[Review] The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land – More Walkers and Tough Calls

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I’ve been meaning to binge on The Walking Dead for years now, but started with Season 6 instead, gobbling up the previous seasons in between the latest episodes. I know, it’s a blasphemy for the hardcore fans of the show, but it resembles the Falling Skies too much to take it seriously. The reason I ended up watching TWD (besides of getting hooked on Fear The Walking Dead) is the avalanche of the zombie games based on, off and around the show, so I thought one’s gotta know the source material.

AMC have found a milking cow and intend to capitalize on it until the world is full. Will it happen when the millennials start putting their babies to cradles with the plush walkers instead of Teddy Bears? Maybe, but I am beginning to doubt it. The Walking Dead No Man’s Land continues to propagate the zombie obsession and does a pretty good job of it. Variety reports the game has generated well over a million downloads during its first three days only. And that on iOS alone, because the Android version is still in Beta and requires the users to pre-register.

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The knack of it

The reason I mentioned my concern over the zombination of the market is because it did not stop me from liking No Man’s Land. It’s a typical, yet solid turn-based strategy that does what any TV show fan wants to see in a movie tie-in – it brings the atmosphere of the show into the gameplay, alongside one or two popular characters.

In this case, the game feeds you with a rare glimpse at the painted image of Norman Reedus, the Daryl Dixon of TWD. He is the tutor who explains how things work in this game and guides you through the initial missions and the camp set up process. Then he takes off and leaves you in the clouds of dust because you know, you can’t have too much of the good thing. The rest of the characters are randomly generated, so they are no one you know. Anne, Carlos, Matthias could as well be Jack and Jill because they are difficult to memorize and empathize with. I see it as a major flaw, but will get back to it a bit later. You’ll see why. Other than the characters, TWD No Man’s Land has you playing in the familiar TWD locations like the Prison and Terminus, and the events are seemingly connected with the show’s events, especially the season 6. Finally, in terms of that peculiar walking dead atmosphere, the sound score is perfect, although that dramatic violin tune in the camp does get a bit annoying if you spend too much time planting tomatoes.

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Gameplay

TWD No Man’s Land is a classic turn-based strategy with the RPG elements. You have a base, your safe haven where you get to build the typical structures like the council responsible for the overall welfare of the population, the tomato planting farm plot responsible for your population’s food supplies, the hospital unit, the warehouse, the training ground, the tents, the workshop and the like. Every structure serves a purpose, can be upgraded, expanded and improved. It’s all pretty straightforward and intuitive even to a beginner, not to mention a seasoned player.

When you are not in camp training your people, improving their ammo or harvesting tomatoes, you are out scouting the areas, which is advancing in the story missions. The game comes with ten Episodes, each consisting of some seven missions. Here, everything is familiar, too. Each mission requires a team of 2-3 fighters of a specific level. You can have only one character of that level and the rest can be lower to enter the mission, it’s just going to be harder because the required level means the walkers would be tougher to kill.

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The missions are played out on a grid in a turn-based manner. When it’s your turn to move, tap on any character and move it. There are three things you can do with a move – slay a walker, fully or partially, sometimes stun. This attack takes the full move, which is 2 parts. You can also move using only 1 part of the move. When you do, you can only move a short distance, but if the walker attacks you, you can fight back using that 1 part leftover. The third thing you can do with the move is get to the interactive object, like a crate, a box, or a car, and open it, or move it, you get the idea. Sometimes, there would be survivors locked inside. Other times, there would be more walkers, or loot. In the latter case, you are lucky. One way or another, each mission has a strictly defined number of objectives you have to complete.

The controls are responsive, but I find the lack of the Undo button a flaw. It does not happen too often, but sometimes I’d move a character to the wrong spot by mistake just because I take off my finger too soon off the screen, and instead of attacking a fighter would move to the side of the walker.

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At the bottom of the screen, there is a countdown timer which shows the number of turns till the next wave of the walkers comes. Often times, you get outnumbered and fighting is hopeless. Luckily, the main objective is not to kill all the walkers in a mission, but to collect all the loot and run to your life. There is also a “flee” button, but be careful when using it because you might lose some of your men stuck in a battle. The death in No Man’s Land is permanent. There are also the Guilds and the guild events, but the story missions are the gist of the gameplay.

The Hospital deserves a mention because whenever your heroes get wounded they end up queued, waiting to get the medical care. Each patient takes anything from 20 minutes to several hours to heal, and by default you can heal only one survivor at a time. Expanding costs gold. Sometimes, paying 8 bricks to heal them all is more of an option than expanding the number of available beds in the hospital.

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Characters

Characters deserve a standalone paragraph in the review. First of all because they are of six different classes. You do not get to have them all as you start, however. Dubbed as survivors, the characters can be of the following classes:

  • Assault – wield automatic weapons and are good against the crowds of the walkers;
  • Brawler/Bruiser – wield blunt weapons like baseball bats, and are also good at taking out big walkers or stunning them;
  • Hunter – wield rifles and are perfect for long-range combat, but the shots attract more walkers;
  • Scout – wield knives and are good at sneaking past the walkers and scout for loot;
  • Shooter – wield pistols, aim well;
  • Warrior – wield swords, can take out several walkers.

Now, each survivor has several stats you can upgrade. The main weapon and ammo are upgraded in the warehouse; the character’s skills in the training ground. The different classes have different skills and strength. Every piece of gear you find and every survivor comes with a star that represents its rarity. The more stars, the rarer the survivor or the gear. You can also tell the item by its color – gray is for common 1-star; beige is for uncommon 2-star; green is for rare 3-star; blue is for epic 4-star; gold is for legendary 5-star items or survivors. This grade also defines how many times you can upgrade the item or the character.

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One of the reasons the characters are central to the gameplay is because No Man’s Land got one critical aspect of TWD wrong, in my humble opinion. Staying alive in the middle of the zombocalypse is not just about the loot and fighting, it’s about the team in the first place. The main goal of Rick’s team is to protect every member of the team. They invite people, even though it was not always like that, but a human evolves and Rick finally saw the survivors need to stick together. Sending a weak or wounded away to be torn apart by the walkers is counter to what means “staying human.” And yet, this is exactly what this game forces you to do every time you get a new survivor. The thing is the number of survivor slots is limited and it’s expensive to buy. By the time you level up to lvl 2 or 3, you understand what it means.

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There are radios that sometimes come as loot from the missions. You use them to find new survivors. Sometimes, you find new survivors during the missions. What happens next, if your slots are all filled, is you have to choose who stays in your camp and who “retires.” What on earth does “retire” mean under the circumstance? Some survivors look like homeless dogs, dirty and wounded, and provided they come with 1 star and poor health the player has to reject them to keep the stronger ones. Some might suggest this is the harsh reality of surviving, but it’s not the way I see it. This is called promoting indifference through gaming, and I hate it.

Another little thingie I dislike about managing the characters is how the Workshop has their ammo listed with their names instead of pictures. I never remember people’s names, but remember their faces, so I have to go back to the Characters tab, check whose ammo I want to upgrade and then go back to the Workshop to choose the correct item.

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Not having a single familiar face among your survivors does not make it much easier to have the favorites to empathize with. If you want to have something familiar, though, you can dress the characters in the outfits of the TWD characters for a special price, of course. The prices are ridiculously high, and come in gold. There is no way I am going to spend 500 gold bricks on a pink blouse. No, thank you.

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You unlock a survivor class by playing the episodes, and each episode unlocks one or several classes.

Last, but not least comes the tactical use of each character, and this is something you will have to learn the hard way. Brawlers may look big and strong, wielding those metal tubes or bloody baseball bats, but knife-wielding scouts deal more damage. Hunters might be awesome at taking out several walkers aligned for a single shot, but the noise of it will attract more walkers. These special skills combined with the ways you can use your moves create a wonderful playground for the tactical geniuses.

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IAPs

At the end of each mission you get to unlock three chests, provided you completed the three goals of a mission. You get to choose them from the 9 closed chests, and sometimes they have the good weapons and ammo. When you have opened the three, the game offers you to watch a video ad and unlock three more chests. If you want to unlock the remaining three you will have to pay 25 gold bricks, which I would not recommend.

There is a Cinema hall on the World Map, and you can watch more ads in exchange for more chests. The rewards are always random, so you can’t really count on finding what you need at any given moment, but it’s still a nice way to mine for loot.

The game has several in-game currencies – tomato cans, XP points, gold and gas. You have a car, which “generates gas,” and the more gas canisters you need the more you will have to upgrade your car. Each mission consumes a different number of gas canisters, but during the initial two or three episodes you should do fine with the default car.

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The tents in the camp generate XP, which is like money in the game you use to pay for upgrades and training. The farm plots generate the tomato cans you need to buy upgrades for the buildings and clearing out the junk from the territory of the camp. Gold is the hard currency of the game, and it’s unavoidably hard to come by. The game gives you a certain amount for free as you start playing, as well as grants you several bricks every time you complete the items on the Achievements list.

Sometimes, when you need to upgrade a structure or train, or heal a character fast, and you are short of the other required currencies, you can buy the missing amount for gold. Sometimes, the gold drops from the crates at the end of the missions.

I have not bumped into the paywall just yet, and provided the non-paying players are generating loads of revenue for the developer by watching the video ads, I am not too anxious to buy any packs via the IAPs. The latter come in a great variety, including the special daily offers, and cost anything from $4.99 to $99.99.

Every once in a while, the walkers would appear at the fence of your camp. You can tap to shoot them, and they drop minor loot like food and XP points.

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Performance

Considering the mass of the game and its young age, No Man’s Land performs quite well. It froze on me a couple of times after the missions completion, but as I restarted it the progress was saved.

Design

The Walking Dead No Man’s Land looks polished, detailed and true to the original show. My only complaint with the design is the characters. I understand they have to be dirty and dressed like homeless, but do they have to be ugly? Some look nice, but I am struggling to like the rest.

I appreciate how the fighting scenes aren’t explicitly gory, and yet they provide the necessary element of action in the overall static game of turn-based strategy. As I mentioned, the music is atmospheric, especially the theme from the episode missions – tense and unnerving. I find myself holding my breath until the mission is complete, an effect I attribute to the music and the atmosphere.

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The Good

  • Solid strategy gameplay with plenty of RPG micromanagement
  • Good graphics, atmospheric sound score
  • Decent performance
  • Intuitive and well thought-through navigation
  • Accessible, yet has a learning curve
  • Must-have for any TWD fan

The Bad

  • Quite typical in every aspect
  • Rejecting or retiring survivors is amoral, and yet this game makes it a routine task

TWD No Man's Land (1)The Walking Dead No Man’s Land

  • Developer: Next Games Oy
  • Genre: Strategy
  • Download from Google Play
  • Download from iTunes
  • Price: free-to-play
  • wiki

The Verdict

The Walking Dead No Man’s Land is a worthy free-to-play tie-in for the show, and a decent turn-based strategy and RPG in itself. It does not bring anything new to the table, but it looks good, it plays smoothly, it’s catchy, accessible and addicting as hell. The only thing I really dislike about it is rejecting and retiring the survivors (alongside the design of their unattractive faces). It’s kind of… anti-human and conflicts with the game’s description that goes like “stay human and survive.”

Share your impressions about the game in the comments below and let us know what’s your strategy for staying alive!

Upd. For the convenience of my own experience, I’ve decided that the retired team members stay in the camp and walk around. As for the rejected people found via the radios, they die.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Gameplay
Controls
Design
Replay Value
Difficulty
IAPs
Performance