I used to play a lot of video games. Back when I was 14 or 15, I would often spend entire weekends awake, chipping away at massive, complex roleplayers like Phantasy Star 2 and the original Final Fantasy games and I did this with wild abandon. I had no bills. I lived with my parents and games were affordable if they weren’t outright rentable at the same places I was getting my horror tapes at. Unfortunately, I grew up and as much as I tried to keep up, the medium became even more sophisticated, prices of hardware and software went through the roof and while I often feel like the quality of these consoles warrants their prices, I just can’t dish out that much anymore. That and I feel like a lot of gaming is coasting on stale but still-popular conventions and brand recognition through titles like Call of Duty, Halo, etc. Sure, I have some fun with these games, but there haven’t been many games that send my imagination soaring much in the way that most titles for the Dreamcast did. There are pockets but not much. I feel like I’ve played most games and as much as the marketing machine for these publishers wants me to think that Black Ops is the must play game of the year that I’m asshole not to own; you know, I honestly don’t feel like I’m missing much. But whatever. Like with all popular entertainment living in the mainstream, there’s a reasonably priced alternative and often times I’ve found, be it indie movies, indie comics or indie music, the best ideas are hiding in the underground. When the stakes are as low as they are in indie culture, media producers, beholden to no one, are free to run wild and develop the next big deal title that’ll present consumers with something they’ve never seen before. It’s been going on in all indie corners and with gaming SDKs becoming widely available, computer languages fairly easy to learn and library upon library of code to make your job easier, just about anyone with a good idea and a fundamental grasp on Java can sit down and carve out the next Farmville on a long weekend.
I’m sure there’s a sort of centralized repository for all news related to indie gaming. Rock, Paper, Shotgun tends to do a good job of it, but for the most part, I don’t pay very close attention. As it stands, I have a hard time keeping up with horror and exploitation news these days. Adding numerous gaming feeds to the my newsreader would be a terrible burden. However, there are a few titles that have come to my attention. Everyone is talking about Minecraft, of course. There’s also Spelunky, an unforgiving procedurally generated cave platformer and a really sweet still-in-development co-op heist game called Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine but one that recently came to my attention is a zombie survival horror game that seems to have all the right moves.
Project Zomboid pits you in the middle of a familiar scenario. You’re one of a handful of survivors in a quarantined city overrun with the walking dead. In the tech demo, you begin as your wife lays wounded in bed. Her situation is pretty bad. You’re tired, you’re hungry and looters have pretty much stolen everything. There’s also the matter of that empty children’s room in your house that seems to suggest the worst. She needs help, bandages and painkillers and you need something to eat and the only way you’re going to remedy this situation is if you nut up and hit the streets to scavenge for supplies. Guess what’s out on the street. Yeah. Lots of them.
Right now there’s a tech demo available for free if you’d like to try the game out. I went ahead and pitched in my $8 so that when the full pay version is available, I can have it and get in on the crazy shit they’re promising. Indie Stone, the developer, is promising a lot of awesome features. There will be a huge setting to explore with a multiplayer co-op option so you can run into your friends and either survive together or compete for resources in a seriously dire situation. The longer you survive, the worse the situation gets with power plants failing, making batteries and non-perishable food a serious commodity. The army is likely to move in for street sweeping operations, too. That is, if you last that long. Last night in my first stroll through the game, I lasted two days in game-time.
Project Zomboid’s gameplay in the tech demo is a little wonky but it is a demo, after all. It’s done in an isometric perspective similar to old-schoolers like X-Com or Syndicate and you run around in real time, but combat is a clumsy affair where you first equip your weapon and then wait for the zombie to come into range before clicking on them Diablo-style to fight. It doesn’t always respond the way you expect it to. Though, I suppose fending off a hungry zombie with nothing but a hammer is going to actually merit disaster for me. The tech demo is very playable and is a lot of fun but it’s not quite beta material, meaning that there’s still a lot to do. A for-pay beta was available until recently when pirates made the game available with the auto-update functionality intact so that every time a non-paying player opened it up and got the latest update, Indie Stone was charged for it. Total bummer. It’s fairly deep for a zombie game, too. Most of these types of games are shoot ’em ups with little emphasis on actual survival. Most of the time you’re scrounging for bullets while solving cryptic puzzles but Project Zomboid takes it a step further and weaves a unique layer that has you on the lookout for practical supplies like food and first aid. There’s also the looming threat of depression, insanity, alcoholism and drug addiction since, surprise! These things occur in the game. Icons on the right of the screen clue you in on your physical and mental condition indicating when you’re tired, hurt, hungry, scared and drunk, with the possibility of a good deal more. Want some more? How’s this: You’re going to find a lot of shit lying around the game world. Many times it may occur to you that combining some of them may make a really cool weapon or a piece of helpful equipment. Indie Stone has you covered. You can do this. Got a bat? Nails? Hammer? Hammer the nails into the bat. Voila! Spiked bat. Have some booze, rags and a lighter? That shit’s flamable, you know.
This game is awesome, I tell you! I was so done with gaming because I can’t seem to find anything that really gets me excited anymore but this one has revived my interest with something that is equal parts familiar and unique. Zombies are tired and played out but Project Zomboid makes it new by making zombie-themed survival horror more than just a hunt for bullets. There’s actual drama here and an incentive to stay alive in the sandbox. Survive for as long as you can.
The available tech demo is free but only plays natively on Windows. However, there is a hacked version that is set to play on Mac and Linux. Download now and consider paying for it. Once the beta is out, you’re going to want to stop playing the tech demo and take advantage of the new features. Get over to their site to learn more and join the forum to keep up on the latest game developments.