I’ve never really been a fan of the zombie apocalypse genre. Lately the whole zombie apocalypse craze has become hard to ignore, since there are loads of games on Steam set in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by zombies. Project Zomboid is different though, there is something about that game that makes me want to commit several hours of my life to playing it. So let me save the best for first, and tell you that what sets this game apart from the rest is that you are just a normal, fragile human being.
Most of the zombie survival games that I have played are very good at portraying the killing zombies part, but not so good at portraying the survival part. What Project Zomboid does differently is that you have to deal with everyday survival while trying to steer clear of and potentially fight and kill zombies that you come across. You don’t simply have a health bar like you do in other games, you can get real injuries which might mean ripping up a shirt to make bandages you can use to stop the bleeding, and drinking pills to alleviate the pain. Worse still, if you get infected from a zombie bite, you might have to deal with several symptoms before realizing that this is not just a common cold, and eventually reaching your inevitable death. Death is permanent by the way, meaning you will have to start a new game.
When I was a kid, I used to fantasize about what it would be like to be left alone in the world with nobody else, leaving me free to go into candy stores and raid everything that my heart desires. Project Zomboid is pretty much that, except that I never considered how difficult it would get beyond the first day of being left alone in the world (okay, I also didn’t think there would be zombies). To give you an idea of what Project Zomboid is like to play, I’ll do a hypothetical journal of what the average playthrough feels like. This is only an example, and things can be very different from one play-through to the next.
After creating a character, you are left in the world directly after the zombie apocalypse has begun. You are the only person not infected (at least until they include NPCs in the game), and you have to start thinking about how you will survive. You begin in your house, and the first step is to find some sort of bag to gather up and carry supplies. If you’re lucky, you get a nice big duffle bag and take all the food from the fridge, and any useful tools you can find. Crucially, you have to find a weapon to defend yourself, and anything from a fork to a golf club will do. You leave your house, and start scavenging through neighboring houses to find more supplies. Eventually it gets dark and you lock yourself in a room in a random house to get some sleep.
You’ve finally found a nice secluded house that you can use as a permanent base. You immediately take all your bowls, pots, bottles etc. and fill them up with water from the sink, for when the water and power eventually goes out. Right now, you can still use to oven to cook food, which is nice, while it lasts. You cover all the windows with sheets, and turn the lights out to make sure no peeping zombies spot you inside your safehouse.
You’ve had to kill several zombies now on scavenging expeditions, but you’re still alive. On a few occasions you’ve encountered zombie hordes, but luckily you’ve managed to escape before they overwhelm you. Even better, you’ve managed to get an axe, saw, hammer, and some nails. You chop down trees, saw the logs into planks and start fortifying your safehouse by barricading the windows and building a high fence around it.
Between your canned food and food in your refrigerator you are well catered for, but this food won’t last forever. Luckily you’ve found a trowel and some seeds so you can start planting and farming your own crops.
The water and power has been out for some time now. You heat your food with a fire, using a lighter and whatever source of fuel you can find (even books) to get it going. Food in refrigerators around town has started to spoil, but luckily you have some canned foods left in addition to your vegetable farm. You’ve built crates with empty garbage bags in them to collect rain water, ensuring that you always have a place to fill up your drinking bottles, and find water to keep your crops going if the rain stops for a few days.
You arrive back home after an expedition, only to find that you’ve left the gate open, and a huge horde of zombies has strayed into your yard and is hanging around outside your house. You dash into the house, closing the door behind you. You start filling up your bag with crucial supplies that you can use to survive while waiting for the horde to move on. Unfortunately, they break down the door while you are still packing, forcing you into a corner, and you quickly get torn apart and killed by the horde.
Project Zomboid is the closest any game has come to accurately represent what an apocalypse would be like if you were the sole survivor. The reason why I compared Project Zomboid to The Sims, is because in many ways it is similar. You have moodlets affecting your character; you have to deal with everyday tasks such as cooking, eating, sleeping, and boredom; you can build a house; you can decorate your house; you can read and write in journals; the list goes on. The major difference of course is that instead of going to work, you go out to scavenge for materials and fight zombies.
The reviews on Steam are testament to how good this game is. There are people writing Steam reviews who have racked up over 500 hours of playtime, and the best part is that it is only 15$ to buy. Note that the game is early access, and it still lacks some features such as proper online multiplayer and local split-screen multiplayer. Also, the game needs more comprehensive in-game help, and an in-game map would also be welcome. That said, these updates will likely be added in the not so distant future and there is enough there already to justify the price tag.