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In Epidemic Games' free indie horror game COATS, you're Randal, the Chief of Staff at one of the last surviving research centers in the country, working with scientists to try to develop a cure for the creatures everyone calls "Skins". The center is filled with the best technology and is supposed to be entirely self-sufficient... which is a good thing since things have taken a turn for the worse outside, and now all you can do is try to keep your people alive and research a cure. With multiple endings and choices, each day is up to you as you decide how to manage your people and your supplies, sending out scavengers or trying to bring back "test subjects" to experiment on.
COATS controls are fairly basic, and the game will walk you through facility operations. [Arrow] keys for movement, [spacebar] to interact, left [shift] to sprint, and [ESC] to save your game. Each day, you'll need to figure out how to direct the people in your facility by speaking to the staff in charge of various areas, such as rations, security, research, and more. Each area can only perform one task per day, though depending on how they're feeling, some people might be temporarily unable to work. (If you're the unscrupulous sort, it's fairly easy to cheat by just saying before Randal goes to bed and reloading if the results of the day's activities aren't optimal.) In addition to the obvious matter of research, which requires capturing subjects and finding samples, you need to worry about your overall security, ammunition, and food. These things fluctuate daily based on your actions... sending someone to scavenge might bring more supplies, for instance, but if they get followed back to the base, things will get more dangerous. When you get access to them after a few days, slipping into your civvies with [S] will let you talk to your people about something other than work, allowing you the chance to get to know them and advance their stories, or even just get bonuses to things like your security or research. As time passes, special events can pop up for you to deal with, and you choices with them, as well as how you run your facility, will determine your outcome.
The biggest problem with COATS is the feeling of repetition that sets in early on. I mean, it's about a small group of people trapped in a small bunker who are all essentially stuck at work. Though there are events that happen on certain days, of course, and plenty of opportunities to get to know each person in the bunker with Randal, though sadly there's no option to backhand someone when they complain that they're "too sad" or otherwise put off to do their job for the day. COATS is a long game for a freeware title, and it's clear there's been a lot of effort put into expanding and polishing up both the presentation and the premise, which is, repetitive or not, actually exactly the sort of psychological stuff classic zombies used to feature more often. While more modern zombie games and movies are about things smashing through windows and devouring people in the goriest ways possible, iconic films like Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead focus more on the way humanity reacts to isolation and the apparent degradation of society. In this, COATS cyclical gameplay serves the narrative it's trying to build well, though the characters may take a while longer to develop because your interactions with them are limited to a few lines of chit-chat a day.
It takes a little while for COATS to start developing beyond the routine you fall into almost immediately, but though there will be plenty of days where you're just going through the motions, there's still a few surprising twists ahead. It's still a little frustrating that the game can randomly decide to incapacitate other characters for really silly reasons, largely because it's all up to chance. Still, COATS offers a surprising amount of depth and a lot of content, perfect for players who like a game that's more of a slow boil, and hey, if you want to get a little flirty with your stoic sergeant, lab assistant, or someone else, well, who knows where it'll lead? While it might have some issues with pacing and offer a few typos, COATS is still a remarkable feat from its talented development team and well worth playing who anyone who likes a zombie game that's more brains than bullets.
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