Living Up to the Name

With a blog named “Zombie Apocalypse” it’s probably
strange that I haven’t actually written much about about zombies. In fact I’ve really only written about one
game, Plants vs. Zombies, in my first
official blog post and that post wasn’t really about zombies either. The name of my blog brings in a lot of weird
web traffic and my Twitter feed tends to attract zombie lovers—and then
probably disappoint them with the lack of conversation about the undead. I love checking out my blog’s search engine
statistics which list the words that lead web users to my site. So far my favorites are “best diet for the
zombie apocalypse”, “finding love during the zombie apocalypse”, and “zombie
apocalypse rooftop garden shotgun”. So I
should gear more of my posts to overweight and lonely survivalists?

I’ve not written about more zombie games as I don’t
really like most of them. Most games
about the undead are really just excuses for murdering large amounts of people
without consequence or the typical video game shooter gun porn. My attraction to the idea of a zombie
apocalypse is more of an interest in humanity’s reaction to a global calamity
or thinking about my own ability to survive in an impossible situation; not
necessarily the walking dead themselves.

I recently played a couple zombie themed games, more by
coincidence than design, which seemed to capture what I was looking for.

I had seen Survivor – The Living Dead crop up on a couple indie games sites and on a quiet
weekend decided to give it a try. The
game, specifically its introductory cut scene, doesn’t start well. Judging by her proportionately wrong and
top-heavy frame, the main character, a woman name Amber, seems to have been
designed by an adolescent boy, or at least someone in desperate need of a
girlfriend. Amber, running from some attacking zombies, stumbles across a home
where the owner has killed himself and starts to barricade herself in. 

If you make it this far, and I almost didn’t due to the
irrelevant and inane opening story (and Amber’s constantly bouncing chest), Survivor – The Living Dead really turns
itself around. Using items and weapons
you find around the house you must hold off the incoming zombie horde until
help arrives. There’s a definite order
and strategy to defending the house that makes the game more of a puzzle than
anything else. 

It’s important to use the
defenses appropriately – pushing a dresser out of a window is a great way to
take out a large cluster of zombies but a waste if timed wrong. After you survive the allotted amount of
time, a team of soldiers storm in and save the day. As you beat each timed level you can try
again with a longer amount of time needed to survive, bigger zombie hordes, and
additional defenses. 

– The Living Dead
is most certainly an indie game as it’s
occasionally buggy and not entirely polished, making getting away from
attacking zombies frustrating. I’d love
to see if the developer intends to apply updates and grow the game as time goes
on. At first I thought the game only had
one level but later realized that you can unlock a “story mode” which has
additional levels. However, if you fail
in those later levels you have to start the story mode completely over, which
is maddening in a game based on trial and error.

I’m thoroughly surprised at how much I enjoyed playing Survivor – The Living Dead. The game focuses less on combat and more on
what’s appealing to me about that fiction – surviving and trying to buy time.

The other zombie apocalypse themed game I’ve been playing
is Rogue Survivor. A game in the roguelike video game genre, Rogue Survivor also has a rough
start. You begin as a randomly named
survivor who wakes up during a zombie apocalypse. You see someone standing in
your room and exclaim, “ZOMG, you are a zombie!” Gross. In other parts of the
game, dialogue and written story aren’t much better (with even worse grammar
and spelling). Before I criticize the
game too much further I should clarify that Rogue
is still in its alpha phase so I’m sure that many improvements and
changes are still to come.

Writing problems aside, Rogue Survivor is a fun change from my past experiences with
roguelikes where I’ve only played fantasy/medieval themed games. You run through randomly generated city
terrain dodging zombies and other undead monsters, hungry people, and marauding
gangs. Supplies are a rare commodity and
the game does a good job keeping you on the move as you’re constantly looking
for food and a safe place to sleep. Rogue Survivor emphasizes that combat
should generally be avoided. The longer
you stay alive the more capable you become as you gain useful skills, but even
so, you won’t last against large groups of enemies. One of my favorite moments in the game was
tagging along with a group of soldiers who were clearing out a section of the
city. You decide to get some sleep while being in their safety, and wake up to
find that one of the soldiers had been bitten in the night and the entire
squad, now undead, are seeking to eat you.

Walked into the wrong building…

With everything Rogue
Survivor does right, in its current form the game doesn’t have a long
shelf-life. The draw of a roguelike is a
good narrative mixed with the desire to find ever better items and gear for
your character. The game doesn’t have a
story nor does it have an ending. The
developer has indicated that a story and multiple possible endings will be
added in a future update as well as more features and items. I’m looking forward to seeing what they come
up with as they have the seed of what could grow into a lasting experience.

Pitting yourself against a hostile world that is falling
apart is part of the lure of zombie apocalypse fiction for me. Not many games capture that idea very well as
they focus more on the violence associated with the fiction instead of what is
truly the prevailing theme: buying time. Time spent waiting for help to arrive, having enough food and other
supplies to wait out the chaos until order is restored, or quickly getting
somewhere safe until the danger subsides. Again, it’s not about blowing the brains out of an endless shuffling
undead horde, but having your world turned upside down, being forced beyond
your breaking point, and surviving
long enough to hopefully see the end of it. I chuckled when I realized that both the video games I played had the
word “survivor” in their title, thinking it to be an obvious cliché of zombie
game titles, but after playing each game I realized that the word summed up
exactly what I was looking for.    

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