Look kids, it's a military shooter! With zombies! No, don't go to sleep. OK, take just a brief nap, but when you wake up, I'm going to tell you about Psyop's and Illfonic's Moving Hazard. No, there will not be cookies and milk. These are the same guys making Revival, and while that game wasn't present at PAX, they were more than happy to show us another one of their upcoming projects that just might grab your attention as well.
I spoke with Moving Hazard Lead Writer and Design Consultant Christian Cantamessa, who boasts an impressive résumé, having worked on Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption, and Shadow of Mordor. But it's not hard to imagine that Moving Hazard will be one of those “corporate” games, where a company brings on a few notable names, flings darts at a dartboard that come up “military shooter” and “zombies,” and puts it all together into a lackluster, “let's see if we can capitalize on the latest craze” type of game.
That was my attitude going in to my demo session with Cantamessa and Executive Producer Rocco Scandizzo. Going out, my opinion was that yeah, you could just play it as a straight-up shooter with a few twists; on that level, it doesn't feel that much different than what's currently out there. But those twists are really nicely done, and there's more lurking below the surface than what might be initially visible.
Moving Hazard is set 50 years after an apocalyptic event that was the result of the American military trying to produce a zombie army, using an Agent Orange-type sprayed compound. It went a tiny bit haywire, with the result being that a decent chunk of the southwestern United States is now uninhabitable, being almost totally given over to the zombie hordes. Three factions vie for control of the area: the Northern California Union, the Southern California Protectorate, and the Texas Confederation. Players represent one of these three factions, striving to acquire resources in battlegrounds that are contested both by another faction and by the walking dead.
Battles follow the typical shooter conventions. There will be three maps – one on board a beached battleship – and three types of battles in Moving Hazard: Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Capture the Flag. Kill other people, don't get killed, stand in circles... it's pretty much what you would expect.
Oh right, the zombies. As Cantamessa put it, the team had “a responsibility to do something novel” with the archetypical modern villains. They shamble around the battlefield, mostly keeping to themselves, until someone pokes them with the right kind of stick – which, during my play session, usually took the form of a grenade full of zombie-luring pheromones. Lob one of those into a pack of shamblers and they acquire a green hue and instantly dart off in the direction of your nearest enemy for about 10 seconds. Hostile zombies, which have already been weaponized by your opponent, are tinged red and will come at you like groupies at a rock concert. Angry, bloodthirsty, brain-eating groupies, that is.
It's a subtle way to mix up the shooter formula, and one offers its designers lots of options. Another device I had available was a stationary pheromone-emitter, which drew zombies to it, lining them up perfectly for a grenade. They dash in one direction, then you extrapolate where they're heading and move to outflank their target. While he's distracted by the zombies, you pop him a few times and watch as your “pets” nibble on his corpse. It's a good bit of satisfying fun, and makes you feel like you're using team tactics even when you're off freelancing by yourself. Naturally, there are other, more mundane weapons you can include in your loadout, but creative types like me will probably want to find all sorts of different ways to exploit a map's “unnatural resources.” The end-of-match scorecard even tallies zombie kills in its own category.
Still, Moving Hazard is a shooter at heart, which is why I was surprised to hear the emphasis Cantamessa put on the story elements of the world. Those “resources” I talked about earlier? You can use them to build up your own hideout with NPCs that offer you perks that will help you in battle. Or you can just listen to their stories to learn how they survived the doom of civilization and how they came to be a part of your world. I tried to nudge Cantamessa into comparing it all to an MMORPG, but he wouldn't quite take it that far. Still, it's better storytelling than I would have expected from a shooter and certainly more than I was anticipating when I strode up to the booth.
You'll still need to be fairly good at shooters to excel in Moving Hazard, so if that's not your preference, the addition of zombies won't do much for you. It's worth checking out, though, if you've got an interest in trying some new strategies out, and the story content could do a creative job of keeping things fresh. Well, as “fresh” as waling, rotting corpses can be.
Moving Hazard launches on Steam in early access for $20 next month.