If The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution’s undead VR was basically exactly the same as the last game, just in a new location, I would be ecstatically happy. The 2020 debut just nailed that heart in the mouth apocalypse vibe, where careful preparation and awareness were your two greatest weapons. Because zombies don’t really kill you here.
What kills you are the choices you make – things like not checking an area properly and getting jumped, or panicking and running into a horde, or forgetting to make sure your weapons aren’t about to break. I mean, the zombies will kill you in the end but it’s always directly linked to something you did. I’ve lost count of how many times I died in the original game because I dropped my gun in the chaos, or reached for an empty arrow quiver, or just didn’t check a corner where loads of zombies were watching me obliviously creep up on a single enemy.
How many Walkers have you killed?
For that reason alone the original Saints and Sinners is one of my favorite games, period – VR or otherwise. Hence my excitement for the sequel. Although there’s a little worry too: where the original focused on stealth and care as you explored the semi open world; one where your choices and discoveries changed your playthrough, what I’ve seen of Retribution so far has been incredibly gun-heavy. It looks fun, but feels like quite a change.
Where guns were generally the last option before, because of how the noise brought zombies literally pouring out of the woodwork, Retribution gameplay is full of full-auto gunfire – mowing down zombies in hails of endless bullets. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’d really like to see how this consequence-free gun action plays out in the wider game. Part of what made the original work so well was a huge sense of exposed vulnerability, something that doesn’t come across while dual wielding SMGs to mow down crowds of Walkers.
Developer Skydance Interactive is still emphasizing freedom of choice, however, and the ability to pick between stealth and guns. So I’m hoping the demo is just being played to look cool. There’s certainly a lot of interesting things to get excited about from the rest of what’s been shown. There’s a far more front and center character driven focus this time, for example, after the last game did a lot of interactions via radios and notes.
Here you’ll meet more allies and enemies face to face. People like Sonny the Pawn King, who runs a trading location, and a drunkard called Father Carter who you meet as part of a side mission. Then there’s Garrick the Axeman, an armored villain that seems to be pursuing the player while channeling a 19th century serial killer talked about in the first installment’s lore. Frustratingly, Skydance deflected a lot of questions, especially whether Garrick functions as a Nemesis style enemy, but that appears to be his role. He debuts in the reveal trailer, talking of the “retribution” in the title, and seems far too significant to be a one and done boss.
How many people have you killed?
It does look like a lot of what the first game did is being fleshed out for Saints and Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution, or expanded in some interesting ways. There’s new crafting options and systems, for example, with new materials and resources to scavenge, and even new crafting benches (there were three before, for character upgrades, weapons and gear). There are new weapons like a submachine gun and sawn-off shotgun, a laser sight upgrade, as well as a very unsubtle chainsaw. Sonny’s Pawn Shop also acts as a new mission hub to hang out in while you update tasks and trade for supplies. No word, though, on if you’ll still be using the bus you called home as a base in the first game.
One of the biggest changes though has to be the option to go out at night. It used to be an absolute no-no, with a strict time limit to your days and an unstoppable zombie horde emerging to claim you if you stayed out too late. Now you can venture into the nighttime on purpose to tackle entire hordes, taking on a big risk in pursuit of bigger rewards. It looks horrifying, with swarms of undead lurching out of the darkness as you wave your flashlight around.
The dead react to light, making your torch as dangerous as it is useful, while items like flares can be used as distributions and lures. It’s a big deal considering one of the original game’s most stressful moments involved searching a boarded up gym hall in pitch darkness. That was a horrific peak for Chapter 1, and I can’t imagine what anything like that on a larger scale will be like.
As well as those changes, there appears to be some much more interesting variations to levels and ideas this time around. At one point, while you’re trying to break into a speakeasy for Father Carter, a switch which should power up a door you need also turns on a music system. Obviously noise is bad here, so that sees you rushing around the club shooting all the speakers to stop them attracting more zombies. It’s a clever little moment that’s more crafted and considered than the previous game, which focused more on situations than set pieces.
While I’m cautious of the action heavy gameplay and how it affects the sense of threat and danger, I’m still incredibly excited for The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution. The core gameplay of the original is hands down one of the best realizations of an open world zombie survival experience so far. One where basic decisions, like what weapons and supplies to take, or where to scavenge, have a real life or death weight to them (you always die because you pushed your luck. Always). While Skydance were terrible about answering any questions – queries about crafting, the Axeman or even basic gameplay were essentially deflected – I really hope this builds on the baseball bat waving, desperate terror of the original, because it could be something incredible if it does.