While the whole zombie apocalypse thing has become an escapist fantasy for our darkest desires—namely, killing humanoids in all manner of grisly and creative ways—Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead taught us it also involves a whole lot of monotony.
So it only makes sense that the world of The Walking Dead feels like such a natural fit when applied to a game originally about prison life—which also involves a tedious mix of routine and waiting. If you've played The Escapists—and I haven't—you'll find the foundation of this Walking Dead variant mostly the same: You spend each in-game day exploring, crafting, and making it just the tiniest bit closer to your goal, all while hoping your plans don't fall apart in some horrible way.
The Escapists: The Walking Dead (currenty available for the PC and Xbox One) sticks pretty close to the original comics with its handful of scenarios—well, as close as its sandboxy gameplay could possibly allow. Each level traps the familiar cast within a specific arc of the comic, and provides one major goal to work towards. The brief hospital level simply tasks Rick with escaping alive, while the Greene Family Farm requires the cast to suit themselves up to combat a locked barn full of zombies. As with the original Escapists, TWD works on a daily schedule, with certain obligations Rick has to perform in order to keep morale up: daily and nightly headcounts, group meals, and run-of-the-mill chores. The time between these obligations can be spent exploring, creating items, working out and playing games to boosts skills, or performing fetch quests for your fellow survivors to earn a few extra bucks. Figuring out which one of these activities to prioritize, though, is the key to success.
The Escapists: TWD actually reminds me a bit of the recent comedy/horror indie Lakeview Cabin Collection in that, above all, it rewards getting to know the particulars of a fairly small environment. Of course, TWD's levels contain many more possibilities, so expect to go through a few restarts before you feel confident with committing to a current run. Since crafting some of the more powerful weapons and tools involves working with multiple steps and limited inventory space, simply knowing where things are can give you a huge advantage. On fifth day of my second run, for instance, I discovered a shack on the map the sold a limited amount of weapons between midnight and six in the morning. I restarted, prioritized earning money from my fellow survivors, and found myself with some limited fire power to make some necessary combat a little easier early on.
This version of The Escapists kept me playing if only to find the best, most efficient way to clear its levels, so it's a shame the interface can tamper with the fun. Simply put, it's pretty bad: The menus are clumsy and unintuitive, and you'll often find Rick doing things you never intended him to do thanks to how many different actions single buttons perform. Pressing the "A" button recruits nearby survivors, but it also brings up their dialogue boxes if they have a quest for you. This raises a problem when you've taken on your max number of quests, but still want to recruit the quest-giver as a fellow zombie combatant—since you can't accept their task and make the dialogue box go away, pressing A will just make said box pop up again. I'm sure there's a way around this, but going to the game's "help" menu simply brought up a two-page sidebar reminding me to keep batteries in my controller and check my XBox Live connection if I can't access leaderboards. Uh, thanks?
These problems, though, aren't insurmountable, even if I'd love to see a revamped version of The Escapists: TWD with a completely overhauled UI. And while the experience may be a little too similar to the original version, if you're a newcomer like me with some affinity towards The Walking Dead comic, this meeting of two worlds is just novel enough to work. But be warned, it's an experience geared towards a very particular type of person. As someone who's been a professional writer for nearly fifteen years, my life is driven by tight deadlines, so triumphing over these anxiety causing monsters is intensely fulfilling. If you're looking for a light, Zombie-based distraction for October, though, The Escapists: The Walking Dead may be a little too fussy and meticulous for your tastes.