Reality Bytes: The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners - Chapter 2: Retribution is long on title, short on ideas
The Walking Dead: Saints And Sinners – Chapter 2: Retribution
starts by suggesting that you play the original game's tutorial. This is included as part of the experience, which, as we'll get to, says a lot about how this sequel has been designed.
In any case, I disregarded this advice. "I don't need an instruction manual for post-apocalyptic survival," I thought. I've rummaged through this particular abandoned house countless times, after all: In DayZ, in Dead Island, in State Of Decay, in Days Gone. I even reviewed the first Saints And Sinners back in February 2020. I know my way around a zombie's cranium better than anyone.
Which is what led to me standing on a corrugated iron bridge spanning a vehicle-strewn New Orleans street, surrounded by zombies with no weapon other than my own thick skull. See, I'd spotted a zombie shambling across the bridge, and stepped boldly forward planning to slip a shiv into its decaying lughole. When I reached for my left pocket, however, I discovered my makeshift knife was conspicuously absent. I spun around to see if I'd dropped it, only to find two more zombies approaching from behind, blocking any escape. Panicking now, I whipped out my pistol with impressive speed. So impressive, in fact, that I flung it all the way to the end of the street below me, leaving me helpless as the undead closed in for the kill.
I'll spare you the details of what happened next. But needless to say, Retribution is just as capable at producing the "Oh god oh shit oh fuck" moments its predecessor excelled at, thanks to zombie-filled sandboxes that are every bit as tactile and emergent as they were in the first game. As for what the sequel provides on top of that, that's a more difficult question to answer. The "Chapter 2" in Saints And Sinners' overlong title is not idly phrased. This is very much a continuation of the first game, in story, in mechanics, and even in environments.
The plot, for example, picks up right after the climactic events of the first game and the DLC, Aftershocks. The player character, known as the Tourist, awakens in a destroyed hotel room having fallen through the ceiling above, and must immediately make a dash for safety while walkers chase them through the building.
It's a strong introduction, pacey and entertaining, and makes you feel like you're in the aftermath of some terrible event. Once it's over, though, the Tourist goes right back to business as usual. The core loop of Retribution functions exactly as it did in the original. The game's progression is divided into days. At the start of each day, you venture from your safehouse located in a New Orleans cemetery into one of a dozen open-ended city districts. Here, you pick through buildings for supplies while fighting or evading shambling walkers and, occasionally, other survivors. On returning to base, you use scavenged supplies to craft new weapons and equipment before sleeping to progress to the next day. As the days go by, the number of supplies in the world dwindles, while the number of walkers increases.
This generated fantastic overarching tension in the original game, complementing the shorter-term terror of literally holding zombies at arm's length as you tried to pierce their braincases with a screwdriver. Retribution's direct approach to following up the original makes the power curve less satisfying, however. Your existing crafting stations all start at level 5, while your base has a lot of pre-crafted equipment lying around. This means you're relatively well kitted-out from the get-go, thus diminishing that long-term concern of whether you have enough supplies to do everything you need to.
There's also a more straightforward issue with Retribution, namely what you're actually getting for your thirty squids. There are a few new areas to explore, but most of the game's real estate will be familiar to tourists who explored the first Saints And Sinners. There are a few new weapons, including a handy sawn-off-shotgun, a micro-SMG, and an incredibly messy chainsaw. But again, most of your arsenal is unchanged. Even your hideout is the same as in the first game, although it has been expanded with a couple of new crafting stations and a much larger storage area.
There are also areas where Retribution removes features seen in the original. The course of the first game's plot, which saw your character searching for a legendary cache of supplies known as the Reserve, was directed in large part by player choices. Which of the two factions you aligned with, which characters you saved or betrayed, all these elements could be influenced by the player's decisions. By comparison, Chapter 2 picks one of these endings, declares it canon, then railroads the player along a story that sees them face consequences for decisions they may not have made in their initial playthrough.
As sequel-craft goes, then, Retribution brazenly sells you yards of old rope. That said, it is still good rope. Saints And Sinners is one of the best VR experiences around, and the sequel carries over much of that fundamental excellence. The opening mission, which sees players infiltrate a guarded radio station, encapsulates much of what makes Saints And Sinners great. Your objective can be approached in multiple ways, the environment riddled with multi-leveled pathways and secret passages reminiscent of a Dishonored mission. Your objectives and how they change across the mission cleverly ramp up the tension, and the whole thing ends in an extended gunfight which, depending on what your bring to that fight, could play out in countless different ways.
It's a shame Skydance Interactive haven't followed up Saints And Sinners with a more ambitious expansion of its ideas, but if you've played the original to death, Retribution offers some new areas to explore, and an interesting, if less player-directed, continuation of the story. I'd only recommend this for players who loved the original, however. If you haven't played Saints And Sinners or were ambivalent on it, Retribution is most definitely not for you.