I’ve somehow found myself in another post-apocalyptic wasteland, scrambling for survival against an ever present virus, hope dwindling away steadily as time goes on. I’ve also been playing Con Artists Game’s Demo for The Last Stand: Aftermath that popped up during the recent Steam event, so you know, that’s nice. But does it cut the mustard? (Why you’d cut mustard I wouldn’t know. It’s not exactly tough and is more of a paste than anything…)
The Last Stand: Aftermath, aside from being a ungodly mouthful is (and I quote)…
“an all new, premium singleplayer standalone action adventure rogue-lite!”
…which come to think about it is also an ungodly mouthful. Happily though, things are a bit clearer when you’re actually in the game.
You play one of many survivors infected with a new strain of the ‘zombie virus TM’ and must travel into the wilds looking for a cause for the new virus strain. One can only assume massively overcrowded, open-air mixed animal/food markets will appear in the late-game.
The initial hub serves as a brief impetus for the game, on subsequent playthroughs you’ll use it to take advantage of supplies and upgrades retrieved by the previous plucky survivors. You see you’re not going to survive. At least not initially. Hell, I didn’t even survive the tutorial, so you’ll be going through survivors quicker than our government is currently going through outlandishly paid consultants.
The idea is that you’re investigating the new virus, and you’ll travel from one location to another looting supplies for yourself and finding supply caches to send back to the survivor camp. Each location you go to is surprisingly small. Like really small. There are often only a handful of structures/cars you can loot and your main drive (heh) is to find fuel for your car. Moving to each new location on the map takes fuel (natch) and it needs to be replenished at each location or you’ll be stuck, giving you a pressing reason to fully investigate each area.
The areas themselves, despite being small (and I really hope larger areas do appear in latter stages) are absolutely stunning (for an apocalypse). It might be the scale but each one is full of little details, the graphics are crisp and the lighting is just superb. When the car drives into each new location I have found myself just looking around for a bit- it’s that nice. There’s enough there to keep you interested, with looting, exploring and such. And exploring is always worth it as there’s often surprises lurking about. Though, as it’s a rogue-like there are often not as well… you take your chances with the loot and the zombies.
Oh yeah there’s zombies. Did I not mention that? There’s even child zombies, which surprised me too- extra apocalypse points for that one. The zombies are the ever-present threat that you’ll need to be aware of and from what I’ve seen so far they’ve been done right. The largely shambling undead (there are other types I wont spoil here) are slow, dim-witted and on their own not that dangerous, but in larger groups they can be quite the challenge. Pleasingly they will largely ignore you so long as you don’t get in their line of sight or make too much noise. It’s the last one I really like here as gunshots are loud. Famously so – fire off a few shots off and you’ll have all the zombies in the local area heading to your location. Which is nice. It’s also not possible to fully clear an area of zombies, as they constantly arrive from the periphery of the map, maintaining a nice zombie-soup (It’s a term). So banish any thoughts of going around the place guns-blazing and then taking your leisure. It’s a very smart design decision.
This forces you to be much more selective about using your firearms, instead relying on your melee weapons. Now, I do think the melee weapons break a tad too easily. 4-5 swings on some. But I understand it from the perspective of balance.
On top of this you’re already infected. So as you take damage (or just over time) the virus inside you starts to mutate. With it your overall health lowers, but you gain access to some very cool passive and less passive abilities. It’s another nice aspect to the game- you’re constantly balancing the damage you take, your mutations (benefits/negatives of which play a large part in your play style) and your ability to survive. You can ‘push’ the mutations back by finding special Injections at certain points, but they’re scarce and not always there, so you have to take what you can. It’s another nice mechanic that builds upon everything else that so far, looks eminently solid.
Negatives? Well in sharp contrast to the environments, the character models are awful. Especially the civvies you talk to at the start. I’ve mentioned that I think the maps are too small, but it is also missing some verticality. I like the idea of being stuck on top of a rooftop surrounded by the undead. Finally, while I do like the ‘mutation’ aspect of the game, I think it should be optional – perhaps tied to being infected by certain zombies or by choosing it as a game mode. It’s not that I don’t think it’s cool or that it doesn’t work – it absolutely does. I just think occasionally it’d be good to try the levels as a vanilla human.
That aside, I think The Last Stand: Aftermath has got legs. Undead shambling legs for sure, but what I’ve seen of it so far I’m excited. We could have something new, refreshing and fun emerging in the very crowded zombie space. Keep an eye on this one folks.