Approaching Horde!



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Number of Ratings: 8
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1-8 of 8

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Braaaaains. And Speed!, December 7, 2022
by JJ McC
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

Adapted from an IFCOMP22 Review

Zombies have had quite the cultural arc, haven’t they? From their racist beginnings, to Romero’s definitive lo-fi masterpiece, to gorehound cutting edge horror to ubiquitous then backlash to now just a cultural staple. I mean there are zombie musicals, comedies, heist pictures(!), romances, its just a whole thing. Somewhere along the way their metaphorical power was diluted, but is still endlessly malleable (not unlike vampires).

Surprising no one, the genre is a great fit for a a tower defense/resource allocation game. My first introduction to the game was trepidation - I’ve learned to be wary of this engine’s graphical presentation which errs just on the side of Notably Intrusive most of the time. Some early spelling and grammar errors also were a little concerning. There was some clumsy action sequence blocking where mid attack, suddenly the zombie was still approaching but almost immediately the tone not only saved it but started leading the charge. (Spoiler - click to show)As you are being attacked by the shambling remains of your spouse, the narration observes (para) “…normally a good thing…” This really cemented the breezy tone that had been building to that point, and set the stage perfectly. After this, to the extent that spelling and grammar were an issue the tone easily sailed you past.

As you segue to the defense portion, the graphical presentation really starts to shine: the simple but effective use of screen, color, task selection dropdowns, and status bar tracking made for a seamless and pleasant cockpit to steer your crew of hardy survivors. As it is a timed game, especially appreciate that scrolling is almost never needed. The roles you need to juggle are well thought out, and crisply implemented. The tasks all make sense, in the logic of the game, and like a real apocalypse it's not clear where to focus your energies at first so you wing it and fire and adjust. All in the face of a doomsday timer in the form of an incoming zombie horde.

You’re balancing survival/happiness against crucial future building tasks, on a timer. The timer started to move a touch slow (actually I was probably moving faster) as the game went on, I could see tweaking to subtly speed that up as the game progresses but definitely not at first. Even as you are in a frenzy of your survival balancing act, the wry tone periodically keeps you smiling. At one point my zombie researchers, after quite a long research effort, concluded “zombies cannot be reasoned with.” Lol, no sh*t researchers, why are we feeding you again?

And then its over! A short denouement and you get to read about your score in an amusing news story. This is a kind of slight, short game, but it is such a winning mix of tone, tension and logistical puzzle that I have to say I was Engaged. It does what it wants to really well, and knows to leave before it wears out its welcome. I would call it “Notably Intrusive” for its occasional writing clunks and slight drag before the end. None of that degraded my enjoyment for sure.

Played: 10/29/22
Playtime: 40 min, 8 survivors, down from a peak of 21
Artistic/Technical rankings: Engaging/Notable
Would Play Again? Very likely. It’s somewhere between an Adventure Snack and a full meal. Second Breakfast?

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A real-time, mechanic-heavy management game (with zombies), November 22, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2022

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp).

I played Approaching Horde right after One-Way Ticket, a game that wore its art-house pretentions proudly, so it was nice that the Comp randomizer gave me something far more populist as a change of pace – Approaching Horde Exclamation Point is an old-fashioned zombie B-movie, with desperate survivors of an undead uprising scrambling to survive a surprisingly math-heavy apocalypse. It took me a minute to get a bead on the game, I confess. There’s a linear introductory section that’s jokey, but wordy and repetitive (“As you relaxingly try to watch your favorite TV channel from the comfort of your couch, you notice more gunshots than normal ring out in the neighborhood this evening for some reason,” is one of the first sentences, followed quickly by “At first the gunshots don’t even bother you as it’s fairly normal for this neighborhood”) – it also glosses way, way too quickly over the fact that you start your undead-fighting career by punching your never-named spouse to a second death.

The dodgy writing quickly falls by the wayside, though, since once you’re in the meat of the game there’s very little of it. The intro concludes with you assuming command of a group of 10 people, and as the game proper begins, you’re confronted with a table interface allowing you to assign them to one of a half-dozen tasks, from farming to scavenging to researching, all of which work basically as you’d think – you need to balance feeding your survivors with recruiting new members of the group and building new fortifications. Complicating things, though, everything plays out in real time – there are sliders in the left sidebar that tick up to show your progress in each job, moving more rapidly as you assign more people to each task. The cherry on top is that this isn’t a sandbox, because there’s a giant undead horde approaching – er, spoiler warning for those who didn’t read the title – and in twenty minutes, they’ll steamroll your group no matter what preparations you’ve made, unless you’ve managed to dig an escape hole, or research a cure for the zombie plague, in time.

As a demonstration of how a tower defense slash idle game can work in Twine, I’d rate the game as pretty successful. As an overall experience, though, I’m more mixed. Partially this is because despite the cleverness of the gameplay hacking, for a game using an IF authoring system and entered into an IF competition, the writing is fairly minimal – once you’re in the game proper you mostly just get functional one-line updates as your survivors complete each piece of work, and it’s hard to get too excited about reading “your farmers just harvested 6 food from farms!” even once, let alone the thirtieth time (there are ending vignettes, of course, but they don’t meaningfully improve on the opening).

Partially, though, this is because I didn’t find the gameplay itself all that compelling. Ideally managing this paltry remnant of humanity would feel like a desperate exercise in plate-spinning, trying to balance short-term needs like food and the immediate threat of zombie patrols with the need to make long-term investments in research and infrastructure, with the horde serving as a final test of your decision-making prowess. In practice, though, the game was both too hard and too easy: too hard, because the twenty-minute deadline means that faffing about exploring your options will almost certainly mean you’ll run out of time with your victory conditions only half-completed, and too easy, because at least on normal, many of the tasks you can do, like attacking zombie patrols and finding new guns, seem mostly unnecessary and a simple strategy of booming your economy for the first ten minutes (getting to the survivor cap of 50 as quickly as possible, and researching farm tech to minimize the workers you need to maintain that population) then pivoting to cure research for the last ten (which also requires you to capture some zombies for study, admittedly) allowed me to win handily, barely touching the survivor assignment buttons for the last seven minutes, on my second try.

I don’t mean to be too harsh here – getting this system up and running was surely a challenging bit of programming, and the kind of difficulty-tuning it’d take to make the gameplay sing is typically the end result of repeated stages of testing and refinement, which is a lot to ask of a solo developer making a free game and facing a hard deadline. It’s mostly just a shame, because it seems like it’d be fun to explore some of the deeper mechanics here on offer, like searching for unique items, reactivating the radio tower, and training guards’ marksmanship, but the game as implemented seems to punish you for messing about with that stuff rather than mechanically zeroing in on a victory condition. Hopefully there’ll be a post-comp version that takes advantage of seeing how a bunch of players navigate the challenge to make some tweaks – and maybe revises the intro and ending vignettes to be punchier (er) and hit a more consistent tone.

- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), November 20, 2022

- OverThinking, November 16, 2022

- Karl Ove Hufthammer (Bergen, Norway), November 15, 2022

- jaclynhyde, October 22, 2022

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
A real-time resource management zombie Twine game, October 20, 2022
by MathBrush
Related reviews: 15-30 minutes

In this game, you have a brief introduction explaining how zombies have caused an apocalypse, and then you become the commander of a base that needs to defend from zombies.

As commander, you have people you can assign to tasks. In the Easy Mode I played in, there were 6 roles (farmer, builder, etc.) each with several subtasks. It was overwhelming at first, especially when different bars started counting down in real time, but once I realized how slow it was I realized there was tons of time to make decisions.

Maybe too much time; the game got a little repetitive pretty quickly. I focused on farming and finding more survivors until those maxed out, then built a research base and focused on finding a cure.

Overall, the writing was goofy, but descriptive and vivid, and the simulation held together surprisingly well. I think it could have used a bit more variety though; I spent most of the game with the game in a side window just running, waiting for it to be done.

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Dizzying at first but surprisingly fun, October 8, 2022

The onset of the zombie apocalypse begins right as you are watching TV. With the world thrown into chaos, fellow neighbors become fellow zombie survivors. A house is transformed into a survival base, and you are nominated as leader. But, in the distance there is a whole horde of zombies coming your way. You will have to prepare.

This is a stat/resource management game where you assign tasks to other characters. After a short intro you are given ten survivors to order about. It was intimidating at first to see all the elements that you need to manage, but the implementation becomes nicely streamlined.

In the center of the screen is a big grey chart. The first left hand chunk of the chart organizes survivors into six groups: Farmers, Guards, Builders, Researchers, Hunters, and Scavengers. You choose how many survivors are in each group and specify their task. Statistics for each group are on the right side of the chart along with additional stats such as the group's happiness levels. Seeing all that was the overwhelming part for me. Numbers, percentages, the whole thing. But this soon changed.

The left side of the screen has a column of status bars that show the completion of the tasks assigned to each group, providing a nice visual indicator of your progress. Interestingly enough, the gameplay also takes place in real time. The game conveniently lists updates in timestamped orange text below the chart to summarize the impacts of your choices. It did not take long for me to familiarize myself with everything. Then things became fun.

I like how the author adds a little touch of atmosphere. There is a section of text at the bottom of the screen that lets you “visit” each area of your base, such as a radio tower or underground tunnel. There is not much to do in them. For the most part, they are just cosmetic. But being able to lightly interact with them as you expand your hideout was a nice detail. The author seems to have a lot of creative ideas.

A challenge, perhaps?
This game has adjustable difficulty. Easy mode, normal mode, hard mode.

Hard mode is considerably trickier because it is challenging to recruit survivors. In the first two modes if you send out a party to look for them you always manage to find at least one. But in hard mode they are more likely to come back empty handed. Survivors are critical to getting things done. The more survivors assigned to a task, the faster the task is completed. What should you do? Use your current survivors to find recruits at the expense of completing immediate tasks, or devote them to immediate tasks without increasing population size? You can try both but at the end of the day, those zombies seem outpace you. It took forever to beat hard mode, but I eventually did.

Approaching Horde! is not a particularly grim zombie game. Its tone maintains a light heartedness that presents the zombie apocalypse in a more comic light without sacrificing the urgency of the situation. You go from channel surfing on your couch to commanding a group of zombie survivors. At the end of the game, (Spoiler - click to show) you are presented with a journal that the PC wrote about the experience with surprisingly cheerful entries. Even the bad endings, where you get zombified, are meant to be a bit humorous. I thought that the intro was especially funny and starts the game off on a strong note.

Your spouse has ran towards you so quickly, that you're knocked to the ground and your spouse is literally on top of you!

Normally this would be a good thing, but in this case your spouse has already turned and joined the ranks of the undead.

I feel that most interactive fiction games about zombies try to add a dash of humor. In this case, I do not mean games that take play in an apocalypse setting where people are turned into zombie-like beings by a fictious pathogen designed by an author. Those games are also awesome. I highly recommend playing Alone, another IFComp game that came out in 2020 (but made with Inform, not Twine). Some argue that Alone is a zombie game, and with solid reasoning. I can see why. Agreed. But it does not quite fit with what I have in mind here.

When I say zombie games, I mean games that blatantly advertise the fact that it is a zombie story where everything in the gameplay screams, we-are-living-in-a-zombie-apocalypse apocalypse. Out of every game that I have played that fits this category they all seem to instill some underlying humor or irony rather than 110% doomsday destruction. This is not a bad thing. Just something I did not realize until I played Approaching Horde! Then again, I am only basing this off the games I have seen so far. Feel free to share recommendations.

There are hardly any specific characters. There is Phil, your former neighbor, but he only gets a small mention. But no complaints. That works just fine with this storyline and format.

This is one of those stories where every survivor possesses the skills to become a biomedical researcher or farmer at the drop of the hat. Realistic? Probably not, it is a management game where you do not need to look too closely.

I already gave an overview of some of the visuals, so here is a deeper analysis. The design is not flashy, but simple and functional. Basic colours are used for drop-down menus, numbers, and other details while the status bars have some bright colours that change as they increase or decrease. All of this is set against a black background. Basic but attractive. Most importantly though, above all else, the text is large and easy to read.

Fancy effects are fun and encouraged, but detailed management games that go wild with visual effects can make it difficult to read and, you know, manage the content. This game keeps it easy to look at, and simple to use. There are some spelling errors that were noticeable but ultimately it has a polished and clear-cut look.

Final thoughts
This game has already roped me into playing about a dozen times. The gameplay is moderate in length, and it is fun to experiment. You may like this game if you are into zombies or resource management, or both. I suggest giving it a test run in easy mode to get acquainted to the gameplay mechanics, but there is a good chance that you will be reaching to play it again, perhaps in other modes. And if you feel otherwise, that is fine. It is just worth a try.

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