Zombies have been a trend in all sorts of media for a while now. With your Left 4 Deads, Day/War Zs, and Call of Duty modes, it’s just as easy to get your FPS Zombie blasting fix as it is to get tired of the trend. Its about time we stop buying the same game over and over again and start looking for new takes on a saturated genre. Endless Loop Studios breaks out of that mold and puts an interesting spin on zombie apocalypse with their Action Strategy title Survivor Squad.
Survivor Squad plays as a top down survival adventure. You control a party of up to 4 uninfected as they make their way through a variety of randomized levels in search of supplies, other survivors, and answers. Though you view the world from above, you are still limited by the vision of your survivors. Each one’s line of sight is expressed by a cone facing out from their position. Zombies will only show up on the map when in the sight of a character, so positioning your crew quickly becomes second nature. Covering corners and doorways becomes just as important as killing zombies.
Combat is fairly straightforward but still offers a variety of choices. Weapons fall into two types: melee and firearm. Both have their obvious advantages and disadvantages; melee weapons are silent but require you to get up close and personal with your target while guns are loud but let you keep a safe distance. Run through the level guns blazing or take it stab by stab–the choice is up to you. I found myself combining the strengths of both weapons by using the knife to clear a room then fortifying said room and using gunfire to lure zombies to their deaths. Guns have unlimited ammo too, though they do require the occasional reload.
The first zombies encountered were easy kills. Progression through the campaign introduces new types of zombies which raise the element of strategy required for each level. The special zombies include an acid spitter apt at scrambling your well fortified squad and a zombie that will latch on to a survivor, ensuring their death if you sent them off without backup. Certain levels will also contain ‘hearts’ which attract zombies until destroyed. Clearing an area of zombies is impossible until someone can make it to the heart. The special infected pulled some clear inspiration from a certain big name zombie game, but I almost preferred them here. Survivor Squad‘s special infected force the player to reevaluate their strategy on a dime.
Killing your fair share of undead isn’t the only goal of Survivor Squad. Each of the four playable game modes offers its own challenges and objectives. The campaign takes your crew on a journey, establishing camps and scavenging for supplies as you move from city to city and search for answers to the whole zombie situation. From the safety of your base camp you can craft new weapons and tools before embarking to infected ‘nodes’. Traveling costs fuel and maintaining a camp costs food, so hunting for supplies becomes just as important as keeping your field squad alive.
Cleared nodes can be converted to bases, for the price of salvaged scrap. Scrap is also used for bartering at trading posts for supplies or survivors, or used to craft better equipment for your squad. While you start out with basic crafting recipes, blueprints for better weapons can be found in the field and brought to camp. Blueprints, food crates, gasoline, medical supplies, and building materials all take up backpack space when scavenged in buildings. Do you really need that gun blue print or is your limited backpack space better filled with rations? Decisions like this make even the scavenging element of the game an exercise in strategy. Experience is gained by characters as they survive missions. After enough exp points are gained, squaddies level up and are able to select from perks to further customize the feel of each character.
Death Lab focuses on item management and leads your squad through a collapsed Lab on a limited supply budget. Unlike the campaign where you must earn your items, Death Lab gives you a set number of resources and lets the player make decisions on how to spend them. Will everyone get an average firearm or will some party members go gunless so you can arm one member completely? Though resources are allotted on a firearm, melee, gadget, and perk basis, deciding what member gets what supplies is no easy feat. After deciding on loadouts, the action begins. Death Lab pushes you to move quickly and reach the core of the lab before a timer counts down and obliterates everything within the lab. The time constraint creates a high stress situation that requires quick action. Unlike the campaign, which allowed for versatile play styles, Death Lab wants you to move quickly.
Survival focuses on clearing buildings and challenges you to explore as many as you can before the undead get to you. While Death Lab encourages quick movement, Survival was more suited to my play style of slow progression and calculated moves. Survival mode is essentially the same as the campaign, but without all the bells and whistles. You still have to travel to nodes and collect supplies, but your progression is through a linear track of levels and without the multiple level options found in the campaign.
Overall, Survivor Squad plays excellently. Each randomized level felt unique and exploring the landscapes in the dark was equal parts thrilling and terrifying. The experience was not perfect, but the complaints I do have are minor. One campaign level requires you to find and save a man who is being attacked by zombies. The sound of him being damaged is audible from anywhere in the level. The grunt of pain is constant, as in back to back grunts with no end. I tried muting my sound, but hearing the groans of attacking zombies is crucial to surviving a level. A minor annoyance, but a flaw nonetheless. At one time the randomized levels caused me some trouble when a zombie spawned in a room with no door. Fortunately I was able to gain entrance by busting a window and clicking furiously to glitch my survivor through the gap created. These bugs exist, but Survivor Squad still comes away as a great game with hours of potential entertainment.
[+Equal Parts Action and Strategy] [+Upgrades, weapons, perks add to strategic experience] [+Refreshing take on a well worn genre] [+POV System Both Creates Atmosphere and Challenge] [-Some small glitches and annoyances, but nothing game breaking]