I feel like I've gone back in time. Mere months ago, I was playing Wasteland 2, a faithful throwback to old-school, isometric western RPGs of the 90s (think Fallout 1 & 2), the likes of which I originally thought wiped from the face of gaming earth with the advent of 3D, and now, here, is another of the same... a game that plays almost identically to Wasteland 2 and Fallout 1-2 that went before it. But with a twist. Yes, a zombie flavoured twist.
So what are we talking? Top down, party-based adventuring is the name of the game, in which you travel on an over world map till you reach your intended destination or random battle encounter. Get into a fight and everything switches from point-and-click real time to grid-based, turn-based combat. In said combat, everything you do is governed by action points: moving a square will cost one action point, a light melee weapon four, a gun six, reloading two. Animations in combat are simplistic but come with a satisfying thunk as you spend all nine of your action points to bring a hefty sledgehammer into contact with the enemy zombie's head. So far, so simple but as I was playing I quickly become worried: if all combat is just with zombies won’t that get... dull... quick? And as if the game developers had read my mind, Dead State then threw human looters with guns at me. Leaving me, initially, with a game that feels and plays just like Fallout 1-2 but without the humour.
What sets Dead State apart from the rest, however, and makes the game an interesting sell, is its defence building element. Back at base you need to manage your rag-tag band of survivors by assigning them to roles in an X-COM style base-management mechanic. Firstly, you’ll want to assign combat experts and medics to your main party to scavenge out on the world map, but for those that aren’t so handy with a scalpel or machete there are still important roles to play: you can assign them upkeep roles to improve the morale of the base; crafting roles to create specialised items or construction roles to build fortifications such as fences and lookout towers. Almost everything you do at base, including simply living through the night, requires specific resources. Resources which - you guessed it - have to be found out in the zombie and looter infested world map. As such, with the large world map open to you from the start, you aren't propelled along so much by a standard story but more so by the need to survive; each time you set foot outside, it isn't to respond to a distress call or beacon but because you need, NEED, supplies.
Diplomacy looks set to play a big role in the game too. Keeping your survivors happy by saying the right things and bringing them luxury items they request adds to morale, you will also interact with other survivor groups you meet, some of whom need to be fought off, overrun, left alone or bargained with. The presence of perma-death also promises to make things interesting: will you give the antibiotics that will stop party members from turning to flesh-eaters to the charming but relatively useless vet or the combat efficient cop with the personality and brain function of a dead fish? Or do you push out on to the world map looking for more medicine in the hope of saving both, while putting even more of your party at risk?
At the moment the happy meld of Fallout style RPG mechanics and X-Com-esque base management looks set to make for an interesting game, one which does the whole zombie apocalypse theme much more justice than a lot of action-oriented games that have gone before it.