Pestilence Z: Episode 1
The dead walk! At least, they do until you arrive on the scene and relieve them of all their extremities in this RPG-turn-based strategy hybrid from Break Point Studios. In Pestilence Z, you play one of three survivors trying their best to stay alive while they search for the source of the outbreak. With fantastic visual design, simple to grasp gameplay, and some welcome opportunities to blow up your shambling foes in strategic style, this is one interesting and fun hybrid you'll want to take a peek at.
Controlling the game is done either via the in-game menu as you click on icons representing each action, or with hotkeys, which is my personal recommendation. Everything is turn-based, and that includes the combat. Once you clear an area of all threats, your movement restrictions are lifted so you can go anywhere on that particular map with a single click. There are a few different zombie variations, such as the soldier whose helmet makes him immune to headshots, and child zombies who are capable of sprinting right up to you in one go. Killing enemies grants you experience points, naturally, which helps you level up and become stronger, bestowing skill points you can spend from the character menu on special passive abilities.
During battle, zombies will move towards your character at every turn; although a few of them have ranged attacks, most of them would really like to eat your brains up close and personal. Click on a zombie to open up a menu with different actions. If you have ammo, you can attack from a distance with a gun, but once a zombie has gotten up close and personal you'll have to use melee attacks or shove them away. You have several options in either melee or ranged situations; when firing at a zombie, you can attack their torso for standard damage, their legs to temporarily halt their movement, or take a chance at a headshot for a potential instant kill. When a zombie is up close, you can also take a swing at a headshot, attack the torso, or attempt to shove them away from you which has the bonus of both potentially stunning them, and opening them up to ranged attacks again. If you have grenades, molotov cocktails, or flare guns, you can use them by clicking the little explosion icon beneath the gun in the menu that appears when you click on enemies.
Naturally, you can't have an RPG without treasure, so you'll want to make sure you search everything; if a question mark pops up when you mouse over an area, it means you haven't searched it yet to get whatever items are there. You'll find everything from ammo to medical supplies, and of course all sorts of weapons and armor of varying quality; whatever you don't use you can "sell" on the character screen for experience points by dragging the unwanted item from your inventory to the trash can. It's not just the obvious places like crates and cars that can be searched; spend some time sweeping the mouse around each area and you're likely to find secret hidden items as well. It's especially important to investigate any places an exclamation point appears over when you mouse past it, since these usually are secret area transitions that lead to "bonus" locations with extra supplies. Some of the best weapons and armor in the game are hidden in these places, so make sure to explore.
You can save at any time when you're not in battle, so make sure you take advantage of it. After all, you never know when y*crash!* AAAAAAAAGH! MY BLOOD! HE PUNCHED OUT ALL MY BLOOD! NOOOOooOOOooo! *crunch, crunch, om nom nom*
Analysis: There are two things I love in gaming; zombies and turn-based RPGs. I don't care how uncool the latter is; for one, you're not the boss of me!, and for two, if you're not a very action-oriented person, as I am not, then turn-based is a great way to relax and enjoy some strategic gameplay. In this regard, Pestilence Z excels with what it has; a little careful planning can turn even the hairiest situations your way. Cripple the zombie that's leading the pack during battle to line them all up for maximum damage during an explosion, skip turns to lure enemies in close to get in the first shot, or shove them away when they get too near to temporarily stun them and open them up for a ranged attack. If you have the ammo for it, a headshot is usually worth attempting even though it isn't guaranteed to hit, especially against enemies with lots of hit points.
It's also a very good looking game, from the sketchy comic-style artwork on the characters and cutscenes to the detailed (and not overly detailed) main gameplay. Battle animations in particular are filled with a lot of great little touches, from the way the Nurse claps in delight at the explosion of a molotov cocktail, to the way each zombie has different death animations. The soundtrack is mostly appropriate and well done too in a way that reminds me of early zombie movies, although each track is usually only a minute long and thus has a tendency to repeat far too often.
It is not, of course, a perfect game. Even with hotkeys the UI feels clunky and awkward, particularly during battle. It also starts to get bogged down in far too much repetition the further you go; after you've played for about a half hour or so, you've basically seen all there is to the game in terms of locations and enemies. There were never any surprises, and I occasionally found myself frustrated that the farther I went the only real change was that there were just more and more enemies onscreen at any time to deal with before I could progress. Sprinkling in a few bosses at certain points would have done a lot to break up the action, especially since the story doesn't really feel like it's connected to the gameplay and only crops up during the short, infrequent cutscenes.
Still, the more I play Pestilence Z, the more I like it, and I like it a lot... at least enough that when an update wiped my save file while I was writing this, I didn't immediately set my computer on fire and rampage throughout the countryside until I had to be brought down by the military, instead opting to start again with a different character. (The things I do for you.) Apart from some characters being stronger than others, the gameplay is virtually identical apart from who it displays during cutscenes (even down to the hilarious om-nom-nom death during the tutorial.) so you aren't missing much if you only play through once. If you like turn-based gameplay, detailed pixel graphics, and, of course, zombies, then this should absolutely be a title you put on your list to check out. The developers are clearly tremendously talented individuals who care a lot about what they do, which bodes well for future installments. I'll be waiting; goodness knows I love me a good apocalypse.