20 April, 2016
The short version: It’s FTL on Earth with zombies. That should excite you enough, but I’ll go into a bit more about why the game is amazing.
(Full disclosure: I worked on and am credited with some of the event design. I helped fix up the ending sequence in the game last week. You can see my name if you mouse over the corpses on the main game screen before starting a new game.)
Here are a few of the thing I think the game does very well:
Zombie games seem like they’re a dime a dozen these days. Many of those games just use zombies as a pop-up target, something to shoot at. Yet, the original zombie movies focused on the mindlessness and inevitability of the zombies as they shamble toward the hero. The stories, the sounds, and writing, and even the scenery makes this game feel like a real zombie movie. This isn’t a run-and-gun game where you’re mowing down hordes of zombies. Zombies are something to be dealt with with some thought and planning. I like that zombies aren’t just window dressing here.
As you might expect, the world isn’t full of treasure just waiting to be picked up. You’re lucky to find a good weapon, and after a while ammunition becomes a valuable commodity. Like most Roguelike games, things can feel a bit impossible at the beginning, but when you start a game and find a powerful weapon you feel nearly invincible. Of course, that hubris can be your undoing if you’re not careful.
You also have to manage your party member(s). Fatigue builds up as you travel and get involved in combat. Learning when to rest, when push on, and when you can safely grab some rest is an important skill in the game. Hunger builds over time and can hinder your other actions. Balancing all these resources keeps the game interesting.
The game applies the right amount of pressure as you play. It never feels too easy, and rarely feels entirely impossible. The limited resources help: as you get low on ammunition or food, you start having to take more risks that could cause trouble. And, as you progress, the number of enemies you have to fight increase in number. Two zombies in an initial fight balloon to 8 zombies later in the game.
As with most games of this type, expect to restart a lot. That means that sometimes it’s better to fail fast and start a new game rather than struggle along with a game not going your way only to meet an ignoble end when the zombies inevitably overwhelm you.
Want to know real tension? Camping in the later parts of the game can be nerve wracking. You see the growls getting louder as you rest. Do you rest a little longer, or try to wake up (which takes some time!) in order try to avoid getting overrun. Very exciting.
Every location on the map will give you an encounter. Most of these feel like moral decisions: do you help that person and spend some limited resources, or do you go your own way not wasting time for what could be a trap? Sometimes you’re rewarded for being a good person, other times people take advantage of you. Do you value survival, or do you value other people even at a cost to yourself? This is the ultimate in interesting decisions, and you make them every step of the way.
You also see this when you scavenge items in cities. You can go quickly and have less of a chance to get attacked by zombies, but you’ll get less items. And, your decisions have consequence; if you fail to gather ammo when you have the opportunity, you could run into trouble later. It sucks when you’re scavenging from a police stat because you desperately need bullets, but that 60% chance to attract zombies means you might have to fight a lot of them with almost no ammunition…. Best to stock up when you have enough ammo to handle a mob.
The real-time combat is really good. It gives you enough options and information to feel like you have some control, but there are enough variables that keep things exciting. There’s a lot of interesting decisions in when to stand and fight and when to move, how to distract zombies with one person while another takes them out, when to swap to melee weapons, and how to protect weak and vulnerable members of your group. The game starts out easy, but as you add more people and more zombies attack, things can get hairy. Luckily you can pause the action and take some time to consider your actions.
Seriously, this is a smooth combat system with very few hitches in it. It’s real fun to play, especially as every bullet counts most of the time.
A sense of humor
The writing really shines in this game. Most of the events are communicated through text with decisions to be made. One of the funniest ones so far is when you encounter a LARPer slaying zombies with a sword. You can help or you can avoid the possibly crazy person. The ending I chose made perfect sense.
But, it’s good to have a bit of levity in a game that otherwise focuses on a pretty grim setting. It helps vary the tempo a bit and keep the game from falling into a rut.
Some tips from my own playthrough
I didn’t see much of the finished game besides my own events, so I was able to approach the game with a fresh perspective. Let me share a few tips:
- As I said above, it pays to take more risks for more rewards at the beginning. A lucky break at the start can make the whole playthrough easier. And if you fail, well… you’ll just restart all that much faster.
- Ammo is important! Again, as I said, go get ammo before you need it in case you run into trouble. Having a variety of weapons means you can swap in battle easier to not run out of ammo entirely.
- Learn the advantages and disadvantages of each weapon type. Rifles are deadly at range, but too close and they’re useless. Pistols are better up close. Shotguns can stop enemies in their tracks, but have a much less chance of headshots.
- Swapping to a melee weapon when down to a single zombie left can help conserve ammo.
- Learn when to move and when to stay put. Hit and run tactics work great when you’re using a melee weapon.
- Good karma pays. Helping someone out will pay off down the road. I know, I wrote that part of the story. ;)
Anyway, go buy the game already! It’s 10% off for launch, so it’s an even better deal now.