The zombie survival genre is littered with misfires and controversy, but it was one particular game that has been steeped in controversy since its announcement and that game is WarZ. Oops, I mean, Infestation: Survivor Stories. I’m not going to go and rehash the game's tumultuous history, but suffice it to say, things haven’t gone so well for that title.
Seeking to take the game in a different direction, a number of Infestation developers broke away from OP Productions and formed their own studio, Free Reign Entertainment. Free Reign licensed the engine, and got to work on a “spiritual successor” called Romero’s Aftermath. And no, before you get too excited, it’s not Night of the Living Dead director George A. Romero that’s attached to this game, but his son, George Cameron Romero.
At first glance, it might be easy to just brush off Romero’s Aftermath as just another name change for WarZ/Infestation, but after having taken a tour of the game myself, it’s become clear to me that Free Reign is serious about doing something a bit more meaningful with this title. If you’re trying Aftermath out for the first time, you’ll no doubt feel a sense of déjà vu in many respects, but new features such as base building and group content go a long way to spice things up.
Another thing to keep in mind about Aftermath is that Free Reign isn’t pursuing the more typical hardcore slant that these games often emphasize. You’ll have to worry about hunger, thirst, other players (if you’re on a PvP server), zombies, and supplies, but you’re not going to break a limb by jumping from a high ledge or anything like that. Pitch black darkness at night has also been replaced with moonlight, as the developers know that players will just turn up their gamma or use 3rd party programs to improve visibility anyways.
The social experience is also vastly improved compared to other games in the genre. For example, you can actually group up with your friends and spawn near each other instead of spending half an hour or more trying to link up. Players can also securely trade with each other and you don’t have to worry about being backstabbed in groups.
It’s worth noting that spawning is more sophisticated overall, with 1000 different spawn points in the game. Aftermath will scramble your initial spawn point, which should reduce the potential for spawn camping. You can also place a sleeping bag in your base or in a makeshift shelter placed in the world for use as a spawn point. Finally, there are safe zones in the game that serve as MMO style hubs where players can respawn, trade, store items in a global storage (PvE servers only), and even sell items to a vendor.
Gun mechanics also favor gameplay over realism. Sniper rifles are all four second reload, single shot weapons that must be fired while prone to avoid running into massive recoil. Sniper rifles also do less damage at close range to discourage the 360 no scope mentality you see in some other shooters. Sure, it’s not realistic, but it may be more balanced. As you might imagine, shotguns, submachine guns, and pistols excel at shorter ranges, while guns like assault rifles are better suited to longer range engagements.
Base building has become a more common feature in the genre lately and Aftermath is no exception. From the demo we were shown, it looks like you’ll be able to put together some fairly elaborate bases that can also fully sustain a player in terms of hunger and thirst. What stood out to me was the intuitive collaborative building element found in Aftermath. A player can place the skeleton of a structure down in the world and other players in the group can help build the structure by interacting with the skeleton and contributing the necessary materials. It’s possible to store items in your base, but other players (given enough ammo and explosives) can break into your storage (only on PvP servers, of course), so there is still some added risk.
Crafting & Progression
Like most zombie survival games, you’ll drop your items on death, but in Aftermath there are a number of things that will persist with you beyond the grave, such as cosmetics and learned blueprints. Crafting is also more sophisticated than it was in Infestation and you can craft from anywhere in the world without need for a tool bench or station.
Items found in the world can be broken down into 10 different core components used in crafting items learned from over 40 different recipes. At the moment, players can craft sleeping bags, campfires, food items, ammunition, traps, and so on. Some existing items can also be enhanced through crafting, such as upgrading bandages to sterilized bandages, or crafting enhanced ammunition. Typically, crafted ammunition is worse than the stuff you’ll find in the world, but enhanced ammunition will actually be better.
Item repairs are also limited. Weapons can be repaired to full quality only a handful of times before becoming useless, which should hopefully curb hoarding of high end gear.
In Aftermath, there are over 160 points of interests with unique loot tables, compounds designed for solo players to assault, and a brand new feature called liberations. So, you’re not taking on quests from NPCs, but there’s a bit more to do than wander aimlessly and hope you find good stuff to hoard.
Liberations allow players to, well, liberate cities found on the map. With enough fuel and some tools, players can repair generators at cities and then proceed to clear out the zombie population. Once all generators are repaired and zombies are cleared out, the city will be considered liberated for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half. During this time, airdrops will come in every 10 minutes, packed with desirable loot and supplies. Liberations can range in difficulty as well. Some cities may be liberated by groups as small as two or three players, while others may require anywhere from five to ten players to clear out. Naturally, the loot dropped is better at the more difficult to liberate cities, but since the loot isn’t guaranteed to the liberators, it’s also likely to result in some contentious PvP combat.
There are tons of weapon skins and player customizations in Aftermath, and many of them are unlocked through the use of cases a’la Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Cases can be bought or found in the world and unlocked with purchasable keys. The available customizations are as zany as the stuff you’re used to seeing in CS: GO and can be changed in and out on the fly.
Looking ahead, Free Reign Entertainment is focused on sorting out bugs and stability as the team’s number one priority. If you can handle the bugs, occasional disconnects, and wobbly framerate, you can jump into Romero’s Aftermath right now on Steam. Be sure to check back next week, as we'll be hosting an AMA with Aftermath's Adam Skidmore.