I have to admit that at times, it is hard for me to get into a new game, even when the genre is right up my alley. It is a new world, with new lore, and new rules by which to abide and break. Perhaps, it is that there are so many games to play at the same time that this feeling can be overwhelming. On top of that, the top-down view makes it hard to relate to the characters, but I must say, that after playing the story for 10 minutes, I suddenly couldn’t get enough.
Graphics: Graphically, you have something of a basic make up. It isn’t too high end, and sometimes it is hard to identify objects, but there is something to be said for the top-down type game, and that is the animation. With each character representing some speed/strength trope, you get animations that have a nice WOW factor to them.
You have visceral actions, and some that seem acrobatic or…elegant. The animations have a nice little variety, but the wild ones may make you ask, “shouldn’t you be tired already?” However, I can roll with it due to the type of gameplay that is being provided and that will be expanded upon.
Audio: The audio in terms of the environment is good with immersion, at least for me. The creepy music is something reminiscent of Amnesia: Dark Descent, making the action type of game surprisingly creepier than I expected. While the environment sounds aren’t all that much, the sound bytes from the zombies add a nice chill factor that drives you to being a little more aware of your surroundings. After awhile though, those sounds get redundant. In the audio, there is a change of pace though. If you manage to get at least 3 zombies’ attention, there is a chance that the music picks up, and it sounds like “fight or run for your life” music.
In terms of voice acting, it is decent. Honestly as I was typing this, I had to go back and play the game just to “remember” if there were voices in the game or just texts for the quests. So, while appropriate, it didn’t make or break the game for me.
Gameplay: The real crux of this game. It is “arcadey” with a sense of survival mixed in, so it isn’t quite a fast paced hack-n-slash. You have your hunger, thirst, sleep, health, and stamina meters, which are managed by many items/places found in the game. It is a good blend of the two genres in a near seamless overlap. The controls are a bit unusual at first, but after the first hour, you should be able to put it together. You don’t quite rush into a fight all the time, but there are times where you frantically do everything you can to keep the Zoms at bay. As I mentioned earlier with the acrobatics, no person would keep up that energy level for extended periods of time. However, that would make for a boring top down variation of a game, no? So, I am willing to roll with this, because in the same way I enjoy action movies, I enjoy an action arcade game where the characters are unusually full or life and aggression despite their circumstances.
Now, there is the RPG element to the game. The characters you choose gain levels. They each have a tree with slight variations, so each has a specialty. You have four additional resets, which seems reasonable, since you can’t get everything in the tree. I understand that at maximum level, you are limited by four choices. (Strategy) I would recommend going down the exp bonus part of the trees until you hit the max level, then rearrange as you see fit.
Now what really makes this game stand out is the upgrading. There is such a satisfaction to building items in here, and there is such a variety. This is the best custom weapons upgrading system I have seen, at least in a zombie game, and no other games beyond the genre immediately come to mind. Sure, I could compare it to Minecraft’s logic in some sense, and the leap from one design based on a set of items to the next is hardly that. Apply a bone to an axe? You carved the bone and now it is a sharp bone. Bind two sharp bones together? Boomerang! Best of all, there isn’t this set of limits where you may only make an item one time. Sure, there are times that you may have a hard time finding objects, but pieces are never missing after a certain point in the game. Also, when it comes to story pieces, you can either create the item from scratch, or find it “conveniently” in the area you to which you progress. I have noticed that when you drop something, you can go back to that same part on the island, and the item is still there. Plants respawn of course, but there are limits, like jerry cans. Be sure to remember where you put metal objects. Zombies, plants, bones, and anything of organic nature typically respawns. Lots of zombies carry helmets and jackets, so those are abundant as well. Flint doesn’t respawn nearly as fast as plant materials. I can’t give a timer, but it seems at least 2-3x the wait time. Anyways, I recommend that you just wiki the rest, but I like the decisions behind the item respawns. It is a good balance.
There is an additional interesting feature in this game that came in one of the updates. While online, the game tracks other players like you and marks the map with their most recent deaths. It is a neat tool for marking really dangerous areas. Sometimes, just seeing an odd name on a tombstone adds a little humorous flavor to the tone of the game. Anyways, the overall gameplay package doesn’t leave you feeling like something is missing.
On the other hand, the save features are also under a bit of scrutiny in my eyes. The temporary save points are fantastic, usually saving before most big fights, or within every ten minutes, but you can find yourself running a game for over an hour, and if you don’t backtrack (which increases the risk of zombie respawn, hurting all of your work) to a save space, then that hour, and all those temporary saves are just gone. In one case, I lost an entire island (4 in the game), just because I couldn’t break into a certain save point, and had to leave my computer for an elongated period of time. Any back tracking to the original save point felt like it would have been another 15 minutes before I could get out. I never saw this in the game, but I thought those auto-save points would have been my starting point for the next load up, and I was wrong. So…WARNING: Remember to save at the sleep points. Those are the only permanent ones. Supposedly the means of boat/plane travels are also save points, but I am not risking it.
Edit: Diving deeper into the game, I realized an additional detail that bugs me: The food combinations. Some meat takes care of your hunger and health when cooked. Add mushrooms? The health add-on is gone, with no improvement to the hunger compensation. I can understand the switching values, but taking values of an object away is either arbitrary, or a mistake. It makes mushrooms in this game as absolutely useless. So, that is an example in a game that still needs fine tuning.
Co-Op or Time with Jerks: It is anaginggamer and I that have enjoyed the rounds with this. You don’t follow the original story in co-op, but you deal with your own island adventures together, and I like the take on it. The more capable your character becomes, he/she is still vulnerable, and not overpowered. In following that logic, when you play co-op with a friend, your character rolls over from single player to co-op with all the features you have earned. I have always liked that concept of keeping an earned character for other playthroughs, and this didn’t disappoint.
There is little to worry about with lag. It may have gotten in the way a few times, but nothing that I can really remember. There is a small limitation, and that is the set screen size. It is as if two local players are on the same television, so you can’t move separately on the island. Honestly though…I wouldn’t want to. Vulnerability is felt, especially at night, so while we do lack the classic scenario of “guard the camp and I will get firewood”, the need for back-to-back strategies, or “shining the light while I shoot” creates a strong need for tactics for what would otherwise be just a regular frantic shooter.
Story: So, the story hasn’t really stuck with me. You wake up on an island. You want to get off. You have to help NPC’s with their problems, and they will help you. It is the classic series of fetch quests, and honestly, the characters are quite forgettable, although the voice acting is reasonably appropriate (dark). I am close to completing the story, but because there is such an average story, with a few shocks (which I believe just revealed the limits of the engine itself, so…convenient). The reason why I believe it is a limit in the system is that there is no evidence of A.I. quest givers who move from place to place or defend themselves from zombies. The Z’s just ignore them. So, in a good (and bad) way, don’t expect any escort quests.
Also (not that it matters, but SPOILERS), there are a set of arbitrary quest givers. It is easy to tell what the side missions are because they are given by intelligent, albeit picky monkeys named Coco (or maybe its the same one, but on every island??? Where’s Coco’s boat? Maybe the last sucker built him one…or a plane…or copter…okay enough), who have specific eating/drinking needs. So, there are twelve of these quests. You get rewards for these, and while helpful, it still begs the question of why a monkey has these items. Seriously…incendiary ammo, which looks like nuts and bolts?
Final: In the end, you will get lots of entertainment value out of this. With it being 10 to 11 hours of gameplay on just the main story (with 1 of 3 characters) alone, plus the challenge mode and online co-op, you will get a lot of replay. Currently, it is $3.74 on Steam, so I must say, do not miss this. Those upgrades and those reasonably progressive weapons are addictive, and there is just such a satisfaction to having a newly built weapon and wailing on the hordes. On top of that, the developers continue to add to the game, and have DLC prepared, so you will find a lot of good hours with this game.