I am a gamer of discovery. In the past I would read a lot of things about games that were new to me – best first steps, tips and tricks, things to avoid (etc.) but as of late I have taken a less proactive approach and have just dove into games. Games should, by nature of their design, be somewhat intuitive – most have bread crumbs to teach you the basics and prepare you a bit better for what is to come. I find that good game design in many ways. While this is different than the good old days of tabletop gaming where you were forced to read (and re-read) written booklets of instructions I think it has moved gaming in general forward. One thing digital games have over their tabletop predecessors (besides written rules) is that sense of discovery. EQ was a champion of that and that is why there is so much love for it still.
Much to my surprise and pleasure, I won a version of Project Zomboid compliments of J3w3l over at Healing the Masses and let me tell you, that discovery feeling is alive and well in this fun and challenging independent survival thriller.
True to my introductory paragraph I jumped right in. There were several menu choices on the bottom of a sombering portrait of a man caring for his injured female companion that included BEGINNER, SURVIVAL, and SANDBOX (and more, those were the ones that jumped at me!). Free from delusions of grandeur I selected the “beginner” button and my adventure began. The first thing the game narrates to me, even before character select, that this is the story of how I died. Right off the bat that sets an expectation that long term living is probably not in the works. As I get into game, I quickly start to think otherwise as I plan how I will survive yet another zombie apocalypse setting.
True to my hoarding roots, my home is solid complete with curtains over windows (that close, to hide from intruders) and plenty of storage space. I start methodically looting the houses in a radar pattern around mine and quickly stocking up on EVERYTHING. Clothing, food, weapons. At this pace, I quickly feel that this story won’t be about how I died, but instead, how I lived a life of comfort and luxury while the world burned around me. The good news is that I learned a LOT at this pace (and recommend everyone spend an hour on beginner learning the loot systems, interactivity of objects, needs and how they are met, storage and inventory, etc.) I also recommend you kill a zombie or two on beginner. It’s not easy. Yet, a butter knife makes for a surprisingly effective zombie weapon. Spoons not so much (although they are designated as a weapon category in inventory.)
After an hour of beginner-dom, I felt compelled to face the apocalypse as a true survivor – in “survivor” mode. First off, I started off with way less in my house (and much more realistic) and was forced to leave my home sooner than I originally planned. My direct neighbors house was inconveniently locked as were the windows, but I had the option to shatter a window which I did after scanning to ensure no Zombies were nearby. I injured myself crawling through the window and quickly learned how to bandage and perform basic first aid. This house had a lot of goodies in it, including beginner books (farming and carpentry) that when clicked on to “read” started slowly scrolling through a counter – 10 of 220 pages. Estimating it would take 15-20 minutes to read I thought it best to continue searching the house. I went upstairs, opened the bathroom and got attacked. My friendly neighbors were zombified and hiding in their bathroom and fighting one with a baseball bat was hard enough on beginner, fighting two with just silverware equipped proved extremely difficult. I did prevail however I had to bandage four wounds on my body and was labelled as “severely injured”. By the time I got back to my home base I was “feeling queasy” and I bled out shortly afterwards. Total survival time – 5 hours, 15 minutes. (not actual time, it is accelerated in game.) Perhaps Beginner mode made me a bit too comfortable with my surroundings.
No matter, a good learning experience! I start up another game and do a better job with visual and sound clues when clearing the homes around me (that are unlocked) and restocking my home base. I get more and more comfortable and start taking less with me so I can carry more back. Houses have far less in them than in beginner and I am venturing further and further from home for little gain. Perhaps waiting it out isn’t the best course of action. I find a grocery store and decide to use that as a second base. Since I haven’t seen another human being (I need to check for multiplayer, or even human NPCs) I decide to make a connection of several bases. Makes sense if I get flushed out of one I can move to another. The plan never happens. I alert a couple zombies and they are fast, so I start running. Turn a corner, pick up a few more. I am too far from home and actually cut off from it, so I frantically try to open doors and windows on buildings – with no luck. It takes a few seconds to TRY and open a locked window, so everytime I pause to try the zombies get closer. The more I run, the more noise I make, the bigger the horde gets. On top of all of this, in my frantic running, I am lost. Legitimately, and I have a dozen or so zombies chasing me. The town is too populated, I am in too much trouble, so I do exactly what every person does in a horror movie that the viewers say ” I would never do that”. I ran into the woods.
Running, still lost, I see many indicators on the screen. Severely panicked. Thirsty. Hungry. Exposed to too much heat. Still, I keep running, and running, and eventually I am in a clearing in the woods and no zombies around. None chasing me, either, that I can see. I am alive, and safe, for now. A quick check of my health and I have a few scratches on arm and forearm. One is infected. I use bandages to cover them up and take inventory. One bottle of water and one apple. Thankfully, the game allows you to consume food and drink in 1/4, 1/2 or all so being smart I take the 1/4 route for each and that is enough to satiate the menu indicators. The two I can’t get rid of are tired, and scared. I need shelter.
I walk through the woods and eventually stumble onto a cabin. It’s locked. I smash a window and crawl through (and cut myself). I need to find a better way of getting into locked homes. My other two bandages are now classified as “dirty” and not only am I sick, but fevered. This cabin has no disinfectant or medical supplies so I try sleep to combat my illness. I need it anyway. I pick 10 hours and drift off.
I wake up worse off than ever, eat and drink what I have left, and am severely sick. I need medicine. I am so sick that my health bar is slowly going down in a constant matter. I walk back in the general direction of where I remember the town to be and find a trailer park. If I don’t get medicine I am going to die in the next 10 minutes (real minutes, not game minutes) everything is locked and I have to smash windows to gain entrance, and I keep getting minor injuries. None of the three bathrooms I searched had medical supplies, and poor old Harold Ramsey fails to survive the zombie apocalypse (as he was told he would). Survival time? 1 day, 18 hours, 47 minutes.
I have a lot of work to do.
This game is a great experience. You can’t just hack and slash your way through and there is a depth and complexity I haven’t completely uncovered. The pacing is slow, but that is a nice change from today’s games. In the spirit of paying it forward, I am going to give away 3 copies of the game on Friday from people who comment below*. They will be randomized from all commentators on this post but I do ask you to respond to a simple question. It’s the Zombie Apocalypse, who is your partner survivalist? You can choose anyone from the world! Thanks J3w3l for the game and introduction, and I hope others that I gift it to will enjoy it as much as I have.