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28+ Days to Die

Okay, now I’m (probably) done with 7 Days to Die.

The one thing I really wanted to do was try and succeed at a randomly generated world. Which is kinda weird, since I’m not exactly a huge fan of procedural entertainment for its own sake. The issue in the absence of randomness is that… it’s not random – you know exactly where everything is. The specific loot might vary from seed to seed, but you’ll always know where the police station is, where there might be a gas station, ect.

Of course, random maps often end up like this nonsense:

7daystodie-terrain

Seems legit.

I almost abandoned my attempt within the first 30 or so minutes, simply because of how annoying it is starting back over. In my prior save, I already had crossbows, iron sledgehammers, and nearly all gun recipes. The real meat of survival games happens in that inbetween time where you are desperately scavenging for supplies while establishing a base. So while it’s fun stepping foot into zombie town for the first time, loot possibilities endless, it’s also highly annoying trying to break down doors with a stone axe. Oh, a gun safe? I’ll just break the lock… ah, right, Stone Age.

I kept at it though, and before I knew it, I had an impenetrable zombie base. Actually, I knew exactly when I had such a base, because I recognized the weird structure that lays atop a “hidden” bunker, and also knew that zombies can’t dig anymore, so the game was effectively over. I mean, there was still the very real chance at death due to zombie dogs, which I encountered several times while venturing about. But as far as Horde Night goes? I could effectively just go AFK while browsing Reddit while it occurred in the background.

7daystodie-fortress

Welcome to Thunderdome.

Later, I created a zombie cage with bars and spikes such that I could shoot/stab through the bars and even loot while the zombies couldn’t do much. I have yet to encounter the Screamer or Cop Zombie types, so perhaps increasing the difficulty could engender some additional feeling of danger.

Alternatively, I might be effectively done. Which is fine, considering I have been obsessively playing it for the last two weeks and have racked up nearly 60 hours at this point. Not bad for a game in Alpha. Indeed, the next update is supposed to have a Behemoth zombie that will topple structures with ease. Unless they let zombies aim at the ground though, bunkers will still be an I-WIN button.

In any case, I highly recommend this game.

I might also recommend waiting until at least Beta to get the most enjoyment out of it. But hey, if you catch it at $5 or $10, it’s worth the money if you think you might like zombie Minecraft.

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7 More Days to Die

I technically wrote my last 7 Days to Die (7DTD) post last week. As of today’s post, I have more than 30 hours in the game.

Things were dicey there for a bit. As mentioned, I had a wooden house on stilts on top of a gas station. While I survived the 7th day zombie horde with ease – whose zombies automatically see you through walls – there was a night where some zombies made it to the roof and were mucking about, seemingly ineffectively.

7daystodie-Pillar.jpg

Cue foreshadowing.

When I tried to repair a bit of the damage they dealt, I noticed that 3-4 of my roof blocks kept falling down. As I was walking around on the remaining roof tiles trying to figure out why… the entire wooden structure collapsed. Which destroyed my forge and two wooden chests, instantly destroying all of the items inside. Apparently one of the stilts had been destroyed, destabilizing the structure.

It is the nature of these sort of games that such a setback is enough to justify starting a new map.

Although I wanted to give up right then, I decided to pack up what little I could salvage and then strike out into the world. If I was going to give up, I may as well poke around and get some additional experience with the game world, eh? After walking around for a while, I suddenly saw it:

7daystodie-Stadium.jpg

Home, sweet home.

Yep, a football stadium. Score.

Over the next in-game week or so, I holed up in a makeshift structure on the roof of the press box, making traps and speeding along the crafting path. I might have just stayed there permanently, but I had no source of Potassium Nitrate, which is a key component of Gunpowder. While I understand that this is good game design, e.g. not having all resources in the same biome, it was nevertheless extremely annoying. So, I packed up some supplies, and struck out into the world again.

In the course of my journey, I came across a burnt forest biome. While scavenging a destroyed house, I noticed a well. With a hatch. Hmm. Opened the hatch and descended down, only to see a bunch of wooden stake traps in front of a bunker door. I spent the waning hours of Day 21, e.g. horde day, tearing down that metal bunker door with increasing trepidation. I had no backup plan; it was either this or death.

When the door finally fell, I walked in and… yeah: Loot for days.

I created a makeshift barricade down near the bunker entrance, but it did not appear to be especially necessary. The zombie AI had little issue attacking me on top of the gas station or even the stadium, but they have significant issues with underground bases, apparently. Indeed, none of them even really got to the well itself. I have read on the forums that there will eventually be digging zombies or something, but it’s hard to imagine them being able to get through ~10 blocks of dirt and then the concrete bunker itself.

Ironically, this was another logical end point. All my resources were back at the stadium, but I had effectively found a zombie-proof base. It reminded me of the endgame of Civilization matches, where winning is a foregone conclusion and you are left with just the drudgery of going through the actual motions.

Nevertheless, I’m still playing. I ended up leaving the bunker and trekking to a snow biome to finally get some Nitrate. By the time I got back to the stadium, I sat through Day 28’s horde with relative ease. At the point I stopped, I had a mini-bike (7DTD’s only vehicle) all but completed, and was considering the logistics of moving all of stuff to the bunker, including fertilized dirt since the burnt forest biome is kinda depressing. But… nah.

Am I done with the game for now? Probably. Maybe. Who knows? Unlike many other #ForeverAlpha games, 7DTD’s forums have active developer commentary and updates scheduled. The next build, for example, is supposed to include electricity, wires, automated traps, and some base-destroying behemoth zombies for all your endgame needs.

The game is fun and compelling in a visceral way for me, but I’m definitely heading towards the tail-end of novelty and optimization. If I play some more, I’m abandoning the default seed (of which I downloaded a map; cheesy, I know) and heading to randomly generated worlds. I’m just worried that this game will go the same way as Minecraft: a fantastic sandbox that I play in Alpha/beta and then never go back to, even after they add all the good stuff by release.

Survival Survival: 7 Days to Die

In short: zombie Minecraft.

7daystodie-GasBase2.jpg

Fortress of Mostly Solitude.

7 Days to Die (7DTD) is a fairly robust post-apocalyptic survival sandbox game that features deformable terrain, zombies, and the titular over-the-top weekly attempt on your life. I played version 15.1, and the game itself has been in alpha since December 2013. I just purchased it in the recent Steam Winter Sale for $10.

As with most survival games, you start out mostly naked with limited supplies. Run around, punch some trees, craft a Stone Axe that will be your primary tool for most of the game. The nice thing is that just about every single thing in the game world is able to be manipulated or destroyed. Craft a Stone Shovel early on and you can pretty much dig to bedrock. Or just dig a large moat around your future fortress. Then fill it with wooden spikes.

The zombies in this game are fairly standard walkers and runners, at least as far as I have seen. There is supposedly a “heat” system in place that determines whether the zombies will be attracted to your location, and the zombies themselves apparently can hear you (including the noise you make opening your inventory). Oh, and smell you too, if you happen to be carrying any meat. In practice, there will basically be zombies around at night no matter what you do.

7daystodie-GasBase.jpg

Further back shot of home.

Speaking of zombies, there is an interesting interaction with them and the game world. Everything is destructible, remember? That also means by zombies. While they can certainly try to break their way through windows and doors, there is nothing stopping them from literally banging their way through the walls either. Even elevated positions are not immune, as zombies with readily take their rage out at anything near your location, including any sort of support structures.

Oh, and have I mentioned that there are (rudimentary) physics in the game? Alpha is alpha, so there are some goofiness like floating candles and such, but buildings can absolutely come tumbling down if enough supports are destroyed. (Cue ominous foreshadowing.)

Mechanically, the game is… in an interesting place. The early game feels fantastic. Looting feels extremely rewarding, as you can get some rather extreme rewards from any random pile of garbage. Things get weird in the mid-game though, around the Iron stage of crafting. At that point you are going to need a standard, defensible base to craft a forge, and then start harvesting a ton of resources. If you haven’t looted some critical tools before the Forge though – such as a Cooking Pot – you almost might be better off resetting the game. You can craft such things, but it is so far along the “tech” tree that most of the benefit is moot.

7daystodie-glass

It’s always nice to have choices.

Speaking of tech trees, there is a rudimentary leveling system in the game, somewhat similar to Ark. Honestly, the implementation needs some considerable iteration, as it is not intuitive at all. There are some “big” skills that cost 10 points per rank, and grant you thinks like faster Stamina regeneration or bonus damage to blunt weapons. There are also skills that only cost 1 point each, such as Mining, which are naturally raised by performing the skill in-game, but can be purchased outright. Then there are other ones, such as Leather, which just straight-up grants you the ability to create leather. But there are also schematics in the game that are required before you can craft certain items.

Like I said, the Skill/Leveling system needs some work. It feels good seeing your crafting skills naturally improving, but you also run into the Oblivion problem of incentivizing, say, crafting a hundred wood clubs to power-level your way to the next unlock. It also irks me a bit that Iron and Steel take the same materials, with the latter just being kinda arbitrarily locked behind “Construction Tools X.” Some kind of progression system is good, but I’m not sure this one is the right one.

Overall though, I am both impressed and pleased with 7 Days to Die thus far. I put in around 10 hours in two days, and will probably be stopping here. On my second character, I built a sort of wood treehouse on the roof of a gas station, and survived the 7th Day horde attack with relative ease. As I started digging a moat around the perimeter in anticipation of the next one, it occurred to me that playing any further was likely to result in me extracting all of the fun out of the game before it is fully implemented/tweaked.

Review: Dying Light

Game: Dying Light
Recommended price: $10
Metacritic Score: 75
Completion Time: ~30 hours
Buy If You Like: Dead Island meets Mirror’s Edge, Parkour, Zombies

Environments that, for the most part, don't feel contrived.

Environments that, for the most part, don’t feel contrived.

Dying Light is a less gamey Dead Island meets Mirror’s Edge. In other words, it is a zombie game in which you spend less time killing zombies for XP and more time parkouring along the rooftops to avoid them… for XP. It’s a game of movement, momentum, and generally avoiding battles wherever you can. Or mowing through zombies if you feel like it. Either/or.

The premise of the game is that you are a lone GRE agent sent into a zombie quarantined zone in an effort to resolve a rogue agent situation before it gets (more) out of control. In the process, you help people, sometimes not help people, and otherwise play Dead Island again. By which I mean collect crafting material and blueprints so you can craft increasingly unlikely weapon mods to help you separate zombie heads from zombie shoulders. There aren’t zombie health bars or numbers popping up after each attack, but we all know that they’re there, right beneath the surface. Especially once your badass electric katana inexplicably no longer one-shots random Biters.

Indeed, if there was one element from Dying Light that I felt fell flat (beyond the ending), it was the actual crunchy gamey bits. I enjoyed how the Skill Tree system was segmented into independent categories – you level up Power by fighting, Agility by parkour, and they have their own trees – but the crafting part was straight lifted from Dead Island, and otherwise felt out of place. Why is this Chef Knife dealing more damage than a Fire Axe? Oh, right, because the Chef Knife is purple. That didn’t bother me in Dead Island because I saw a cascade of “150 damage” pop-ups after throwing a Molotov, but it’s damn weird here.

Also, I hope you like the Fallout 3/4/New Vegas lockpicking minigame, because you’ll be doing that approximately a million times. Luckily, it becomes increasingly not worth it.

Fortunately, this sort of thing rarely gets old.

Conversely, this sort of thing rarely gets old.

Mirror’s Edge is the comparison everyone makes to any game that features parkour, but I must say that Dying Light gets the feeling closer than most. A lot of the more interesting maneuvers are gated behind level unlocks – including basic stuff like sliding – but even from the start things feel real good as you scramble on rooftops and vehicles. Indeed, once you start unlocking the rest of the tree (along with the grappling hook), you’ll start to feel like part Neo, part goddamn Spiderman. Even after 30 hours, running at a dead (har, har) sprint and vaulting onto a rooftop from the shoulder of a zombie trying to grab you never gets old.

One of the biggest gimmicks of the game is the Day/Night cycle, where especially overpowered “Volatile” zombies comes out to play. What is so curious about this is how utterly optional it ends up being; every Safe House features a bed, which you can freely use to skip Night segments, even when it doesn’t make much sense (e.g. something bad is happening in the next 24 hours… or next month, if you just want to sleep a bunch). The game makes a token effort to get you to venture out at Night via sidequests, but for the most part I ignored it. At least, I did until I unlocked the Grappling Hook and the “Camouflage” skill, the latter of which in particular removes basically all danger from Night escapades.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Dying Light. If you were someone who didn’t enjoy Dead Island, Dying Light is probably different enough to make it worth your time to try it out. Then again, since I’m one of those apparently crazy people who enjoyed Dead Island in the first place, it’s tough to be objective. All that I know is that it’s going to be difficult going back to any zombie game that doesn’t allow you to scale walls and Spiderman your way around town.

Or if I’m honest, any open-world game.

Review: Dead Rising 2

[Blaugust Day 9]

Game: Dead Rising 2
Recommended price: bundle
Metacritic Score: 78
Completion Time: ~17 hours
Buy If You Like: GTA Zombies, Frustrating mechanics, Improvised weapons

A very serious game for very serious people.

A very serious game for very serious people.

For the record, Dead Rising 2 is the only entry in this series that I played. Coming into this entry, my expectations were fairly minimal, and I knew only that the game featured wacky weapons and… that was it. What I discovered was a title that both exceeded my expectations wildly, and one that almost immediately squandered all the goodwill it generated.

The premise of the game is that you play as Chuck Greene, a father desperately trying to make ends meet and pay for his daughter’s Zombrex, the toxic daily prescription drug that is the only thing standing between her and undeath. Unlike many other titles in this genre, the setting takes the zombie apocalypse as a given – Chuck participates in a televised gameshow with prize money being awarded to whomever is able to kill the most zombies with their chainsaw-motorcycles. After the latest Live event, someone dressed as Chuck manages to frame him for terrorism when they release said zombies into the greater Fortune City casino area.

What follows is perhaps one of the most, if not “authentic,” certainly the most interesting takes on the zombie apocalypse. There are zombies everywhere, hundreds of them. Frankly, there are so many zombies on screen at a time that I’m honestly surprised that the devs were able to pull it off.

Submitted without comment.

Submitted without comment.

Despite said zombies being of the shuffling variety, they always feel like a threat by sheer numbers alone. At the same time… it’s difficult to describe, but the zombies felt like understandable obstacles. By the midpoint of the game, I found myself not just capable of weaving through dense crowds of them without stopping or even taking damage, but it feeling correct for this to happen. In other words, it wasn’t that the zombie AI was dumb or that I “exploited” their behavior, but rather that the zombies followed natural rules in terms of range of motion and the like. If you approach a zombie from behind, for example, it had to turn to its left before it could attempt to lunge, and thus you could escape by passing on the right. And even more than that, said swiveling zombie would act as an obstacle to the zombies that were following behind you.

Another great aspect of the game was the refreshing take on narrative. The game is structured around the inexorable passing of time – your daughter needs Zombrex every 24 hours at a minimum, and your window of opportunity in clearing your name similarly closes with each passing hour. Inbetween the big events, you will get notifications about trapped survivors and such, most of whom will be dead soon without assistance. You might be having fun crafting weapons and collecting cash on one end of the Strip, for example, but unless you book it to the other side in a hurry, those survivors will be zombies themselves right quick. The clock creates a subtle tension throughout the game, without (usually) being too overwhelming.

The problem with Dead Rising 2 are the Psychopaths, e.g. boss fights. Along with survivor quests, you will occasionally get vague quests to head over to a specific location. Once there, some random survivor will have snapped from the stress and be out for human blood. Generally speaking, these fights are total gimmicks and stupidly, inexplicably deadly. Whereas you might be able to sustain 20+ zombie bites across a period of time, Psychopaths will kill you in a few hits or less, especially if you don’t immediately understand the gimmick.

Some weapons are more effective than others.

Some weapons are more effective than others.

Compounding the problem, the Save Game structure of Dead Rising 2 is that progress is ONLY saved when you go to the bathroom. Psychopath on the other side of the Strip across four screens of zombies and nary a Porta Potty in sight? Guess what you’ll be replaying over and over? This isn’t even taking into consideration that Psychopath fights are scripted to occur at specific locations at specific times, which means you can suddenly find yourself in the middle of one while you were trying to escort some abysmally dumb survivors across a sea of zombies.

Indeed, I remember one Psychopath battle in particular as it was the most god-awful situation I have experienced in videogames. Basically, this encounter was with four redneck snipers who decide to take residence in the central open area of the game. You know, the place with the most zombies per capita? That you had to routinely cross through all the goddamn time? And they never left, even after the end of the proper game. What the literal shit, Capcom? Those snipers hounded me the rest of the game, on into the epilogue, and by that point I did not have the time or ammo to take them out.

The bottom line was that Dead Rising 2 felt and played as an innovative zombie game, with enough cool things going on to make one horribly disappointed with the superfluous bullshit tacked on for no good reason. From what I gather, Dead Rising 2 is actually uncharacteristically serious compared to the other titles in the series – a sort of Saint’s Row to, say, Dead Island’s GTA – and that’s certainly interesting trivia. I didn’t play the other games, and based on my experiences with this game, I probably never will. If you can snag the game on the cheap though, I think it’s worth trying out if only for the first ~5 hours or so, as you steep in the goodness that is a freeform zombie apocalypse.