By Sweep 39 Comments
I was pretty upset hearing about the myriad of complications that plagued Project Zomboid. Conceptually, it's the game that I always wanted - a zombie survival game with emphasis on long term survival. Project Zomboid is in many ways a much better thought out and feasible simulation of zompocalyptic Darwinism than the obvious alternatives. I'm not saying Left 4 Dead would have been a better game if Zoey was required to pop anti-depressants, but long term planning is something that the genre has taken great pains to avoid. The closest example of the mechanics which drive Project Zomboid are those of the Dead Rising franchise, where a series of countdown timers must be carefully managed. Hunting Zombrex was a frustration to many, though in terms of a gameplay mechanic it was hugely beneficial in creating a structured narrative - another welcome consideration, though a hefty inconvenience to those of us who just wanted to fuck shit up with a paddlesaw.
Which is why I was pretty stoked when the Project Zomboid Alpha was released last week.
Project Zomboid is in many ways a game of trial and error, though each error is delightfully instructive. The first time I started the game I found myself in a bedroom with my wife, who was bleeding profusely on the bed. I was instructed to search the house for painkillers and bedsheets, which I then crafted into bandages using a simple combine-to-craft interface. In the bedroom cupboard I also found a pillow. Placing all these items in my inventory, I carried them over to my wife and administered them. I wrapped her leg in the bandages, gave her some painkillers, then selected the pillow with the intention of making her more comfortable on the bed. But when I clicked on my wife, she suddenly begins pleading with me, then sobbing and apologising for "slowing me down". The realisation hit me: Instead of making her more comfortable I had unwittingly smothered her to death with the pillow.
Weirdly enough, this is not the first time that has happened to me.
My second playthrough was slightly better.
Instead of immediately killing my betrothed, I explored the rest of the house, as she requested, and looted some wooden planks, nails, and a hammer out of the shed - which I then used to barricade myself and my wife inside the house. As I was outside in the rain a small icon popped up. "Damp", it said: Your speed is slightly reduced. Remaining out in the rain turned the icon further red, until it said "Soaking". This made me more susceptible to illness, as well as reducing my vision and speed. "Oh" I thought absent-mindedly, "It's that sort of game". By "That sort of game" I mean "Fucking intense". There are meters for hunger, tiredness, exhaustion, fear and general health, as well as a breakdown of individual injuries on different areas of the body, all of which must be routinely checked and maintained. During my explorations I encountered many types pills including Beta-blockers and Anti-depressants, which implies a stupidly deep level of health and psychological management, too. There are dozens of items, many of which appear useless but no doubt have some use within the crafting subtext, an area of the game I have barely begun to explore. This isn't minecraft, though; This crafting involves combining a pot, a can opener and a can of soup to get: a pot full of soup. Which you then have to put in the oven to cook. This is exactly what I did on my second playthrough, only 5 minutes into the game. Suddenly my wife calls me from upstairs - she has got the radio working! I dash up to her bedroom to listen to the static-ridden broadcast, but no sooner than it finishes my wife mumbles "Do you smell something burning?" and I panic, rushing back down the stairs. The kitchen is on fire. I left the soup in the oven and now the kitchen is on fire. I freeze, wondering what tools are at my disposal to deal with this problem. But it's too late, the fire is spreading - along the walls, the cabinets, the ceiling. I rush back upstairs to my wife, but I wasn't fast enough. She's on fire. Soon enough, so am I. We both die, engulfed in pixellated flames.
Back to square one.
The thing I love most about this game are the stories. During one playthough I was spotted through the window by a stranger with a shotgun. He ordered me to open the door or he would open fire. I told him to leave us alone, but he just laughed. When I ducked out of sight he yelled "I'm going to kill you, motherfucker!" before blundering off into the darkness. I never saw him again, though I could hear shotgun blasts echoing off the nearby buildings.
Another time I had ventured further out into town, turned a corner into a horde of zombies, and was forced to retreat and barricade myself into a hardware store. This was loaded with hammers, nails, saws and other practical tools, though lacked the one thing I really needed, which was food. I huddled against the far wall, baseball bat raised, watching the health of the door gradually drop as the zombies on the other side slowly battered it down.
There was another time when I drank a bottle of whiskey, passed out, only to wake up and find the building completely full of zombies - another when I got lost in the woods, surrounded by zack, and collapsed from exhaustion. I have been playing in small doses, each game rarely lasting more than about 20 minutes, but I'm finding each adventure desperately unique and dynamic. I think one of the most enjoyable aspects of this game was reading about the adventures of other players using the #projectzomboid hashtag on twitter.
But it's not all good.
Now, I should probably mention that this game is buggy as hell. There were times when the framerate would inexplicably plummet, others when the graphics would glitch out, and on several times the game just straight up imploded. It's an alpha, and it's very openly unfinished. It's also only available through Desura, which is what I like to think of as "Indie Steam". I don't mind having the client installed, but it's a bit of a pain having Steam and Desura and Origins all running at once. Seems slightly excessive. My most heavy beef with the game is that there is no save functionality - which means you must restart your survival attempt from the beginning each time you play. I don't mind so much, because it's kinda nice having a fresh story - but it's a pain having to abandon a game halfway through when you are doing really well and have a house fully stocked with food and weapons.
I think the real reason I enjoy Project Zomboid so much is because it's fucking hardcore. It will kill you, end your game on a whim, leave you stranded with no tutorials and no instructions as to what you are doing. The game expects you to figure a ridiculous amount of shit out for yourself. From the very start of the game you have complete freedom to all it's features, all it's mechanics, all areas of the map. It's brutal, and it expects you to fail. When the game begins you are introduced with the title screen:
THIS IS HOW YOU DIED...
Which is entirely appropriate, because you will die. A lot.
If that sounds like the sort of thing you would enjoy I urge you to check it out. One last thing to add before I end this blog, though; Project Zomboid has seen fucked-up levels of piracy and it's not even out of the alpha stage yet. If you in any way interested in playing this game for yourself then I know they would love and appreciate your support.
There. That was my good deed for the day. Now I'm going to go lock some innocent threads.
Thanks For Reading