The Last Stand - Union City
Take Fallout 3, stitch it together with Left 4 Dead, and then turn the whole thing sideways and you'll have something kind of like what you'll get from playing The Last Stand - Union City. This incredibly ambitious sidescrolling action RPG from developers Con Artist and Armor Games drops you on the outskirts of a city for the start of a zombie apocalypse. Regaining consciousness after a car crash, your only thought is to get home to your significant other, but standing in your way is a huge city teeming with smelly undead bitey-types. To survive and reunite with your beloved, you'll need to be resourceful, merciless, and have an aversion to being chewed on.
At the start of the game you'll create your character, choosing a class that determines the starting strength of certain skills. Your character controls with the [WASD] or [arrow] keys, and uses the mouse to aim and attack. You can hold down the [shift] key to sprint, and occasionally if a zombie gets close enough to grab you, you'll have to rapidly tap the key shown onscreen (usually [A] or [D]) to shove them away. As you dispatch the undead, you'll gain experience points and level up, which nets you points you can spend in your various skills and stats to suit your playstyle; become a fleet-footed gunner or a meat-shield melee expert. Just hover over a particular skill to get a description and plan ahead. If you die, you can choose to respawn with an experience point penalty, or just exit to the main menu to reload your last save; you can save at any time by clicking on the cog in the upper right corner.
The game comes in two difficulties to choose from. "Survivor" mode means your character requires food and sleep; while finding something to eat is largely left up to luck and your survival skill, you can only sleep on beds in Safe Houses, which are few and far between. If that sounds unappetizing, you can just play "Run'n'Gun" where the only thing you have to worry about is weapons, ammo, and health. Either way, you'll want to keep your eyes out for useful items as you press on through the city. A lot of what you'll find is junk (when was the last time you kept your underwear drawer fully supplied for the apocalypse?) and is easily identified as such, but you'll also find weapons (improvised or otherwise), clothing, healing items, and more. Use [E] to search containers when the icon pops up over one, but don't get too greedy; you can only carry a certain weight in items. Fortunately, you can find storage chests in most safe houses, and whatever you put in one, you'll be able to pick out of any other a la Resident Evil. Trans-dimensional storage capabilities; Umbrella Corporation's greatest gift to society right after the Bandersnatch.
Analysis: There's nothing players like more than consequence-free looting and copious amounts of zombies for target practice, and Union City's got you covered to the nth degree. There isn't much of an emphasis on story, but what exists is about what you'd expect; shadowy conspiracies, desperate quests to track down loved ones, body fluids, and panic at the disco. Not that you'll mind; the emphasis here is less on delivering a powerful narrative and more on dropping you into a big city to explore and loot, and Union City is definitely big and ripe for the pickings. The amount of locations and their scope is really impressive, and even if it isn't directly related your current task it's usually worth it to explore the various buildings for sweet, sweet scavengin's and interesting Left4Dead-ish wall scribblings and desperate notes; human suffering is nature's entertainment!
Combat, unfortunately, doesn't feel really as fluid and quick as it needs to to avoid frustration and unnecessary deaths. Enemies tend to move a lot quicker than you do, and when you take the accuracy and damage out of the hands of the player and put it under the charge of a random number generator, someone's going to come away crying. (Seriously, who misses a six foot tall fat guy eight times with a fire axe?) The hordes also seem a bit too random, and the frequency with which they appear both quickly wears thin and makes you think someone needs to call in Mike Holmes to do an inspection of every ceiling in the city. As of this writing, unfortunately, the game is still fairly buggy. Admittedly, that's to be expected with a new release, especially one as big and ambitious as this one, but still frustrating. The good news is you can expect the developers to be hard at work squashing bugs as they come in, so make sure to report any you find.
It should tell you something, however, that even with the occasional glitch rearing its ugly head, I was still more than happy to play Union City straight through. While some skills and abilities don't feel quite as well used or developed as they could have been, as a straight-up free zombie action adventure the game is virtually unmatched. The visual design is a bit strange at first, but works extremely well to create a fantastically detailed and decayed urban environment. Exploring at night with only a flashlight feels appropriately creepy. I did find myself wishing for more variety to the enemies apart from the odd dog and varying visuals, but it's easy to forgive when you realise just how much work must have gone into crafting this game and all the environments, weapons, and other items. Depending on your playstyle, Union City could take several hours or more to complete, but you can bet your hopefully undevoured keister it wasn't built in a day.
The ending, while fairly predictable for anyone who has seen a George Romero zombie disaster movie, is actually a little disappointing in that it kind of makes the whole experience up until then feel pointless from a story perspective. If the story isn't important to you, however, and hack-and-slash action is your "thang", then The Last Stand - Union City is the sort of game you can get wrapped up in for a long time. Remarkably ambitious and crafted with a ton of love and attention to detail, this is one city you'll want to pay a visit to. Just don't forget your zombie repellent. And by zombie repellent I mean multitool. And by multitool I mean bloodstained crowbar. And by bloodstained crowbar I mean... hm. I guess that one's fairly self-explanatory.