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Braaaaains. And Speed!, December 7, 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.
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