Straight out of the gates of hell and right into our living rooms, zombies have become a bona fide cultural obsession. The fascinating thing about the genre is that its rules have evolved and have been experimented with extensively throughout the years presenting developers a virtually unlimited realm of creativity to explore. Ironically, despite this uninhibited artistic freedom, many developers continue to be susceptible to an extremely dangerous pitfall: the failure to even attempt to break away from traditional tropes and paradigms. The over-exposure of the same ideas has caused many contemporary zombie releases to appear to be almost indistinguishable from one another. Laconically, the premise of point, shoot and kill eventually loses its charm and begins to feel bland. Ridiculously bland. Off-brand grocery store tofu bland. With that in mind, let’s probe into “Project Zomboid”, a true diamond in the rough.
Developed by a studio known as “The Indie Stone”, “Project Zomboid,” is available by download through either the official website or through Desura. Now, the game is still in its beta state but don’t let this deter you; updates are released intermittently in the form of free patches. And honestly, even in its incomplete state, “Project Zomboid,” offers a flabbergasting amount of depth coupled with a truly innovative concept. The most brilliant feature of the game is that the death of your character is inevitable and there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it. Sounds rather lugubrious, doesn’t it? Well, that’s the point of the game. “Project Zomboid” is a survival-horror game- the operative word being “survival.” The purpose of this game is not to amass points to earn a high score or to kill hoards of zombies; the purpose of this game is to survive as long as you can during a zombie apocalypse.
As a zombie themed survival-horror game, you’d think it would be safe to assume that zombies would be your main adversary in the game. This is where you’d be mistaken; your character is susceptible to mental anguish, sickness, substance abuse, and even boredom. In fact, the number of mental problems your character will face makes the zombies seem almost like an afterthought. This is one the most important, yet often overlooked, elements in many zombie games: the very real mental turmoil that would be suffered by a survivor in an apocalyptic setting. This is one of the elements that made Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend,” so largely successful. Similarly to “I Am Legend”, “Project Zomboid,” follows the main character throughout the everyday life of an apocalypse survivor. Eventually, the player begins to compile a daily to-do list consisting of tasks such as: remove wooden planks from windows and doors, raid neighboring houses for supplies, clear out zombies in a particular area, etc. The cultivating of the slightest semblance of normalcy serves as an interesting facet of the game; after the loss of everyone you love to either sickness, or the insatiable hoard of the undead, life must continue.
Another strong point of the game is that the player controls an Average Joe-type character. All-too-often, the characters in the games of this genre are a little too level-headed and collected. Almost to the point that they seem sociopathic- the lack of empathy displayed by characters can tend to ruin the feel of the game; this is especially true when that lack of empathy is coupled with the super-human feats of agility and strength exhibited by characters such as Chris Redfield of “Resident Evil 5,” (E.G., Redfield’s infamous boulder punching escapades). The emotional management feature in “Project Zomboid,” can be likened to “Amnesia: The Dark Descent.” It is an element of gameplay that makes the game more than “Ah! Look! Scary monster! Kill it!” This feature causes the game to feel almost like a sim/survival-horror game and the formula works extremely well.
Don’t be mistaken, the zombies are still a looming threat; underestimation of your undead adversaries will leave your character a smorgasbord of dead meat. Your character can, realistically, only handle a handful of the walking dead without becoming overwhelmed. The difficulty only increases as surrounding towns succumb to the hoard and the dead begin to surge into your neighborhood. Should you become surrounded, say a prayer and hope it gets higher than the ceiling, or else it’s game over.
The music in this game fits the mood brilliantly; major scales seem to have been forbidden during the composing of the scores. Each track is a dramatic and heavy composition that adds plenty to the overall feeling of the game without causing a distraction. Tracks from the game are available for free listening on YouTube should you wish to listen for yourself. Visually, this game employs retro-style graphics which can honestly either make or break the game for some gamers. If you are a stickler for photorealistic graphics, this game is not for you; if you can get past the SNES-esque graphics, you will be exuberantly delighted with a great game.
Now that the positives have been covered, here are some of the drawbacks of the game. As previously mentioned in the review, the game is not yet completed. Certain bugs are still being worked out and some features-such as interactions with NPC’s- may occasionally fall flat. The in-game experience of interacting with NPC’s is certainly no “Mass Effect,” but the foundation has been laid down with both “good,” and “bad,” reply options and will most likely be fleshed out in the near future. Frankly, the only real problem with the game is that it is a work in progress; patches are regularly released to iron out issues, rendering any problems short-lived inconveniences. Rest assured, the quality of the game is closely monitored. The reason that the game has been in development for so long is that the studio genuinely cares about creating a truly high-quality product. Remember patience is a virtue.
All-in-all, if you can get past the minor flaws within the game, “Project Zomboid,” is a great in-depth survival-horror game with a very unique concept and an out of this world replayability factor. With the only real drawback being the fact that the game is incomplete, this game earns 4 out of 5 stars. Play this game.