Let's talk zombies and post-apocalyptic futures. Sure, the undead have become an overused and watered-down genre, but it's easy to see just why it's so successful -- it practically has something for everyone. The horror fans love it for obvious reasons; there's nothing scarier than the reanimated dead. Sandbox fans and survivalist maniacs love that it represents what happens to society when everything -- and I mean everything -- breaks down. MMO fans adore it because it's all about teamwork and developing a society from the ground up alongside other people. So even though the genre is getting spread a bit thin, it's still as promising as any other.
I thought it'd be a good idea to round up many of the current zombie MMOs and pseudo-MMOs so that over the holidays you can celebrate by ignoring your family to bash in a few previously deceased skulls. You can thank me later when all of the training you receive while playing these games helps you survive the coming zombie apocalypse.
Infestation: Survivor Stories has been through enough real-life drama to make me think that it truly has survived some sort of apocalypse. It was initially named War Z but changed to its new and wordy name because of reasons. While that alone is not enough to make me wonder about its future, the game was initially plagued by hacker attacks, forum controversy, and plenty of cheating. It went on to launch last summer, and Massively's own Mike Foster had, well, quite a time with it.
The game appears much more stable now. You'll still have to contend with the occasional random server burp, and of course, the "colorful" community. It's obvious that many players are being banned for "unfair play" (something Mike noticed in his write-up), but it's hard to say how it affects the long-term game. Patch notes come in quite often, and the game does appear to be running a lot more smoothly. There are still some issues with graphics, like grass and trees remaining invisible at certain settings, but overall the game seems to be on better ground. In fact, many of the issues that Mike had appear to be smoothed out now -- especially when playing on a private server.
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Infestation: Survivor Stories is a gritty game that lets you run around in instanced maps that can hold scores of other players. You'll scavenge for goods and weapons, dodge zombies, and hopefully hang out with a group of friendly players. The game becomes incredibly dark at night, and you need to stay aware of the amount of sound you are making. You'll be warned if you are making too much noise or if you are getting too close to danger via an icon in your top right-hand corner that changes color as danger approaches.
You can die of starvation, of infection, of death by zombie, or in many other ways. As Mike pointed out in his article, getting killed by players is a problem because you drop the items you scavenged and then have to wait up to an hour before you can log in again. You can have several characters ready to cycle in or can pay real-life cash to shorten the wait. It only takes a few players who do not care about losing items or surviving to ruin a good game. Luckily, players can rent private servers directly from the company. I rented one myself to play on for a few weeks and will report back as to how that experience stacks up to the solo one. Look for that in a future article.
DayZ is a post-apocalyptic mod of ArmA II, a military shooter that has proven to be a very popular (even for an alpha) destination for those who enjoy a long trip through a zombie playground. It's set in a massive Russian wasteland; you'll walk, run, and sneak across the landmass while searching for water, food, weapons and equipment. There's no one "objective," and if your character is killed by another player or zombie, you'll simply start over.
The advantage of DayZ over many other games is that it's relatively easy to get into once you figure out the basics. I bought the entire Arma II package directly from Steam, downloaded the DayZ mod from Steam, and then snagged DayZ Commander, an all-in-one launcher that does everything from repairing and updating your game to finding hundreds of servers to play on and keeping you connected to your favorites. I've already placed a few friendly, open servers on my favorites for easy play. If you overlook the initial cost of the Arma II pack, the game is easy, fun, and cheap.
DayZ will feel similar to these other zombie games because there are only so many ways to use the brown and gray color scheme. Luckily the mod also features a lot of graphical bells and whistles and looks great. If you try and swim past zombies (as I did early on), you'll suffer from hypothermia and will be subject to a blurring screen and shaking avatar. The mod is full of clever effects. You can break bones, become hungry, or die of dehydration. You can also team up with friends to salvage materials to build vehicles.
You'll run into many of the same trollish gamer types, but once you find a great server, you get to know many of the personalities. Many of them even prove to be helpful, probably due to the fact that the longer-running servers have figured out how hard it is to run a server that has to be constantly policed. DayZ is great for jump-in sessions, trying to locate some weapons and goods, and becoming part of smaller communities. The game does have a bit of a learning curve, especially concerning the controls, however, and the sheer number of variations in server types might leave you confused at first.
State of Decay is the MMO I have always wanted, although it is not an MMO. It comes from Undead Labs. You start off as a character who is quickly sucked into a small group of survivors. Your job is to make your way into the surrounding town to gather materials, food, ammo, medical supplies and other items that will help your settlement grow. You can pick up and locate to another house or base once you have enough goods and volunteers to do so, but along the way you'll lose some familiar faces to zombie attacks or even madness.
Because you can suffer from fatigue, you can switch between characters at your settlement. Some will flat out refuse to go because they are too tired or stressed, but once you assemble a team, making it back alive becomes much easier. You can steal cars as much as you want, but there is a limited number of them, and they do get damaged or even destroyed and can be repaired only after several upgrades to your home base.
There's a linear storyline and missions that you can take, and there's no shortage of random encounters with monsters, survivors, and colorful personalities. Every time you think the game is going to get quiet, it becomes chaotic once again. Think of this game as a combination of Skyrim, Grand Theft Auto, and a post-apocalyptic survival simulator. It has some of the best, most realistic systems for character development (and potential death) than I've seen in a long while. It's just so, so sad that it does not support multiplayer yet. Look for a brand-new expansion, called Breakdown, coming later this week.
There are also many other fun zombie-themed MMOs and pseudo-MMOs for you to try. Die2Nite is a favorite of mine; it's known for its browser-based accessibility and simple-yet-deep gameplay. Dead Frontier is an action-based shooter that throws you into a game that plays sort of like a dual-stick arcade shooter with the undead. It's free-to-play and based in your browser. Zombie Pandemic plays in your browser and acts more like a board game. Although I'm not sure how the multiplayer "MMO" aspects that the site brags about work, it does sport some interesting systems to represent scavenging and combat. Rust is a newer mod from the guy who brought you Garry's Mod, and it offers realistic survival combat and horror. It's in a limited alpha right now but already has a hefty following.
There are many more titles that allow you to fight the walking dead, but these are the best multiplayer or semi-multiplayer attempts so far this year. Most of them are free-to-play with options, so be prepared to lose many hours in a virtual, brown landscape.
Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?