the dead just around the corner, it’s much more comfortable and immersive to lean over and do it myself. You know the game is good when the first negative has already been fixed right? The next negative is more of a missed opportunity. I love grabbing a zombie by the head, but it’s the only grab point they have. You can grab their arm but only after you chop it off. Also, why can’t I chop or blow off a leg and make them crawl after me?
The last negative for me is the NPC AI. They track me down pretty good and they are great shots when they are firing at me or the zombies, but when they are fighting each other, they just stand there firing. They look like leftovers from the revolutionary war when they don’t even try to get to cover. I sometimes hated that the weapons broke so quickly, but this is necessary to fully feature the surprisingly rich and addictive scavenging and crafting mechanic.
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is an unquestioned success and truly a huge step forward in VR gaming. The fact that I wasn’t expecting it to be much good makes it all even better. It’s disgustingly gruesome and intense, and despite this making me uncomfortable for large stretches of the game, I couldn’t stop playing it. The graphics are not the most realistic, and yet I couldn’t take my eyes off the many different zombies or the crumbling but still beautiful NOLA. This physics-based gameplay is the future of VR gaming and The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is the first great game to utilize it. The most exciting thing for me is that I feel it’s only scratching the surface.
The Walking Dead Saints & Sinners Oculus Review
Overall - Must Buy - 9.5/10
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners is a BRUTAL physics-based romp through the bayou that I won’t soon recover from. The looting, crafting, stealth, and combat all shine here making it easily one of the best VR games I’ve ever played. We always ask for more realism and Skydance Interactive listened. But the problem now is that I feel like I literally know what it feels like to jam a spoon into a zombie’s eye and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
- The best VR combat I’ve ever used
- Surprisingly deep and fun scavenging and crafting mechanic
- Interesting story with great writing and voice acting
- Moody music and sound effects add to the constant dread
- Deep campaign and polished gameplay kept me enthralled and looking forward to the coming Quest version
- Enemy AI is questionable
- The physical crouch mechanic they added after launch is still in beta but it seems to work ok
Reviewed using Oculus Quest
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January 23rdth – Oculus Rift, WMR, HTC Vive, Valve Index