I’ve only penned two video game reviews in my day – this one being the second. My first review was for State of Decay, a sandbox zombie survival game reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto. This review will be focused on an indie Steam game that I recently picked up during the ‘Steam Summer Sale’ called Project Zomboid. According to my track record I love zombie games.
I just want to preface this review by saying this game is not for everyone. It isn’t overly exciting or dramatic. In fact, as far as zombie games in general go this game is pretty darn tame. See what I did there? I said “darn tame” instead of – yeah you get it. Despite the games retro feel and soft approach to the ever popular zombie genre, it does have a certain charm and appeal to it that I do so enjoy.
GRAPHICS/SOUND – 6/10
Graphics are not this games strong suit. There, I said it. In fact, to the Monster energy fueled, backwards hat wearing, rage spewing Call of Duty warriors, a game like Project Zomboid is going to look like something out of the Stone Age. Not since their dads dusted off the Ol’ Commodore 64 and forced them to sit and play a round of Loderunner have these young whippersnappers seen graphics this basic. Alright, that’s a BIT of an exaggeration. But seriously, if supercharged realistic graphics are important to you, Project Zomboid could be slightly disappointing.
The closest comparison graphic-wise I can give would be the inexplicably invincible franchise, The Sims. Honestly, how does that game continue to be rebooted year after year? The Sims is the zombie equivalent of a video game series. It drones on year after year without any real personality or purpose.
Regardless, much like The Sims, Project Zomboid uses an over the top third-person camera angle and even features Sims-like designs for the houses and landscapes that span the zombie-filled world. While the graphics are rather basic I don’t feel that alone takes away from the overall quality of the game. Where I DO take issue is the lack of unique models or skins loaded into the game. For instance, an equipped crowbar looks EXACTLY the same as an equipped baseball bat. The weapon skins both look like standard wooden baseball bats. Now I know what you’re thinking – “Clearly a zombie wizard has converted all metallic objects into wood!” Unfortunately that is not the case. The answer is much less fantastic. The games creators chalk the repetitive visuals up to the game still being in development mode. Nonetheless, if you have already paid for the game it can negatively affect your experience.
In addition to the poor weapon skins, all the character models are also very low detail. Thus you probably won’t feel a deep connection to your character based on their appearance. Even during your character creation period you can BARELY make out the most basic of details. (i.e. whether or not your character has a beard or how much hair they have.)
“If only we had that same problem in real life”, The balding man with poor facial hair whispered to himself.
The sound in this game is adequate. There is a long intense musical score that will play throughout your game. The music does a good job of catching the desperate, emotional tone of the zombie apocalypse. It’s on par with any soundtrack you would hear in the background of The Walking Dead or World War Z. The music will occasionally fade in and out. During the silent periods you’ll be left with nothing but the sounds of your surroundings. You’ll hear zombies moaning and groaning, an occasional rain shower, mysterious gunshots in the distance and helicopters flying overhead. The only issue I do have with the audio is that it has bugged out on me several times. The musical score froze and repeated the same note OVER AND OVER – even after I turned the sound off through the settings and even quit the game. Hopefully that sound bug is something that will be resolved as the developers continue to address things and release patches.
GAMEPLAY – 8/10
This, in my opinion, is where this game separates itself from the majority of zombie games and shines like the bright indie star it is. The game gives you two maps to choose from when you start a new game. They are both different neighborhoods in the state of Kentucky. Unlike most games, both of the neighborhoods are actually part of the same map. So technically you can visit both within the same play through. So what’s the catch? The map as a whole is MASSIVE. The overwhelming size of the map combined with no actual in game map display makes it very difficult to take it all in. There are some online maps you can find (http://pzmap.crash-override.net) that will highlight the specialty locations. Even with these, navigating across the entire map would be extremely difficult. Personally, I find this to be a positive. Exploring the urban areas and countryside without guidance feels very authentic to an apocalyptic setting. You are never quite sure of where you’re headed or what’s hidden in store for you.
Once you do commit to a starting neighborhood, you’ll be dropped into a random house. You’ll notice the mechanics of the game are quite simple. It follows the standard W, S, A, D format to move your character around and all interactions can be completed by either left or right clicking on an object. Holding the left CTRL button allows your character to both aim and enter “stealth mode” simultaneously. This allows you to attract the least amount of attention possible while you dispatch your zeds via your weapon of choice. The only time this wouldn’t apply is if you’re using a gun. It turns out zombies are drawn to gunshots like diabetes is to Wilford Brimley.
You may remember me referencing The Sims when it came to the visual presentation. Well, it also applies to the gameplay. Not only do the walls and ceilings of the buildings you enter vanish to reveal your line of sight just as it does in The Sims, but the right hand side of your screen will also begin to look vaguely familiar. As time goes on small circular bubbles will populate to your right in a vertical queue. These are your characters current conditions: Hunger, thirst, fear, exhaustion, boredom, and pain are your basic categories. As your symptoms occur, you can decide how and when to deal with them based on their severity and the items available to you. Unfortunately some of the regular symptoms seem to be incurable at this time. The main one I have come across is boredom. There is no way to use the items you find throughout your travels (playing cards, yo-yos, a cell phone full of Marth and Eric Podcast episodes) that would seemingly deal with a rabid case of boredom. Again, developers state that this is something they are working on fixing. In the meantime, we should all be thankful that you can’t die of boredom during the zombie apocalypse, ensuring that this bug shouldn’t really affect the outcome of your game.
Once you delve deeper into the game and get beyond satisfying your selfish needs and moods swings, the game is quite fun. The exploration is challenging as you often have to travel great distances and can only carry a certain amount of supplies before your movement speed and weapon accuracy are compromised. As challenging and dangerous as it may be, you’ll find exploring certainly pays off. You can use supplies to craft new weapons, cook, farm, barricade doors and windows, or even build your own house. There are no signs of cars or other modes of transportation within the game. Unlike most sandbox games these days, your feet are your only chariot. There is however a ‘Sandbox’ game play mode that you can try out. In this you can change the behavior and abilities of the zombies that inhabit your game. You can have your standard slow, “Walking Dead” type or your insane, bath salt junkie, “28 Days Later” type. You can also control how many zombies infest your game and what parts of the map they tend to congregate. This adds a fresh element to the game when doing multiple playthroughs.
STORY – 1/10
Other than the brief introduction you see upon launching the game there is no story to Project Zomboid. On the plus side that means you get to decide how, when and where you die since you are the only non zombie in this game. On the other hand, the more time you put into this game the more it tends to feel dull and repetitive as there is no narrative to carry the game along. The developers claim that an eventual update will feature a bundle of NPC survivors that will be scattered throughout the map. Hopefully this will increase the amount of unique experiences and interactions that the player can come in contact with.
OVERALL – 6/10
This game is unique and while it isn’t quite polished, it has a lot of promise. It doesn’t have a big learning curve, the idea is fairly simple and straight forward and it’s well presented. The graphics aren’t what most mainstream gamers are accustomed to but they serve this game very well. To anyone that enjoys slow paced single player adventure games, or the zombie genre in general – I would recommend checking this out. At the time that I’m writing this the game is on sale through Steam for $12. There is also a free demo available through Steam. For most of you I would recommend picking up the free demo and waiting a bit until some of the updates are released and some of the bugs are resolved.
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