The Last Stand - Dead Zone
So who were you before the world ended? Fry cook... preschool teacher... dashing gaming journalist with fabulous, flowing curly locks? Well, none of that matters anymore, since zombies don't really care about your yearly income or hair care products. Who you were doesn't matter so much as what you are now... a survivor, and, potentially, a leader and hero. In Con Artist Games' real time action-adventure simulation The Last Stand - Dead Zone, you're scrounging out an existence in the remains of Union City.
Dead Zone is a little bit of everything, except Christopher Walken, unfortunately. You're in charge of a struggling compound that might not look like much now, but could become a bustling hive of humanity if you can scavenge supplies and defend it both from the undead horde and greedy raiders, in addition to attracting more survivors. Food, water, and other supplies like weapons and building materials can be gathered by sending your survivors off on missions, which you can choose to play yourself, or have automated. Since everything takes place in real time, you might have to wait a whole for your crew to return if you sent them far away, so think twice about who stays behind. Certain classes are better at healing, fighting, or finding things quickly, so pay attention to who might make a better meat shield and who is better suited to rooting through piles of rotten food and rusty nails.
While in your compound, gameplay mostly consists of a top-down style management simulation, directing your crew to tasks like clearing rubble or harvesting supplies from gardens or water collectors. From here, you can manage equipment, upgrade structures, and build everything from objects of comfort like beds and showers, to important security features like walls and blockades... as long as you have the supplies. If you want to venture outside, hit up the city map for a look at nearby structures and what you can scavenge from them, choosing a team and sending them out. If you choose to play the mission yourself rather than automate it, you'll have to manually direct your teammates to task. They'll attack anything that comes in range, but you'll need to move them around the map and tell them what to scavenge. Need to finish something more quickly, or just get a bit of extra help? Fuel is a special currency you can purchase through optional in-game microtransactions or potentially find freely on missions, and can be spent on everything from refilling supplies, to instantly accomplishing tasks, and more.
Analysis: Dead Zone is perhaps one of the best looking flash games around, but it's not just another pretty rotting face. The Farmville-esque approach to timing and progression won't appeal to everyone, but with considerably more depth to its structure and overall gameplay, Dead Zone manages to avoid the trap of feeling like it's pushing busywork on you. Tweaking the layout of your compound is surprisingly addictive, and you'll need to put some careful thought into your defenses to get the most out of your security. Watching your blockades successfully keep attackers at bay and seeing your compound gradually flourish into a site teeming with activity is immensely satisfying.
The downside? There's not quite enough to do just yet. The more you play, the more repetitive it feels, with an overall lack of variety to the missions and fetch quests that will eventually tempt you to automate all of them. You kind of wish for a bigger emphasis on story to entice you to keep playing, like in Union City, and if side-quests had more of an unfolding narrative over missions I might never have put it down. Of course, since the game is in Beta as of this writing, you can only expect more to come, and new locations and environments are already on the horizon. The Last Stand - Dead Zone still has a few kinks to be ironed out, but is already one of the most impressive free simulation games around. Though if you're like me and have difficulty keeping potted plants and sea monkeys alive for more than 48 hours, you might find this one a bit of a challenge.