By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
Considering the recurring themes in my reviews and the length of time that I’ve owned Project Zomboid (PZ), I was very surprised that I had never done a preview on it. PZ is an isometric zombie apocalypse survival RPG. There’s a fair handful of these going around, but PZ was among the early batch and it also contains a variety of features that lend it a certain difficulty not found in straight action games. We’re looking at your normal hunger and thirst requirements on top of a slew of other less used game mechanics; tiredness, mood, illness and injury simulation. This is a game where it is possible for the playable character to get bored, depressed or stressed as well as hungry, thirsty and tired. It’s these extra levels of detail that place PZ far closer to the likes of Cataclysm DDA and NEO Scavenger than to your average run’n’gun zombie game.
The story of PZ’s development is fairly long. It’s been available as a paid alpha for some time and in that time it has developed significantly in line with modders and community feedback. The development team has had some pretty serious setbacks in the process, but have weathered it all and PZ is looking to be right on track.
The game starts out with the text “These are the end times. There was no hope of survival. This is how you died.” This is the essence of the sandbox experience in PZ; character death is fairly inevitable be it in hours, days, weeks or months. The key thing about the manner in which PZ has been developed is that it is designed to accommodate for any length of survival. On top of your typical Maslow’s hierarchy is an entire set of other systems; being able to build for example. The player has the ability to scavenge materials and then use them to not just barricade doors and windows but to also construct objects in the game world. It’s plausible if you survive long enough to heavily fortify a building with barricades and fences, blocking off zombie access. This sort of project takes a lot of scavenging, which in turn increases risk, but as long as food, water and shelter is to hand that’s not going to be a problem. Farming is another system that has been introduced to facilitate the long play. Since readily available food will begin to dwindle after a while, the developers introduced a farming mechanic (in the traditional sense, not the gaming slang).
In terms of the actual gameplay, controls are WASD movement with the mouse for environment interaction. The mouse interaction can be a little finicky at times, as objects have quite a specific hitbox on interactions. The inventory system is infinitely better than it once was and after a little acclimatization it works well. Encumbrance is simulated on top of the other aspects of need. Objects are not specifically given a weight or size definition but instead have a single figure depicting the difficulty of carrying. A handful of nails for example is not especially heavy or large, but can be difficult to carry. There are equipment bags that allow the carrying of more items. On the topic of equipment, the weapon variety is staggering. Throughout zombie literature those shambling bags of rotten flesh have been dispatched with any item you could think of and PZ is no exception to this. If you could imagine killing a zombie with the item, then it’s probably a weapon in game. Butter knives, rolling pins and forks rub shoulders with your more traditional zombie killing weapons like baseball bats and golf clubs. The differences are often how the weapons handle in combat and just how long they’ll last when doing some good old-fashioned zombie bashing. The game also contains firearms, but not your standard affair of zombie game where the world suddenly becomes saturated in high-end military grade hardware. Instead PZ contains your normal mix of civilian weapons: handguns, shotguns and the like, not that you’ll want to use them much. Ammunition isn’t too limited and neither is the spawn rate. However, the use scenario is what really limits firearm effectiveness. Much like in The Walking Dead, using a firearm may solve the immediate problem but the odds are that you’ll attract a much larger problem, a much larger smelly-rotting-corpse themed problem. Like the inventory system, the combat takes a little getting used to and there is certainly some skill and timing involved. Whilst the zombies lean towards the George A Romero style, they will occasionally stumble forward quickly and the crawling ones are deadly.
Back when I played an earlier version of the game it included NPCs as well as zombies. These NPCs have since been pulled temporarily. I almost wish they’d left them in because while the NPCs were not complete and were a little bit nuts, it almost fit into the environment. I enjoyed watching out of a window as a survivor across the street dragged a horde into a building before being devoured. The NPCs will be back once they are refined and at that point the game will play even better, with a whole other layer on top of the existing systems. If The Walking Dead comics taught us anything about the zombie apocalypse it’s that the survivors are often more interesting than the shambling dead. At the present time the NPC removal has been offset with random ‘horde events’ which are signified by the playing of a sound effect. While not as fun as the previous NPC system and not as advanced as the coming NPC system, it is something of an elegant band-aid over that part of the game.
PZ’s aesthetic is an isometric-based relatively low res animated sprite look. If I were to draw a direct comparison to existing games I’d say that it’s along similar lines to The Sims (the original) in appearance. Overall the look is effective and some of the nice touches like blood splatter add to the overall game along with great animation. The sound design is great and atmospheric, all the way from the action sounds to the music to the general soundscape.
In short then PZ is very much still in development with certain key features still awaiting completion. The current build is very playable and development seems to be progressing well. As ever with these previews if you’re expecting a finished build then don’t part with your money just yet. You may wish to try the demo instead. If you like what you see then perhaps considering getting in on the alpha-funding and picking up a game that is playable now at a cheaper price while funding further development. PZ is available on Desura and Steam for £9.99 (approx $16.30) on Windows, Mac and Linux (yay). If I were to advise a method of purchase then it would be through Desura, as the cost is the same and the key can be redeemed on both Desura and Steam. In terms of system requirements, the Steam page recommends a Quad Core 2.77GHz CPU, 2GB RAM and an OpenGL2.1 compatible GPU. These are fairly significant considering the game, and due to the nature of development builds, it could run into performance issues even on ideal hardware. If in doubt, try the demo through Steam.
(The Great Looking) Game Website:
Project Zomboid on Desura:
Project Zomboid on Steam:
Project Zomboid Sub-Reddit: