May 21, 2011 4:11 PM | Cassandra Khaw
In World of the Living Dead, players serve under the banner of the National Emergency Control and Relief Agency (NECRA). As a field operative, your job is to shepherd helpless survivors through the Los Angeles County. Unfortunately, given that the world is apparently now in the throes of a full-fledged zombie apocalypse, there's nowhere you can conceivably go. Instead, you'll find yourself fighting with other players for the limited resources available; the press release tells us that nothing is replenish-able.
Yeah, it's pretty brutal. Of course, there are ways around it, methods that cross the boundaries of questionable taste. Currently in beta, I have a feeling that World of the Living Dead was meant to be played in short, controlled bursts over the day. Your survivors come with certain statistics: hunger, thirst, fear, health and fatigue. Naturally, these replenish when you're well-stocked with commodities and in a secure location. However, the problem here is that need often arises a little bit too fast, an irritating staple of many browser-based games. But like I said, there are ways around it.
I'm up to my third squad. The first two had been summarily worked to death in an attempt to scavenge as many supplies as possible. Terrified, injured and exhausted, they had dropped likes flies before the zombie horde. Ordinarily, this would be distressing but it had all been part of my master plan. After all, their death meant my current squad would be well-fed and well-equipped.
There's something haunting about Ballardia Games' maiden project. It could well be that beta had started sometime ago and interest had waned over the last few months but the Los Angeles County of this world is a desolate place. Safe houses, broken-down cars and empty buildings litter the map. No one else is around. When you forage through these locations, you often find graffiti on the walls - notes from players that had come before you. Some will stay in character, others will lament the lack of resources while a notable few will do nothing but troll the boards, leaving extensive gibberish everywhere. Strangely, however, it seems to add to the atmosphere, intimating the gradual insanity that would come from most post-apocalyptic situations.
It's a pity, however, that the interface doesn't lend well to the experience. The first ten minutes consisted of me frantically trying to decipher the explosion of data that was on screen. How do I organize my survivors? Where do I go? Which button facilitates the ability to scavenge? How do I feed them? What, in short, is going on? As far as I can tell, there's no in-built help system; the mandatory wiki is the closest thing you have to one. To be fair, it's not that the system isn't easy to learn; a little trial and error is all that it takes. However, in this era of stream-lined interfaces and low learning curves, it feels somewhat jarring to actually have to sit there and wonder exactly what everything is about.
However, assuming you get over the initial false start, World of the Living Dead offers a pretty compact slice of 'survival horror simulation'. Early on, your days will consist of scavenging food, finding shelter and managing injuries. Later on, it seems that territories can be claimed for personal usage, resulting in a bit of a free-for-all; there are even means to track Survivor kills.
Experience is slowly gained through scavenging and other activities. Levels unlock additional options like factions, the ability to create stashes and even accept missions. It feels a lot like the developers intended for World of the Living Dead to be played in short, controlled bursts which, given the finite amount of resources, is understandable. However, as I intimated earlier, there are ways around it. Right now, I haven't quite made up my mind as to whether I like the game. For one, it's slightly too buggy for my tastes right about now. Also, the seeming deficiency of beta testers (everyone could just be somewhere else for all I know) makes the game feel a little too lonely. I imagine that it would be considerably more entertaining when people are routinely fighting for territory.
That said, how would that work? If there were a thousand people playing simultaneously, would the game be able to cope with the chaos? What would happen to the resources? Most importantly, how would the developers balance the play of power?
Questions like this may eventually go answered in a positive manner. For now, I'll continue forging ahead through the abandoned ruins of Los Angeles. Hopefully, there'll be friendly life somewhere.
Those interested in trying out the beta can go to the website and sign up there. That or, well, ask me; I have a few keys to spare.