Please note that this Early Access review is not a substitute for a comprehensive bug report.
Contagion is the zombie game purists have been waiting for since they first cracked open "The Zombie Survival Guide".
For me, that's about ten years. For ten years I've waded through a horde of zombie games. Nothing emulated the raw feeling of isolation and cold that a gunshot in the distance or a scream or absolute silence can bring. We're all familiar with Brooks' original canon for zombies. Only headshots kill them. Eat flesh until they can't. Only sensory organs that have not been decayed or destroyed work. A moan causes others to moan, and they are attracted to the sound like a foghorn in the night. I never felt like I would truly find the zombie game that emulated this canon so perfectly. First there was Dead Rising - a close contender - followed by Dead Space [which opened a whole new can of worms] and Dead Island, which underperformed in basically every aspect. Left 4 Dead left a hollow feeling, mowing down thousands of zombies in a few hours seemed not worthwhile. Even DayZ left a bitter taste with its focus on player interaction and intense PVP, zombies were a secondary addition to the game and in their state of bugginess and all-out failure to function were hardly a threat to be feared for all but the newest players.
Finally, though, finally. From the ashes of Zombie Panic! Source comes a developer prepared to emulate and yet transform the genre. Erasing waypoints with Google Maps on a cell phone and slaughtering the idea of overpowered zombies by balancing their frailty with disguise and scarce ammo, this game is reaching for the stars.
Contagion performs in ways I never thought I would see, genuinely. It strikes feelings of sudden and intense panic, a moan can send my heart pounding in my ears, praying it would be silent so I could hear which direction the zombie was coming from. A gunshot can bring hell's fury itself down on your head, while boarding up windows and doors can buy you time to escape. Zombies' interaction with the world largely seems to be directed by line of sight and various audio cues, which gives them a shambling and confused appearance. A slight trigger can send Zack coming at you, but a bullet in the wrong place can mean a bite, and a risk of infection. Incentivized by kill count and bragging rights, a human infected is unlikely to share this information with his teammates for fear of being shot on the spot. A group of humans prepared to fight off a horde of 50+ shambling corpses can easily be dissuaded by a misaligned headshot tearing off the jaw of a zombie and inspiring panic in the squad. A misplaced shotgun round can result in legless zombies crawling under the horde and into your lines. Brutality, free-for-all, and all out panic. All of it rings true of the first days of the Zombie apocalypse, and all of it brings a warm feeling of nostalgia to my heart, and hopeful eyes for the bright future where the Zombie genre isn't filled with crafting games, 8-bit indie ♥♥♥♥, and quick time events.
Even the zombie player gameplay has merits. A helpfully designed "camouflage" button allows an inept player to disguise himself as he views his zombie in the third person and have control assumed by the AI. Moaning loudly can draw a horde, and in turn the moans of those zombies draw more, which can be lead to the human's hideouts and used to swarm them. A biting function has a high chance to infect humans, and watching your former counterparts murder each other for fear of infection in their hideout is rewarding in its own regard.
I've never been so happy to realize a game was early access. After about 30-40 hours, I can easily see myself growing tired with this title and passing it into novelty, but it was well worth the 3$ spent. Call me nostalgia-blind, but there's so much potential content to see from these developers, and I'm very excited to be along for the ride.
18/10, buy this and buy it for all your friends. This game will make history, and if it doesn't, I'll eat my shoe on livestream.
Posted: January 5th, 2014