Friday, 13 August 2021

IMHO: Deadly Days

It's In My Humble Opinion time once again, and that mean that it's time for my old nemesis, the zombie apocalypse survival game. They just never seem to die, and I am condemned to keep playing them and to keep finding them ultimately unsatisfying. Yes, today I played my next game from the July Humble Bundle, Deadly Days.

Deadly Days is a zombie apocalypse survival game in which you try (and in my short experience, generally fail) to guide the pixelated remnants of humanity through a series of procedurally generated suburbs that are swamped with a never-ending tide of similarly pixelated zombies. Each day you pick a trip based on your little settlement's needs from a small number of options, drive your converted bus to the site, and then try to scrounge up enough food, tools, scrap metal and weaponry to get you through the next day before escaping again on the bus before you're overwhelmed by an ever-increasing tide of the undead.

Now I'm not really into this genre, to put it mildly, but I have to say that this is a pretty decent hookline, colour me slightly intrigued. Unfortunately, while the concept might be a winner, the execution leaves me more than a little cold, and after six run-throughs, some of them depressingly short and all of them well short of seeing the endgame, I'm done. Before this blog series completely dissolves into a sea of negativity, it's worth mentioning that there are some things that I don't hate about this title.

1) It's only a couple of hundred megabytes, and in an age where every game seems to come with a mandatory download time measured in the hours, that's quite refreshing, especially to this guy on an inconsistent wifi connection. I'd be very disappointed if this little game with little art was any bigger than that, but I'm often a little surprised by how big some of these titles are.

2) Deadly Days knows that zombies are silly and isn't afraid not to take itself too seriously. The populace was infected by dodgy burgers and the survivors include an animated skeleton, an astronaut and a guy in a banana suit. This would have been no fun at all if they had tried to go the gritty horror route.

3) Especially once you get some slightly more powerful weaponry, the ability to carve your way through the dead is extremely satisfying, the weapons used and the special abilities gel well for this, and if I were an eight-year-old boy, I would think that was incredibly badass, in the same way that I enjoyed a game like Cannon Fodder when I was that age.

Unfortunately, I think that that's all the things that I liked, and I'm afraid it's Debbie Downer time from here on in. Here's some things I didn't like so much:

1) The game revolves around three currencies. Tools, which can be used to improve your base and weaponry. Food, which is used to heal your dudes and level them up, and is consumed each day. And Scrap, which is used to improve your base and weaponry. Yes, you need both tools and scrap to improve your kit, and getting them on any particular mission seems to be more or less random (with a few exceptions, like the hardware stores missions, where you're likely to encounter tools). Given that you need some serious upgrades seriously quickly to stop your little band being badly overrrun, being starved for one or the other of them is a one-way ticket to zombietown. As is being starved of food, which just might not appear on any given map, or be hidden somewhere inaccessible to you if the procedurally generated town hasn't given you a good path back to the bus. Bad luck, start again, I guess.

2) Each level sees you running around a map, popping zombies and collecting goodies by sending one survivor to loot a car, house or shop while the others continue to fight against the waves of the undead. The looter can't be attacked by the zombies, but they're going to be overwhelmed when they finish their looting if the rest of the gang leaves them behind. This means that you're more or less tied down to the speed of your looting, and when your other guys are just standing around instead of actively exploring, the game doesn't have enough going on to make that interesting. Given that the looting of the bigger targets can take half of your allocated time on any given level, this mechanic makes the game feel slow and frustrating in a way that might work well thematically but is just terrible as a gameplay element. It feels like some kind of rhythm like this might allow for interesting choices if you could split up and individually control your party, but you can't (you can only direct them like one big brainless horde) and so it fell very flat for me as a result.

3) I want the pressure to slowly build to breaking point to get the sense of impending doom in my zombie media, but the difficulty in Deadly Days ramps up in strange and unpredictable ways that feels like a roll of a dice rather than a ratchet of tension. Buying good items (you know, the ones that might mix the game up and make it interesting) will dramatically pump the difficulty, such that it seems like it's better to poorly equip your guys to stay weak for as long as you can to avoid facing powerful enemies, but some days it just seems to drastically increase overnight for no obvious reason, and if you've been avoiding those over-powered pick-ups, well, I'm sorry to tell you pardner but you are a dead man walking.

So, this was frustrating, and not in a nice "oh if I just do it like that I might last longer" kind of way. At least only playing this one for a little while meant that I was relatively quick to get out the blog post, I suppose.

Some quick numbers

  • Time played: 103 minutes
  • "Survivors": 16
  • Zombies "killed": I didn't count, but probably thousands.
  • Rocket Launchers recovered: 1, but it felt good.
  • Rating: 3 deficits of brains out of 10

The rankings so far

It's frustrating to say it, but despite the lower ranking and this being just generally a less-polished product than Yakuza 3, I think I enjoyed Deadly Days more. Still not enough that I would recommend anyone play it, though.
  1. Hammerting
  2. Deadly Days
  3. Yakuza 3
I'm worried that my rankings so far have been harsh, but they do reflect why this was a month that didn't exactly fill me with excitement when I saw the titles. Let's hope that we'll be more inspired by the headliner for the bundle...Dirt 5.

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