Welcome to Hell.

Saints and Sinners is a very dark game. Skydance Interactive’s grimy take on the Walking Dead might be based on the original comic books rather than AMC’s globally popular show, but it captures the look and feel of the tv series exceptionally well. It’s similarly bleak, depressing, and almost totally lacking any kind of hope. Nobody is to be trusted, and you’ll likely find yourself losing your own moral compass fairly early on as you seek to do whatever is necessary to survive.

I began the game determined to retain my sense of character and decency. I would help the weak, choose diplomacy over violence, and not compromise my higher values for short term gain. We all know that in the Walking Dead, the real monsters are the survivors, not the undead and I wasn’t going to descend to that.

A couple of hours into the game and I’m burying a crowbar into a man’s face because I need more nuts and bolts to build myself a shotgun. You see, I can take his revolver as scrap to complete the job. Nothing personal, my only other option was to venture into the warehouse across the road to look for junk, but I’ve already been here too long, and my watch is indicating that the bells will shortly sound, flooding the streets with walkers. I’m not a bad guy, I just need to live and his sacrifice has increased the chance of me surviving to see another day.

Premise

The game’s location is post-apocalyptic New Orleans. Extreme flooding has turned the city into a network of small island districts, navigable only by boat. You start from a safe base, a converted bus located inside a cemetery, and every day must venture out to explore and scavenge for supplies. There are two rival factions, both equally messed up in the head. The Tower is a faction intent on instilling a totalitarian regime of absolute control and order in which only those physically able to contribute are welcome. Their rivals the Reclaimed, are a psychopathic terror group wearing animal skulls as face masks and not opposed to a bit of torture and cannibalism. There are also some shadowy independent figures who you work for in exchange for information, but whose true motives you will question.

You play the role of ‘The tourist’, a nameless wanderer lured to New Orleans under the promise of discovering ‘The Reserve’, a mythical secret location stacked with enough supplies, medicine, food, and weapons to keep you safe and fed for a lifetime. Your partner dies at the outset of the game leaving you to hunt for clues to its location on your own.

I’ve seen some reviews say the storyline is rather derivative, but personally I’ve found it intriguing and on a par with the kind of plot lines you get from the tv show itself. I’ve been constantly eager to learn more, and venture deeper into the game’s mysteries.

Game Mechanics

The gameplay is extremely solid. Saints and Sinners is a survival game, and it’s most definitely not for kids. It’s extremely brutal, both visceral and difficult. Combat is intense and you will feel extremely vulnerable. One gunshot can kill you. If you get trapped and walkers surround you, you’ll probably be dead in seconds. This sense of fragility forces you to adopt a stealth approach, carefully planning your actions and ensuring you have enough firepower, bandages, and medicine to complete the mission.

Scavenging is not an optional extra but an essential game mechanic. If you don’t scavenge and make the most of every available resource, then you will die. In terms of crafting Saints and Sinners sits somewhere between Stormland (simplistic) and Subnautica (complex). You don’t need any specific rare ingredients to craft items like in Subnautica, but you will need basic materials for different jobs. All items can be scrapped for base material such as wood scraps, adhesives, sharp objects, workable metal, etc. The various weapons, ammo, food and medical supplies you need to build will each require a specific mixture of base ingredients, so you’ll want to scavenge accordingly, bringing back a variety of objects to use.

The payoff you get from this daily grind is well worth it. The weapons available to you in the game are excellent. I found the melee, sidearms and heavy-duty combat weapons all immensely satisfying to use. Guns require manual reloading, often one bullet at a time, so choosing when and where to engage is essential. You’ll need cover to be able to safely reload, an escape route for if you get overwhelmed, and enough ammo and medical supplies to cope with the damage. Factor in a stamina system and weapon durability and you have a game that is both unforgiving and strategically and tactically complex.

I found that I died often, especially early on. But practice and more care led to some satisfying firefights that gave me a larger sense of reward than I ever got in Stormland for example, where I felt pretty much invincible at times and could go into any situation with guns blazing.

I’ve not yet finished the game, currently about eight hours in. Skybound entertainment estimates around 15 hours to finish, and this doesn’t include the countless deaths and restarts, so you’ll definitely get your money’s worth in terms of content.

The overall game quality is extremely high, and in my estimation compares very well to the biggest recent releases like Stormland, Asgard’s Wrath and Boneworks. In fact, it might be my favorite of all of them.

Active fitness potential

(Ordinarily, when reviewing a fitness-focused game we use a specific template and playtest with a heart rate monitor. For fully-fledged games that might involve story development, puzzle-solving, exploration, and character conversations such an approach isn’t possible. So instead when reviewing mainstream game releases that have active components a more descriptive and generalized overview is appropriate.)

As great a game as Saints and Sinners is, it is a slow-paced title. Sporadic bursts of action usually occur only towards the culmination of each mission. This will be preceded by long periods of conversation dialogue, journal reading, map studying, exploration, scavenging, and lots and lots of grinding. As a story-driven adventure and survival horror title all of this combines to make for an excellent and atmospheric player experience but not an inherently active one. So I want to spend the rest of the review suggesting some ways to make this game more of a physical challenge, enabling you to burn calories and get some exercise whilst you play.

Stand up and physically crouch

In a somewhat curious design choice, the game released initially designed with seated players in mind. To crouch, you had to press a button, and attempting to physically crouch in real life forced the game into a 3 degree of freedom mode where the screen just moved with you. It was horrible. Thankfully a player backlash led to an immediate patch fix and now physical crouching is enabled and the game is a proper room-scale experience. So take advantage and stand up to play! When searching under kitchen sinks or picking up items from the floor, physically bend down and get on your knees and carry out the action for real!

Embody your character’s pace

Walking on the spot matching your characters in-game movement is an easy way to make the game more active, and can further immerse you into the experience. It might feel a little awkward at first but you’ll quickly get used to it and it soon becomes second nature. When you need to sprint in-game, fling your arms and lift your knees. You’ll soon get your heart pumping.

Wear a backpack

Create your own virtual reality backpack and scavenged junk accessory kit to use with Saints and Sinners. Genuine innovation from VRFI!

As a scavenger, your character wears a backpack at all times, which you can fill with all manner of items. I decided to emulate this by wearing one of my own, placing inside of it the kinds of things you find in-game. As you can see from my photo I filled my bag with some cans and a heavy hard-backed Bible. I also threw in an Xbox One controller and a 5kg weighted vest. Trust me, all of that added up and I really felt like I was a scavenger, laden down with supplies. It actually immersed me much more into the game, and the stamina system now made a lot more sense. I started to feel tired and breathless when running on the spot wearing it, and it actually increased my sense of panic at times, as I felt more encumbered and less maneuverable in the thick of the action. VR Enthusiasts pay decent money for gun accessories or lightsaber handles to recreate the feeling of carrying them for real. Well putting on a backpack will allow you to feel exactly like your virtual avatar. A fantastic free immersion boost and a hefty workout combined, boom! You’re welcome.

This even allows for progressive overloading, if you want to work harder than load up your backup with more stuff and you’ll really feel like each trek is a draining ordeal.

Suited and booted.

Create a heavy-duty melee build character

Wielding a baseball bat or an ax with two hands will certainly be more active than firing a gun. The game requires large motion swings to register stabbing attacks so you’re encouraged to really put some force into what you’re doing. It’s satisfying to break through boarded-up doorways by chopping through the planks of wood, and you’ll work out your arms and shoulders as well.

Optionally wear wrist weights

This is one tip I didn’t get to test as I don’t own wrist weights, but given that your character always has something in their hands, be it a weapon, food, journal or torch, wearing light wrist or forearm weights will mimic the load and help turn the game into a light strength workout.

Summary

Game rating 9/10

Fitness rating 7/10 (provided you wear a backpack!)

As a story-driven, action-adventure game Saints and Sinners is one of the very best I’ve played so far in virtual reality. It’s an essential title with a large amount of content. Thanks to the character’s role as a scavenger it’s easy to both make the game physically more challenging, and at the same time add to the game immersion by donning your own backpack, and fully embodying your avatar’s actions.

The Good

Laden with atmosphere and menace.

Outstanding combat.

Lots to explore and many secrets to unlock.

Panic inducing at times!

The Bad

The environments all look very similar.

Resource gathering and grinding for weapons isn’t enjoyable for everyone.

Panic inducing at times!

Walking Dead Saints and Sinners is out now for all PC VR headsets priced at $39.99 or £29.99 and is available on the Oculus Store and Steam. An Oculus Quest version will be released later in the year and will be cross-buy with Rift S if purchased from the Oculus store.


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