EA SCOUT the last line of defense for buying on Steam's Early Access
by Sorin Annuar
previewed on PC
How do you spruce up the undead?
Like the undead hordes currently featured as the villains du jour, zombie games are currently seemingly endless and unstoppable. To stand out from the rest of the oncoming shuffling masses requires an injection of something distinctive and different. This is where Zombie Playground hopes to come in, its particular viral strain interestingly injected with the DNA of art design studio Massive Black, who have previously provided artwork for a number of high-profile game releases, as well as additional support from Erich Schaefer, whose résumé includes the first two Diablo games as well as the Torchlight series.
Launched as a Kickstarter project in 2012, Zombie Playground is currently available on Steam Early Access. Combining an aesthetic that lies somewhere between Team Fortress 2 and SNES/MegaDrive classic Zombies Ate My Neighbours, Zombie Playground puts you in the shoes of a kid trying to survive the hordes of undead following a zombie apocalypse.
The game currently features one map and two character classes to play as well as a small list of objectives, enough to give you a taster of the game mechanics. Current objectives range from simply exploring the school, to despatching increasing numbers of zombies, to facing off against a boss. Enemies tend to come in ‘waves’, although as with any zombie game, the real danger lies in letting them swarm you should you get careless, at which point they will mercilessly drain your health bar, causing you to have to restart the level. Fortunately your character isn’t completely vulnerable, as you are able to dash away from (and into) danger; the pace at which the game moves and the near-constant respawning of zombies means you’re constantly kept on your toes and very rarely allowed to stay still.
Controls and customisation
Controls are intuitive and feel natural for anyone who’s played a third-person action game or shooter, and are automatically mapped to the gamepad should you choose to play with one. Even without a tutorial in the current version, it doesn’t take long to figure out what your basic attacks and support action controls are. The only reservation at this point is that melee combat feels a bit stilted, and enemies can sometimes feel like bullet sponges.
The developers have also included a surprisingly large selection of customisation clothing options, which appear to mostly be for cosmetic purposes. It’s nothing you’ll find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time on, but the selections of hoodies, t-shirts, jeans, skirts and even wristbands on offer is a nice touch. The equipment screen, selectable only between missions, is also where you will change your character class and weapon loadout.
The selling points
As mentioned before, the aesthetic of the game is going to be a big selling point: the strong art style aside, there is a consistency to the in-game designs that keep every aspect of the game firmly grounded in its created reality. Characters’ weapons are modified everyday items you would find around schools, or would get your hands on if you were a kid, which is strangely reminiscent of Dead Rising’s improvised weapon gameplay ethic (although here weapons are pre-set and cannot be changed during the game). The game also features a fitting soundtrack, provided by Shawn Lee, whose past game contributions include Bully and The Getaway as well as numerous other musical projects.
There is a lot of potential offered in this game – however, at this stage I was unable to find anyone to play co-op or 4v4 competitive with, which is where the real meat of the game will lie once that feature is fully implemented. The finished game also promises more areas to explore across the school grounds (at the moment a lot of doors which would lead to other areas are boarded up). Judging from comments on both the Steam and official game forums, the developers are constantly listening to feedback from players, and there is already an enthusiastic fanbase building up around the game, which bodes well for the game’s future.
As it stands, this game will be worth keeping an eye on for when it’s finished. There isn’t much in the current build that would necessarily entice you to throw your money at, but the finished product may have the potential to be a fun, frantic and entertaining co-op blast.
The game has potential, but we're not ready to jump in with both feet. If the game interests you, look, but don't touch - yet.