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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.
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.