My last week steeped in gore, I offer up to you Project Zomboid. It is an isometric zombie survival RPG. These last words may not whet your appetite, especially with last month’s release of Dead Island and the (re)release of Resident Evil CODE: Veronica X. You can say the world is pretty much zombie’d out.
There are just so many things to love about this title, however; and considering that it’s still in alpha development gives cause for excitement. Not only for zombie aficionados, but also for fans of well crafted games in general, PZ is already a polished gem that is bound to have an uncanny luster by the time it’s considered a full fledged game.
For all the aficionados who are sold by the mere mention of zombies and a single lead image, you don’t have to wait biting your nails for an official release date. The alpha complete with ongoing updates is already available for the low price of $7.99 on Desura or Google Checkout (Steam is intended for the official release). So feel free to take on the zombie horde immediately. On the other hand, for those of you who are on the fence, here’s where my most recent hours went.
Standing Out Amongst The Horde
Project Zomboid is not trying to be unique. If you remember the original X-COM titles in the early nineties, you’ll see where PZ gets a good bit of gameplay inspiration. And, obviously, zombies have been done to (un)death. Traditional RPG elements like quests, crafting and good ‘ol role playing make the entire experience feel like a pair of shoe pulled out years after being stored in the closet. Yet, one cannot stress enough that these shoes are clean, they’re superbly comfortable and they have timeless style.
Note I say PZ is not trying to be unique. Uniqueness is just inherent to their approach. Developer Chris Simpson describes what can be the main element that sets this title apart, “you are inside the confines of a quarantine, squeezed in with a million zombies, and there’s no getting out. You’re fucked, if you pardon the language” (sic). Deconstruct any zombie game, movie, book and this is truly the end result — the inhabitants of this apocalypic world are indeed fucked.
While tellers of zombie stories like to focus on that epic moment when the main character(s) escape the city, save the endangered children and so on, fastforward for an undefined amount of time and those same heroes are always zombie fodder. (Recall the home style video during the credits of the most recent Dawn of the Dead film). PZ elegantly shifts focus from that epic win to that messy loss. The effect, even in alpha, is rather refreshing.
This essentially changes the way you engage the RPG. You’re no longer striving to beat the game in a traditional sense, nor complete the game in the more modern achievement/badge happy sense. Instead, players will interact with the world as they really see fit, getting the most out of one life, truly striving. “The goal here is purely to have the most unique and remarkable adventure leading up to your eventual and inevitable demise,” Simpson says.
The Story, The Sandbox
Project Zomboid does not mince words. From the beginning, you know what’s going to happen, “[t]his is how you died” the game says amidst an otherwise blank screen, before you take control of Mr. Smith. The game then opens on Smith’s wife, Kate, injured with a broken and bleeding leg. There are hints of an epic escape, but, that’s in the past.
Instead, the beginning of the alpha preview offers a few tutorial type quests meant to acquaint you with rest of your life: craft bandages out of bedsheets for Kate, find a hammer, wood and nails to barricade the bottom story of the house, for instance. The game opens up in short order, however, and you’re literally left to your own devices within the expansive quarantine zone. This is where the sandbox comes in.
PZ is bound to be a survivalist’s dream. From jump, there are many factors that are critical to making it in this expansive, zombie infested land; and they all compound upon each other for one grueling bout of survival. Things like hunger and fatigue will dictate the more basic interactions with the world. Couple that with the game’s internal clock and the propensity for more zombies to roam the streets at night, and the player can find her/himself following a strict schedule of exploration, foraging and retreating to shelter as predictable as night and day.
Albeit, you and Kate are not the only survivors of this nightmare. After the first foraging quest, a shotgun toting NPC shows up with not-so-nice intentions. One misstep and Mr. Smith’s brains can wind up on the walls. There will be many more NPC’s to experience in the game, both benign and evil, that will throw you off. Other things can muck up your plans, such as fires sparked from a neglected oven, unexpected illness and of course sudden zombie hordes.
For those who like to play within a more structured environment, there will be a story that you can choose to follow. “We have some exciting ideas on how to provide a strong but optional narrative that the player can choose to follow, for as long as they survive, that will help a lot to tie together an otherwise completely sand boxy and story-less game,” says Simpson. While this story isn’t fully fleshed yet, it involves an ineffective government and a sudden, significant power outage. “No longer are you raiding fridges for fresh food, or using ovens to cook it. Plunged into darkness at night means torches and batteries become a prized commodity, and the value of different items suddenly change.”
For The Love Of Zombies
With how limited the gameplay was, I am truly surprised by how much Project Zomboid has going for it. I don’t label myself as a zombie aficionado. Although, it doesn’t take an aficionado to appreciate that in its essence, the zombie is representative of all which threatens to wholly consume us in real life, to a point where we’re facing insurmountable odds. (Let’s face it, we all die in the end because of this world). PZ captures that essence, just as well as any other medium, if not better, and is bound to be a fun and in-depth experience.
The game has great momentum and hopefully it gains. At the time of this writing, PZ has a high 9.6/10 on Desura from all those who’ve downloaded the alpha. There is a robust fan made wiki . Additionally, The Indie Stone enjoys a rather active forum.
Note, quotes taken from Chris Simpson’s blog.