The Walking Dead was never shy about the humans, not the undead “walkers,” being the real threat. “Fight the dead. Fear the living.” has been its tagline for years. While the dead are dangerous, they are also predictable, slow, and easily distracted. It’s people, like the creepy Governor, the sadistic Negan, or the feral Alpha, who posed the greatest threats to those seeking to rebuild a functional society in the story’s post-apocalyptic setting. In The Walking Dead Betrayal, that theme once more runs deep, only this time it’s your turn to ruin lives, claim power, and feed your friends to the undead hordes.
I recently got to play an early preview of the game ahead of the upcoming PC beta, and I left feeling like I’d only scratched the surface of how different the game can feel round to round, and how wicked its traitors may become.
The Walking Dead Betrayal (TWDB) is a social deception and deduction game, which immediately elicits imagery of Among Us, the breakout hit and poster child for the genre. But the team behind TWDB, Other Ocean Interactive, is well-versed in this space, too. Having created the popular Project Winter, the studio is partnering with creator of The Walking Dead Robert Kirkman’s publishing label, Skybound, to reimagine and build upon systems Project Winter fans will find familiar.
Like Project Winter, a round of five to eight players will load into an open-world map and be tasked with scavenging for supplies to eventually plan their escape–in this case by building a wagon to leave on–all while battling the elements. Whereas in Project Winter, those elements were usually weather-related, in TWDB they are more often zombie-related. Smaller groups of zombies are found all over the world, and making too much noise can invite larger hordes. After 30 minutes, the figurative dam breaks and the survivors lose, as they’ll be overrun by zombies. There are also hail storms, perhaps among other kinds of inclement weather, and players will need to manage their hunger by cooking foraged items like berries and mushrooms, as well as craft weapons past basic spears available early on.
Each player is tasked with a role to begin a match, such as a guardian, whose job it is to protect a specific player (and receive healing buffs in exchange for their efforts), or tailors who can wear skin suits a la the Whisperers in the comics. Naturally, the centerpiece to the roles system is the traitor, the person or two people whose job it is to prevent the group from succeeding by sabotaging supplies, killing allies, or letting more walkers into safe zones.
The brilliance of these roles is made apparent very quickly, as each of them includes ways to be misconstrued. For example, the aforementioned tailor is the only allied class that can wear skin suits, but so can the traitors, leaving friends suspicious. Similarly, is a player truly a guardian, or are they just looking for an excuse to get someone alone somewhere so they can off them? Every one of the game’s many roles comes with these dreaded asterisks to be mindful of, not to mention players need not share their roles with the group at all, so there’s no way to verify what someone says is true other than an honor system.
In my hands-on time, I assumed there would be safety in numbers, so I was glad to see most of the group stuck together. But the buddy system soon failed us, as someone had sneakily poisoned a dead drop box, meant to allow items to be picked up at any dead drop location across the map, in a crowded headquarters. We were all right there. How did they get away with it? Why didn’t anyone see it happen?
Suddenly, we were trapped in close-quarters with someone who was out to get us but no positive ID on the suspect. Like when Alpha hides in plain sight at the Kingdom’s fair in the comics, we had no idea just how close we were to mortal danger. It was awesome and nerve-racking at once, feeling like a horror game even through the boisterous proximity-based chatter of the lobby.
To me, that became the moment when the game clicked, and it’s what I’ll be thinking about until I can play more myself and create new stories, sometimes even as the villain myself. I love how the world still largely feels like Project Winter but adds more combat in the form of walker herds. And even in a limited sample, it’s clear that rounds will reliably play out differently, as the assignment of roles, some map elements, and the strategies of different groups bring so many variables to each new attempt to escape the walking dead.
Eventually, I died when I accidentally threw my weapon into a horde, then had no way to fight them off–a rookie mistake. But unlike those unfortunate folks in the comics, I’ll live to try again. The nice thing is when you die, you become invisible to the survivors but can inhabit the body of any walker multiple times over, allowing you to keep participating in the round and maybe even exact your revenge.
With tons of cosmetics made to resemble characters from the comics, this also feels like more than just Project Winter with a zombie makeover. I was able to make my character look just like Michonne, which brought me closer to her right away, and I saw other options for characters like Rick, Negan, and maybe even something close to Daryl’s biker vest despite him being made for the TV show exclusively.
This is a series full of memorable characters, and I’m excited to jump in and learn who I might become in the post-apocalypse. Will I be elected leader like Rick? Will I cowardly betray my friends like Gabriel, but perhaps live long enough to make amends? Or will I die early like Lori, becoming only a memory in the minds of those who live on? Maybe my fate is darker than any of those. Maybe I’m looking forward to donning Negan’s iconic jacket, unnerving smile, and penchant for brutality for myself.
The Walking Dead Betrayal is in development for PC, though if it’s like Project Winter, it may appear on other platforms later. While it has no launch date yet, you can request beta access on its Steam page. The beta runs from August 10-13, and participants will unlock the Riot Gear skin for the full game.
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