I had always had a healthy fondness for all things zombie. I loved the books, the spoofs, the movies, the graphics novels, the board games and, unexpectedly, the computer (and video) games, meaning that, yes, I should be enjoying our zombie-infested days way too much. Thing is, I can't help but notice that zombies are a bit too prevalent in today's mainstream and definitely over-represented in gaming. Even in indie gaming, where the apparent lack of imaginative settings has spawned more zombie games than an overactive Romero with assembly language skills and a ZX Spectrum would have dreamed of. What's more, the vast majority of said games is incredibly dull (despite some impressive exceptions) and the undead threat is so generic it's less interesting than your average SS soldier. Happily, that's not the case with Project Zomboid.
Project Zomboid, despite featuring more than a few zombies, seems rather excellent actually. It also is an unwinnable game, not unlike Dwarf Fortress and definitely a far cry from Left for Dead. You are, after all, cast as a survivor of the zombie holocaust and all you have to do is, err, survive for as long possible. This is more or less how the game begins (right after eloquently informing you, that, yes, you are about to die):
Not particularly light-hearted, is it? Your in-game wife is injured, you don't have any food, the house you are currently occupying is unfortified and surrounded by zombies, there is a distinct lack of weapons lying around and your in-game avatar proudly sports his bald-patch; it's more than obvious that he's no action hero at all. He's just a desperate, frightened man in a hostile world, who'll have to scavenge for food, medicine and any sort of homebrew weapons, while trying to keep his wife safe and the zombies at bay. He also happens to be a man that will die and get drunk a lot.
My very first playthrough of Project Zomboid had me more or less following the subtle tutorial of the game; the suggested missions rather. I bandaged the missus' leg using a shredded sheet, gave her a painkiller, searched for some planks and nails (oh, yes, and a hammer too) to barricade the doors and windows, felt the annoying tingle of hunger, noticed it was dark already and went to sleep. Early in the morning I woke up, unbarricaded the door, left the house, barricaded the door, equipped my hammer as a sole weapon and went exploring the neighboring houses. Happily, I found some canned soup in the first one and only had to kill a single zombie, before I went on to explore the next house down the road. And it was a treasure trove! I grabbed tons of foodstuffs, some whiskey, a shotgun and even sat down for a snack only to suddenly notice the in-game clock was telling me just how late it was. My poor wife would be starving; a shame really, as a zombie horde got me just outside our too-well-barricaded door.
Then again, I could have left her to die. She wasn't getting any better after all. She might even turn into a zombie and, maybe, just maybe, my in-game character never really loved her. See? That's the kind of game Project Zomboid is; filled with a ton of emergent questions (both ethical and tactical) and proper interactive storytelling in a desolate world, that only uses zombies to enhance the feeling of desperation it so successfully evokes. To be perfectly honest I've been trying to come up with an idea for a game just like this one for quite some time now, and the developers have done an outstanding job in creating my dream zombie game.
What's more, the thing sports an amazing soundtrack, lovably retro-esque isometric visuals reminiscent of the better days of the Commodore Amiga and intuitive controls that make this complex survival-sim a joy to play. Even the rich crafting opportunities (from soups to molotov bombs) are surprisingly simple to explore. Oh, and there seems to be a huge world already in place, or so I believe, as in reality I'm quite the sentimental gnome; I'm too afraid to leave my poor wife alone. Not after those zombies invaded an unbarricaded door and ate her in her bed. And that's just a very early demo. I frankly can't wait to play the full game, though you should definitely grab the demo immediately. Here it is. Better yet, buy yourself a lifetime license reader, as it will entitle you to the game, its early builds and all of its future updates.
Then again, really, gaming aside, what is it with zombies, reader? Why are people so morbidly fascinated with them? Is the financial crisis to blame? Is it some sort of vaguely disguised mass misanthropism? Is it the atrocious Duke Nukem's fault? These could be the end times indeed, for as Zizek noticed we might just be Living in Them.
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