Everyone knows they fall into one of two categories when it comes to how they'd do in a zombie apocalypse. It's either 'torn apart within minutes' or 'grizzled survivor wiping blood from a pair of scissors surrounded by corpses'. The Walking Dead Saints and Sinners - Chapter 2: Retribution is a pretty good way of finding out which one you'd be.
Saints and Sinners 2's VR survival (currently on Quest 2 now and out on PC (opens in new tab) in Feb) lets you physically deal with zombies in a full body kind of way as you grab for weapons holstered at your side, or reach over your shoulder to rifle through a backpack full of things like bandages you have to wrap around your arm to use. It's the movement of how all that works, and uses your actual hands, that makes this feel almost simulation-like at times - it's one thing to tap buttons and point a cursor at enemies to deal with problems, but it's another thing entirely to reach for a knife and then try and stab a shuffling zombie in the head.
If you haven't played the original game, then this follows on its theme of working with different survivor factions, in semi open-world levels. It's all about making moment to moment choices about where to go and how to handle situations, as well as making decisions that can change who's on your side. Chances are, when you first start playing, you'll follow the sort of flail and hope system that comes with having a rotting corpse in your face and regretting all the decisions that lead to that point. It's easy to panic when you get a skull-faced zombie reaching out for you, all gnashing teeth and finger bones, for the first time. Just like the first to die in any movie or TV show where exactly this sort of thing happens.
However, over time, and with the benefits of checkpoints real life would never afford you, the flapping and unheroic noises eventually develop into a cool and methodical process - reach, grab, stab. A single zombie here and there suddenly becomes no big deal. They're slow, they do nothing when you firmly take hold of their head, and a thrust of your knife into the side of their skull makes all your problems go away. With enough space and time, you realize you can deal with anything.
But this is the point where the real test starts: killing one zombie is easy, but how good are you at checking all the corners and keeping eyes in the back of your head? Did you make sure all your gear is in good condition and you've got enough of everything before you set out on a mission? The number one way Saints and Sinners 2 kills you is by just not paying attention. You might charge forward to take out a single zombie, not realizing there's more tucked away just out of sight, for example. It doesn't matter how much you've practiced that reach, grab, and stab, you can be flailing again in seconds if you're caught unawares and overwhelmed.
Being ultra sure you've checked for all potential threats is especially important when you enter a house or building. It's one thing to run screaming from a zombie in the street, but once inside you need to be super alert to avoid getting caught out in restrictive spaces. You can't just yank open a door to a room full of zombies while you're standing in a narrow corridor.
Prepare for anything
It's this sense of preparing and thinking ahead that really dials into the survival simulator aspect. You very rarely die because of anything a zombie did, you die because you made a stupid choice and you rarely see a 'game over' screen without thinking "Yep, that's totally on me". Did you bring a spare knife with you in case the one you have breaks? Did you even check the durability of your gear before you set out for a mission? Have you somehow dropped your gun or bow in a panic and only just realized when it was the only thing that could save you?
Something this sequel adds that really ups this test of your survival skills is a new ability to head out at night. In the previous game the dark was bad - one level saw you creeping through a pitch black sports hall, divided up by hospital screens and refugee style bedding. It's hands down one of the most terrifying things I've ever played, but you were never actually allowed out at night time itself before. This sequel lets you do just that, and can see you crawling through the dark as 10+ zombies shuffle around you.
Their rotting eyes can barely see in the gloom unless you have a torch on, and you can mostly crawl right past them otherwise, but it's an incredibly high stakes test of your nerve - one slip up or noise can see you trying to deal with a mini-horde. Flares can distract them, and new weapons like an SMG can help you take out larger numbers, but it's a challenge to see how well you can keep your cool under that sort of pressure.
Ultimately, if Saints and Sinners 2 is to be believed as a zombie apocalypse survival training simulator, all you have to do to stay alive is keep calm no matter what goes wrong, and be prepared for every eventuality, all the time. Which… probably explains why so many people die in the TV shows and movies. There's always something that eventually catches you out, or your luck takes a bad turn no matter how carefully you approach a situation. If trying to survive here has taught me anything, it's that keeping a cool head is more important than any gear or weapon. But, at the same time, even that will only get you so far if a door unexpectedly splinters open and fills the room with zombies.
The Walking Dead Saints and Sinners - Chapter 2: Retribution is out now on Quest 2 and is set to release on PC in February 2023 and PS4 and PS5 March 21, 2023.