Promise. Promise is a word used a lot when talking about games that aren’t yet finished, but this is its vaguest meaning. I like to think that when we say a game has promise, we mean it has the possibility to give us those great moments that only games can give us. Which leads me to another term thrown around a lot in this industry, emergent gameplay. The Dead Linger is a game that follows in the footsteps of success stories such as DayZ, the critically acclaimed mod for the Milsim Arma 2. But you know that; everybody knows the story of Day Z, it positively thrives off the idea of emergent gameplay. Give the player an open world with no rules and a lot of toys to play around with. The only thing DayZ did differently was add other players.
So what is different about The Dead Linger? Well firstly it’s not a mod, it’s a full game that’s been under development by Sandswept Studios since late 2011. The landscape was very different when this game was conceptualised: only DayZ really had the corner of this market covered, and a slice of the pie was ripe and ready for any game that could step up and take it. The War Z failed quite publicly, and we haven’t really had another large attempt to take the brain stained and bloody crown since.
So here is The Dead Linger. In its current state, this First Person Zombie Survival Horror, and any other terms you want to throw in there, is in open alpha and available on Steam as part of the early access program. If you’re wondering why I mention that, it’s because it shows. For a game that’s been in development for two years, there is very little here to go on.
Gameplay is very much minimal. There are weapons, you can pick them up and you can kill zombies. There are also houses, you can loot them, and that is pretty much the extent of the gameplay.
The combat itself is anything but solid, with no feeling of connection between you and your melee weapons. You can wail on a zombie and only realise he’s been hit when he falls over, which sometimes, he plain won’t; he’ll just stand there staring at you. In the version I was playing, there is a bug that means you cannot actually fire any projectile weapons, even when having the right ammo.
What’s kind of ironic is that the gun models look like they are what the team have been working on for two years. The animations and textures of the guns are of a high quality and that’s a shame seeing as the world, zombie and player animations seem to be highly lacking. Floating textures and zombies are a frequent occurrence, load times are huge, and any time I would enter an area I hadn't yet visited my computer would stall and jitter around for a while as it loaded.
The inventory system is very much familiar to anyone who’s played an RPG with a grid-based inventory management system. You have a certain amount of space, items take up differing amounts of that space, and you must balance this. The backpacks you can pick up seem to give you a lot of inventory space and make finding food and storing it almost too easy. This is all stuff to be expected from an alpha though, and should not be held against the developer.
At this point you’re wondering, are there any GOOD things about this game right now!? To which I would reply, absolutely.
The soundtrack is frankly the single greatest reason I played this game as long as I did. It does a great job and evokes that 28 Days Later vibe that is so eerie and haunting.
The landscapes are also fantastic. With added time and effort this game will look brilliant. I would urge the creators to stick with the simple colour palette they chose for this game so far. With the music and the colour palette this game recalls memories of The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion. And that can never be a bad thing. The problem I have is that I can’t see this game’s gameplay getting any more in-depth than it already is. Sure it may add guns, and may have a barricading mechanic that is yet to be fully integrated, but the unfortunate truth is that the FPS Zombie Survival genre has been done and done well. Without any sort of interesting differences so far, and the only promise of anything different to come is the ability to barricade yourself in a house, this may just be another attempt to jump on a trend.
None of the gameplay is very tight and makes for a very uninteresting play session, which after two years, it really shouldn't. This brings me back to promise. This game does show promise. If the effort that has gone into the gun models and soundtrack can still be put into the mechanics and gameplay, then it may be good fun.
But right now it’s simply that, a promise of a better game.