After a solid week of playing The Walking Dead: Our World, the new AR-optional mobile game set in the world of AMC’s The Walking Dead, I can solidly say that I would 100% survive the zombie apocalypse…but only if I was there with my friends.
While Our World can be played by oneself, it has a strong and unique emphasis on partnering with famous characters from the show and squadding up with strangers to take on the full force of a zombie-infested wasteland.
The premise of the game is simple, but the execution is not. On its face, The Walking Dead: Our World is an Ingress/Pokémon Go style game where a real-world map of a player’s surroundings is transformed into a post-apocalyptic landscape riddled with supply crates, walker encounters, and player-built shelters that serve as drop off points for survivors.
Unlike Pokémon Go, the game can easily be played staying in one place, as the draw distance for zombie encounters is relatively large, but the experience is heightened when one walks around the neighborhood and discovers undead infestations on the go.
The game’s combat is a simple first-person shooting experience, with selectable (and discoverable) guns and the highly recommended option of pairing off with (also discoverable) characters from The Walking Dead. This is where the augmented reality part of The Walking Dead: Our World comes in, and while it’s an interesting add from a technological standpoint… it’s also kind of useless. And maybe a big mistake.
To use the AR in combat encounters, players tap an “AR available” toggle and point their phones at the ground. If the conditions are right (and they often have to be perfect, with the AR failing more often than not), returning the phone to zombie-shootin’ position shows the player’s selected character companion superimposed in their real world surroundings, with walkers lurking a few IRL steps away.
It’s a neat trick, as the augmented reality allows players to walk up to and around their characters (who wouldn’t want to get up close and personal with Daryl?), but setting up the AR as a combat element has the unintended side effect of, no joke, making the game look like a mass shooting.
See, the issue with using AR in a first person shooter is that real people can walk into frame while players are mowing enemies down in the game. On a crowded city street it can be hard to tell the visual difference between the moving body of a zombie and some random guy on his lunch break.
The experience of using AR to aim and shoot at real people, even if they aren’t your targets, is disturbing on its face and does not pass the “what’s the worst thing someone can do with this technology” test that every developer should consider before releasing a product. Also, players can easily save and share their AR videos of shooting guns at real people on social media — a potential recipe for disaster.
The good news is that the negative implication of guns + AR is easily avoided by simply not using the augmented reality tool. I certainly don’t, and none of the players I’ve spoken to in my group do either. It’s completely superfluous to the game, which is otherwise enjoyable.
Unlike many other mobile games, The Walking Dead: Our World’s gameplay is dramatically enhanced by playing with a group. Joining an in-game group gives players access to greater rewards and allows them to participate in Challenge boards, which is one of the more interesting elements at play.
Challenge boards are a gridded set of in-game activities that groups can work toward completing. Each square on the grid is a separate activity — for example, one square can tell players to defeat 400 walkers by blowing them up with grenades, and each time a group member sends a zombie sky high their tally is added to the board.
If team members work together and coordinate in the in-game chat, they can strategize to fill the entire board with their individual tallies and unlock the lucrative rewards that come from finishing a single square or (even better) the entire grid.
Working toward group challenges adds variety to a day’s gameplay, which is necessary to keep players engaged when the premise and combat is fairly stationary. Some challenges require players to work with certain in-game characters (“Take down 50 Walkers with Michonne”) and others ask for kill counts earned with specific weapons or specific types of walkers (“Kill 300 Walkers with an Osprey Pistol” or “Kill 160 Armored/Slim/Heavy Walkers”).
Were it not for group challenges, players could simply play with their strongest weapon and hero and ignore the rest of their arsenal, but changing up the gameplay for the good of the group requires more strategy and planning in the walker encounters.
Played casually, The Walking Dead: Our World is a fun, lightly immersive game that uses Google Maps to let people imagine they’re a part of a ragtag crew of survivors in the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse. Its group elements extend the first person shooter baseline into a gun-swapping, team-building game that plays for longer than one might expect.
Thankfully, no one has notably abused the AR system yet, but that might be more because the AR is largely superfluous to what makes the game fun. The Walking Dead fans and non-watching mobile gamers alike might find something they like in the game, but for the most part it’s casual fun.
Now if you’ll excuse me, my group needs me to rescue some survivors and drop them off at the 14th street warehouse. It’s a perilous trip, but I’ll take it for the team.