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The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution review – bayou of the dead

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution review – bayou of the dead
The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution – could that name be any longer? (pic: Skydance Interactive)

GameCentral reviews one of the most ambitious PSVR2 games so far, with a sequel to the New Orleans based The Walking Dead : Saints & Sinners.

There have been many games based on The Walking Dead over the years but very few of them have managed to impress, with VR game Saints & Sinners being one of the rare exceptions. The original had an emphasis on crafting and survival, and its New Orleans setting provided some pretty backdrops, as the bayou’s swampy vegetation gradually reasserts control over the city – now that most humans are either dead or way past the point of cracking out a lawn strimmer.

Chapter 2 picks up precisely where the original left off. You’re still The Tourist, a mysterious stranger who leaves a trail of death and destruction in your wake, making your cemetery-based HQ quite apposite. You’ve also still got the same defunct school bus to hang out in, even if you now have slightly upgraded sleeping quarters in a nearby corner of the catacombs.

Gameplay, too, remains unchanged. There is a plot, involving helping a faction of the surviving humans raid another group, before reaping the whirlwind for your actions, but it’s wholly subordinate to your day-to-day machinations, which as before are exclusively orientated around exploration, scavenging and crafting.

New Orleans is a collection of small open worlds, connected by a fast travel network accessed via strategically positioned rafts. Disappointingly, a lot of the first game’s maps are simply reused, as are many of the weapons you can craft, as well as the zombies – sorry, walkers. Aside from the significant graphical upgrade – something you’ll notice if you played Chapter 2’s rushed, glitchy Meta Quest 2 release last year – you can now go raiding at night as well.

While that may not sound like the biggest change, it lends proceedings a completely different feel. Along with a spookier setting, assisted by the PlayStation VR2’s ability to make darkness look a lot blacker than its forebear was able to, you’ll find night times patrolled by far larger numbers of walkers and survivor militias. Since both are attracted by light and sound, you can usually start off being stealthy, but as soon as the first gunshot or zombie shriek pierces the silence, prepare for an onslaught.

To make up for the greater challenge, night scavenging is more lucrative, with some items now only available during the hours of darkness. It also makes using your torch’s UV setting more important, with secretly signposted goodies maximising your take. You’ll still occasionally need to give the thing a good shake when the light flickers out, though, which is a wholly realistic-feeling interaction.

There are plenty of those. Flares, which are a useful way of distracting zombie hordes in the dark, can be lit by smashing them on walls or flamboyantly shooting their fuses, and if you turn on your headset’s microphone you can shout to attract walkers’ attention, enticing them over for a good face stabbing. Human survivors can also be weaponised. Killing one without blowing their head clean off, will see them return moments later as a walker, sowing chaos in the ranks of defenders.

Whether or not you enjoy the combat is more personal. As before, you split your time between guns and using blades and spiked baseball bats to bludgeon zombie skulls, yanking your weapon from the gooey remains of their faces to take on the next monster in the queue. It’s an oddly mellow paced process, but also a highly repetitive and gory one. From that description alone you probably know how much or how little that’s likely to appeal.

There’s another surprise in store for long time VR players, used to the habit of sticking their virtual hands in the faces of interlocutors during even fairly brief conversations. Amusingly, Saints & Sinners characters notice this, cowering in fear and revulsion until you learn to keep your hands to yourself, tetchily returning to their exposition with a sighing, ‘As I was saying’.

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution – the combat is disappointingly basic (pic: Skydance Interactive)

This is also a VR title that gives you virtual arms rather than disembodied hands, although the experience of seeing them in action does go some way towards explaining why this isn’t such a common choice. Although the arms are joined to where your shoulders should be, they don’t perform much like arms in the real world, looking more like weird, semi-elasticated pool noodles, elongating alarmingly as your hands attach themselves to door handles or window ledges.

But realistic arms are not the reason you play Saints & Sinners. That’s the enjoyment of picking your way through the decaying ruins of the old world in search of materials to turn into better guns and body armour, and then using that weaponry to demolish endless, shambling processions of the undead. You can now use the hugely satisfying chainsaw, and craft sawn-off shotguns and sub-machineguns, but you put them to work in exactly the same way you did in the first instalment.

In the three years since Chapter 1 there’s been no apparent evolution. If you loved the original you’re in for a treat because this clocks in at a similar 15-ish hours. If, on the other hand, it left you cold, this suffers from the same issues, namely its focus on scavenging, the one note combat, and the relative lack of interesting story.

So it’s Saints & Sinners business as usual then, in a sequel that feels more like an especially fully formed piece of DLC than a proper follow-up; a prospect that will be a feature rather than a bug for fans of the original.

The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners - Chapter 2: Retribution review In Short: More up close and personal zombie slaying in post-apocalyptic New Orleans, retaining the original’s focus on exploration and crafting, and its relentlessly uninspiring combat.
Pros: The PlayStation VR2 version eliminates most of the glitches endured by Meta Quest users. A true open world that leaves you to pick your own battles. The physics of the violent engagements remains consistent.
Cons: The face stabbing zombie fights feel dull and repetitious, a lot of Chapter 1’s locations and weaponry are reused and there’s no real sense of the game itself having progressed, beyond some improved visuals.
Score: 6/10

Formats: PlayStation VR2 (reviewed), PC VR, PlayStation VR, Meta Quest 2, and PICO 4 Price: £32.99 Publisher: Skydance Interactive Developer: Skydance Interactive and Skybound Entertainment Release Date: 21st March 2023 Age Rating: 18

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