Welcome to the next step of the zompocalypse—the world as we know it has ended, something horrible swept across the countryside like disease on the wings of a murder of crows, felling humanity and raising the dead with a mindless desire for human flesh. The world’s military was quickly overwhelmed, the cities are death-traps, and the countryside is barren. It’s the stuff of every zombie novel. The undead shamble through the streets while survivors dart from shadow to shadow; they travel during the day and avoid contact with the walking dead—and more often than not each other.
This is the depth of the World of the Living Dead playable at WorldofTheLivingDead.com.
You play a group of survivors who belong to the grimly acronymed NECRA (National Emergency Control and Relief Agency) who survived the undead holocaust in save houses tucked around Los Angeles County.
The walking dead, nicknamed “zeds” by NECRA agents, offer a constant obstacle to movement; but they’re certainly not as dangerous as other survivors. Resources are scarce and must be foraged for, safe houses must be built to protect teams, and while there’s the ever-present danger of the undead—there’s also the unrelenting pressure of death from starvation and thirst as supplies run low.
Other groups of survivors can attack your groups, wound and kill them, and pilfer their stuff. After all: resources are scarce. You quickly learn to watch not only the zed density in the zone, but also keep an eye out for the tags of other groups nearby lest they decide to pick up their guns and take what’s yours.
Game Play: Google Maps, spreadsheets, number-crunching, survival horror tropes
World of the Living Dead is a browser game that runs using a mixture of AJAX and CSS controls—very little Flash that I could discern. It seems to be connected to a Java backend but that won’t affect players much at all. As a result, it should also run on a lot of different devices from PCs to tablets and other mobile platforms. Bored on the bus? Check in on your zombie-world survivors. The maps of Los Angeles county run on top of Google Maps meaning that the game is played using real life data about terrain and streets. This adds a layer of realism to the game play that I found somewhat amusing as it is disturbing.
The UI is pretty solid although a little quirky—the learning curve is a little bit steep but it’s mitigated heavily by an excellent opening tutorial that guides you through the first six levels. The tutorial does a good job of telling you what to do in order to advance your rank, bring you into contact with the zeds, and generally learn how to use all the tabs of the interface. Some of the commands feel like they’re hidden in odd places, but once you learn to find them via the tutorial it’s easy to remember how to access them again.
All information is delivered through short text messages and an activity log. Current status of group members can be seen in a series of management screens, with basic status displayed on most pages giving current levels of injury, fear, fatigue, hunger, and thirst. Skills, inventory, and so forth belong on other management screens.
The game can load a little bit slowly. In normal game play this can be somewhat frustrating, but World of the Living Dead doesn’t operate in strict real time, instead it allows you to give commands and move groups with a click of a button. The portions of the game that do tick in real time affect the overall status of your characters and generally run on intervals of minutes or hours. For example, as your characters sit around the consume food and water to stay alive, slowly running out as time goes on.
Some events happen in real time such as building and securing a safe house which can take 10 minutes. The time until the safe house is constructed will appear in the groups operations tab and counts down until the house is completed.
This is not a game that you can just forget for a week.
Since your characters behave a little bit like normal people and they slowly consume the six-packs of grape soda and candy bars in their possession, if you forget to play for a few days you could have a few dead survivors on your hands. Grub and soda are extremely scarce and your survivors can only carry so much at a time. It becomes a necessary evil to venture out into the zed-infested roadways in order to ransack nearby convenience stores, schools, churches, crashed trucks, whatever for food and supplies.
The MMO also exists in a single-world persistent, which means that previously looted locations stay looted and zeds seem to shift around as per their density in an area. A light density zone next to a heavy density zone can become two medium density zones if you spend a lot of time in the light one making a great deal of noise (gunfire can attract attention.) Although, it’s hard to tell if there’s a limited number of zeds to go around—they do seem pretty much infinite in both appetite and appearance.
Staying Alive: The necessary thing to do
These build for all the survivors that a player has running and can be used to buff up survival skills which are the basic survival horror gamut: weapons, foraging, dealing with fear and injury, coping with the environment. Also the ubiquitous anti-zombie skills are also present such as “skull crusher” which has got to be possibly the best first-point skill for any character since it increases their chances of killing any zeds they come across without sustaining injury.
Injury can be a real show stopper. Most characters have three hit points designated by green dots, which seem to represent about nine levels of injury. Green dots turn yellow
As characters move about they build up fear and fatigue. As both of these increase it slows down their movement and their ability to fight off zeds—being highly encumbered and moving a lot increases fatigue faster, while running through high zed density zones increases fear.
For their revenue model, World of the Living Dead has a credit system: NECRA credits. About $2.49 will net you a starter pack of 10 credits (doubled in the beta) making them worth about a quarter each—of course, buying in bulk reduces their cost 1000 credits for $100 makes them about a dime each. NECRA credits give players access to medicine, first-aid, secret caches of food and drink, and even trigger broadcasts (to add extra members to your team.) Alternatively, credits can be earned through visiting advertisers and affiliates of World of the Living Dead and presumably sometimes purchasing from them. Most of the no-purchase-required earning opportunities deliver 1 or 2 credits for watching a video or participating in a survey.
While the game can be played without purchasing credits they really are game changing effects that can be the do-or-die for a group currently holed up in a safe house watching as their supplies dwindle and the zeds outside pile up against their defenses.
Missions: The ethical thing to do—but before anyone else
To keep the game interesting, the developers have introduced missions provided by the appearance of new survivors nearby and by intercepting radio broadcasts by NECRA, other survivors, and the military. Broadcasts are heard by all teams and therefore get pounced on very quickly. They provide the framework for PvP and a real conflict point to bring players together in order to form factions or kick each others teeth in.
Since a broadcast can designate the location of a survivor or a huge stash of much needed ammo, food, or medical supplies you can expect that at least two other teams will be closing in on it by the time you hear about it. That means that the party hunting the broadcast should either be extremely quick or well-armed—preferably both. They will have to crack zed skulls all the way to their target and then might even end up having to shoot their way out as other survivors come for the broadcast.
If nothing else, this element really increases the solid adrenaline of this game by taking away the slowly-being-ground-down of the long-term effects of survival horror and casts it into a hectic race to the supplies.
Not only are your groups forced to be constantly on the move due to zeds tearing down everything you build and your food and drink always diminishing; but those needs drive you ever onwards, seeking new territory, braving the city’s dangers for its greater bounty or hiding in the country, which may be safer from zeds but run a higher risk of starvation.
Conclusion: Strong survival strategy, kept me coming back but not for much longer
World of the Living Dead isn’t scary in the way that most survival horror games are. It’s very clinical and distant from the people who you’re guiding through the zed infested terrain, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t get your adrenaline up when you see another survivor group on the map or notice that one of your members is seriously wounded and far away from any available safe house.
It’s pretty much a spreadsheets and mayhem style of browser game where you spend your casual time attempting to come up with a solution to what looks like an insurmountable situation. The eventual demise of members of your survivor team and the inevitable doom of your entire team loom large, which only adds to the bleak atmosphere. As well as the fact that all survivors have a “survival clock” that lists how long they’ve been in the field.
If you’re good with numbers and not too anxious about getting everything done at once, this game will probably keep you going. As long as you remember to log back in daily to check up on your team and move them around. Supplies go fast and it’s a big world out there. Expect to spend at least an hour a day of play time if you have at least two teams roaming the world to make sure they’re stocked.
Will it do well against other games of similar type?
We’ll see. It’s got a fairly decent interface, I see a real community forming, and as much as it’s a frustrating style of browser game, it’s got all the elements needed to attract a particular personality of spreadsheet gamer.