Rise and Shiny: Zombie Pandemic

Zombie Pandemic screenshot

I really want to recommend Zombie Pandemic, a browser-based, post-apocalyptic "MMORPG" by Pixel Pandemic. I really do. The problem is that I can see you sitting down to play a cool-sounding game, recommended by me, only to leave it within an hour because its server issues literally make the game unplayable at times. It's such a shame because there are several great ideas going on in the game and several systems and mechanics that rely heavily on real timing and, you know, the server running smoothly. During my time with the game this week, I had the game reset a good portion of my progress, kill me with server burps, and block me from purchasing item shop goods. Yes, that's right... not only did the game prevent me from playing at times, but it also prevented me from giving it money.

Still, I'm going to tell you why I liked the game and why you should still check it out. It's a great game for players who enjoy zombies, post-apocalyptic survival, board games, and relatively deep storylines.

Zombie Pandemic screenshot

The game starts you off by throwing you into a beat-up world in the grips of a zombie apocalypse. That's not a bad thing if you're a gamer. The view is from the top of the map, making the game feel a bit like a rousing session of Twilight Creation's Zombies!! board game. You move through squares that represent an area that is about quarter the size of a city block. Each square is hand-painted, and different buildings, locations, and objects are represented simply. I truly love the art style in this game. It's primitive and a little ugly, so it reminds me of many of the RPGs I enjoyed as a child and beyond.

Some squares are just empty areas with nothing to do but pass through. Others have buildings in them that can accessed by pressing a simple door icon. Inside you might find loot, humans with missions to run, or packs of zombies. You'll spend a lot of time hovering around the beginning areas in order to finish missions that serve to educate you about the game. You might run to a pharmacy to see if you can scavenge some medicine for a sick survivor, or you might be asked to make an ammo run at a gun shop. Once you get a mission, you work your way to the waypoint by following the yellow arrows. You can click on those arrows as quickly as you'd like (if the game loads in time, that is) and will need to dodge packs of zombies and other dangers as you move along.

Watch live video from Massivelytv on TwitchTV
Local dangers can be represented by a skull icon tacked on top of a directional arrow. If you are smart, you'll try to work your way away from the danger by using the gray arrows that represent no danger in the next area. Sometimes you have to work your way around to finally make it to your waypoint, but the game can be so dangerous that I found it easier to avoid danger than to confront it.

As you run around the map you can click on different loot spots like broken down cars or piles of rubble. There's a small animation while you are told what you find, and the pile will then count down until it can be searched again. Of course, if you don't want to wait, you can pay real-life cash and immediately search again.

That brings me to the coin shop. I would like to tell you more about it, but in the dozen or so times that I attempted to access it, I was informed that the server was not responding. I normally like to put a few dollars in my games just to see what I can get, but this was the first time that a game that actually refused my money. I was able to access the store that sells powerful items, and once I was able to compare the items' prices to the credit shop, I realized that the game is pretty pricey. Still, I'm used to it, so the sticker-shock was lessened. I didn't feel as though I had to buy any of the items in the item shop in order to play. It's possible that the game becomes "harder" much later on, but even though the item shop was tempting, it was also very possible to ignore it.

Zombie Pandemic screenshot

The game also offers a few interesting spins on systems that I have seen before and always enjoy. If you want to raise a skill, like marksmanship, for example, you can assign a certain amount of time to it and watch it rise. Once you hit a cap for that skill, you can find different NPCs who will help you raise it. As you level by performing missions and killing zombies, you will gain points to put into different physical stats like strength, smarts, or constitution. On top of that, you can equip your character will all sorts of goodies, from weapons to bits of armor, further tweaking him or her.

Combat is where all of your work pays off. When you are attacked, you will go to a new screen that looks more like a primitive first-person-shooter. From what I could gather (when the server made combat possible), combat is sort of a real-time turn-based affair. You can move forward or backward and switch from melee weapons to ranged. You can also toss firebombs and other anti-zombie weapons at your attackers. Sometimes you are attacked in a smaller area and the fight starts off with your enemy right on top of you, forcing you to fight with a melee weapon or to flee.

Zombie Pandemic screenshot

When everything is working (which is rare), the fights are fun and intense. I learned to back off, fire my rifle (which I have to reload each time), and switch to melee only when I ran out of choices. I was able to beat down several zombies at once, but the fight lag was so bad at times that I would push a button, go to the restroom, and come back to find that it had not yet stopped "loading," meaning I had to push it again only to have the game suddenly catch up and nuke half of my lifebar.

The point of the game is to eventually build a way to escape by gathering materials for one of three different projects -- a glider, a raft or a blimp -- and to get the heck out of Dodge. Along the way you can do missions and explore the neat, linear story or go off on your own with a clan of players. I enjoyed exploration, but the game is tough even without the lag. In the end, I learned to stick to linear missions as they paid off the best.

I would love to recommend this unique title but cannot until the server issues are fixed. I asked the developers directly and was told that the issue is that Microsoft hosts the severs; a fix is said to be in the works. All I know is that lag like the kind you'll find in this game negates the game's best systems. Still, check out the game if you can because it really is pretty cool.

Next week I am exploring the newly launched Eldevin. I will be streaming the game live on Monday, the 9th of December, at 4:00 p.m. EST, right here on our livestream channel!

Each week on Rise and Shiny, Beau chooses a different free-to-play, indie, or browser-based game and jumps in head-first. It might be amazing or it might be a dud, but either way, he'll deliver his new-player impressions to you. Drop him an email, comment, or tweet!