Even though I don't play it anymore, I remember the first month of Pokemon Go fondly. My partner and I would go on walks in Golden Gate Park, stopping at places to fling virtual Pokeballs at virtual Pokemon. We met people too; complete strangers happily chatting about our catches and gym battles. It was communal, like the tight knit Ingress community long before it. And it spawned a revolution: a slew of mobile games chasing its success.
In the two years since, we've seen countless Pokemon Go clones, and none have been particularly memorable or good. There's a Garfield one, for some reason. There's a Ghostbusters one on the way, which in theory seems like it could work on some level. There's a Jurassic World one, where you help corral augmented dinosaurs like cattle. The latest to join the trend is a game that feels like it's coming a little late in its namesake's life cycle: The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead: Our World is the newest free-to-play AR-enabled game to come to iOS and Android. From the outset, it doesn't have a lot in common with Pokemon Go aside from AR and activities on a real world map. Its Google Maps-enabled landscape is familiar to any AR enabled games, as there are locations you can go to in the real world to accomplish tasks. In The Walking Dead: Our World, goals are primarily surrounded around finding stashes of goodies, accomplishing missions, and rescuing survivors. It's like Pokemon Go, but if you killed the Pokemon instead and also collected cards with other possible trainers on the side.
The Walking Dead: Our World also comes with a social aspect from the jump, contrary to the almost-two years it took for Pokemon Go to introduce a friends system and trading. In The Walking Dead: Our World, pals can group up for challenges and even chat over its in-game instant messaging system. There are characters and weapons to collect too from cards you receive when completing missions. So even though main character Rick is departing The Walking Dead television series next season, you can figuratively claim him in your game and keep him forever, or at least however long the game's servers lasts.
The Walking Dead: Our World is pretty much a collectible card game, contrary to most others in the AR genre. Cards net you new weapons and characters, with different tiers of rarity and abilities to be powered up. For fans of The Walking Dead, the characters will be familiar, though the most familiar seem to be of the higher tiers—such as Michonne, who I got after a mission and has a two star ranking.
In a trailer (embedded above), a goofy man frantically blasts AR zombies as they hover behind his friends, waiting patiently for a photo op. In the actual game, posing is more likely to lead to consequences in-game. Pokemon Go, a modern Pokemon Snap of sorts, lives and dies by its cute pictures for casual players. Even recently, I've walked past people on the street scooting down to flash a peace sign alongside an AR Pikachu for a quick pic. While there is a drive for those who maintain gyms and power through raids, when limited time dolled up Pikachus and other Pokemon appear on the map, one of the primary goals is to collect the unique monster just to take a cute photo with it.
The Walking Dead: Our World doesn't really offer joy in that aspect, which seems to be the prevailing trend of other lackluster AR games on smartphones as well. It makes the AR bit seem trivial, even if the GPS-focused exploring in The Walking Dead: Our World is its strongest asset. In general, the lack of a compelling reason to use AR is what's been plaguing most Pokemon Go-likes, as dinosaurs aren't excellent picture fodder, Garfield is Garfield, and not even Slimer will likely be enough to save Ghostbusters World. The Walking Dead: Our World's ghastly zombies and familiar characters don't really inspire excitement beyond the most loyal fans of the ongoing show and comics.
Pokemon Go, with the recent addition of a friends system and trading, feels like its reached its highest potential now. It's always offered a dream come true for fans: a Pokemon fantasy of being a trainer and embarking on the real-life quest of catching 'em all. Yet The Walking Dead: Our World proposes another fantasy: surviving a zombie apocalypse. There's not much actual surviving though, as activities are resigned to supply drops, helping survivors, and clearing out infestations. But it's still scratching some sort of itch in relation to survival. Gazing at its in-game map laid over my familiar neighborhood reminds me of playing State of Decay 2 earlier this year, sorting out what I needed to do to keep my community alive.
Even with the lack of a good use of AR, in just a few hours with The Walking Dead: Our World, I can already surmise that it's the strongest Pokemon Go-like game I've played in recent years. While its AR is a bit clunky in action and makes shooting zombies much tougher, it has a lot of variety compared to other AR games in the field with its worthwhile progression and community features. It's not a shameless knock off like so many others, and encourages players to get out and explore their towns or cities just as Pokemon Go does.
While it's doubtful that Pokemon Go will be toppled anytime soon—and Niantic's own AR game Ingress is still due for its big overhaul—The Walking Dead: Our World shows that there's still new avenues to explore in the niche genre, even if it's for a series with waning popularity. Pokemon Go may have grabbed the hearts of millions with a dream to be the very best, but The Walking Dead: Our World tickles a different fancy. The fantasy of being the hero of a zombie apocalypse, guns and badass Michonne in tow.