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The Undead Return in Last Stand: Dead Zone
Zombie game fans rejoice! The latest sequel to the undead survival-fest game Last Stand is out and it is available on Facebook. Yep, you got that right, the devs at ConArtist have finally sold out and have created a game for the social networking site complete with micro-payment transactions. But have we all lost our favorite game franchise? Or has the move allowed the developers to create a game that takes in everything good about the first three titles and makes it better? Read on and find out!
Last Stand 4: Dead Zone takes players back into the zombie-infested land of Union City. Following the events of the previous games, players must now come to terms with the fact that there is no escaping the ruined city, Instead, they must find ways to stay and survive in a world where the undead lurk at every corner and the scarce resources forces you to scavenge for your life. Taking an abandoned warehouse as a safe haven, you must gather materials to build fortifications, defenses and amenities that would help make your life better. Do well at improving your base and you will attract other human survivors to join you -allowing you to further expand your base of operations. The game pretty much follows the feel and idea of the original episodes, but this time, there is no true end in sight.
This Game Has Come Back to Life
This latest addition to the survival-shooter game has re-invented itself once again. Dead Zone is now part action/RPG and part social networking game. The isometric perspective gives you a clear view of the new 3D visuals and lets you take command of your troops Sims-style. Like the third game, you get to create your own character, which means you decide on how you look and also what your name is. The game starts off pretty easily, giving players a good idea of how to play with a very useful tutorial session. It takes all but 10 minutes to do all the actions and at the same time, read the important info that pops out (here is a tip, during the tutorial, read the instructions and pay attention to what is being shown, the game is actually quite complex, so getting a good grip of the system is important).
Now, before we can jump into the story of Dead Zone, it is important that players must first learn about the events in the first games. In the very first game, the Last Stand, players take control of Jack, one of the first survivors who realized that the best way to survive against zombies is to fire a bullet into their brains. There, you must fortify a base, search for survivors and scavenge for weapons -and every night, defend your base against waves of enemies. After 20 days, a helicopter from the army will come in to rescue Jack and any survivors who has joined the player. Obviously, the nightmare does not end there. The helicopter crashes and Jack must now undertake a journey to Union City -where he hears that an evacuation is taking place. This time, instead of surviving for a certain number of days, Jack must hurry to make it to the goal in time (which is 40 days). The second Last Stand game introduces players to the concept of food -which is needed by Jack in order to travel from city to city. Once again, the player must fortify whatever bases he uses in the journey and at the same time, manage the survivors that have joined him on the way. The game ends when you finally reach Union City.
The third game in the series places players in control of a completely new and fully customizable character -their own. Players go on foot into the streets of Union City, scavenging weapons, clothing and resources as they try to seek out their family and find a way to escape the zombies that have taken over town. The game also takes a new approach -gone is the base defense gameplay and players must now engage zombies in a side scrolling shooter. Scavenging is now done manually, with players literally exploring basements and picking locks in order to find ammunition, weapons and other important items. The game shows strong influences from Bethesda's Fallout series, and with the post-zombie-apocalypse nature of the game, the homage fits pretty well. Players will eventually encounter Jack -who has now become a leader for survivors in Union City, and the old hero will help players escape from Union City by boat.
A short time after the events of Last Stand 3: Union City, things took an even uglier turn for the worse. The zombies have managed to completely overrun the military and the HERC troops, leaving the city in chaos. Bombs designed to wipe out everyone were dropped and pretty soon, the city was considered lost. At this point, people have began calling Union City as the Dead Zone -and this is where you start.
You, along with all the other Dead Zone players on Facebook, are survivors of the zombie plague. The undead still around, and it is never entirely safe to venture out alone. But the good thing is, it appears that any human survivor who has made it up to this point is apparently immune from turning into a zombie -though you are still mortal and thus, susceptible to getting killed by everything else. That means that even if a zombie bite will not turn you, you can still bleed to death if the wound is bad enough. So what is a person to do to survive in a world full of zombies? Hunt and scavenge! You must make the most out of every day by looking for important resources such as food and water. At the same time, you must look for materials, weapons and other useful things that would help make your life a whole lot easier. Perhaps you will run into Jack someday, or you might even find a way to completely beat the zombies. No one really knows for sure, the only thing you can do for now, is to make it till the next day -and the days that come after that.
Visuals and Audio
Despite being a Flash game developed for Facebook, Dead Zone is a wonderful beauty of a game. In fact, we would not be surprised is this got its own console or handheld port the game's visuals are so well made. Every character and zombie is a nicely crafted 3D model with animations that seem so lifelike, it really adds to the suspenseful feel of the game.
Even the items in the background add a sense of realism. The small plants will grow on the vegetable garden, and your clothing storage will slowly get stacked with materials as you grow more food and gather more materials. Of course, when you consume the materials, the garden and the storage will also revert to their empty state. Upgrading will naturally change the look and form of your facilities improving your water storage will add more tanks for keeping water. The visual effects are stunningly well made. If you can turn up the features, the game supports high definition shadows and anti-aliasing (for smoothening out the 3D lines). The blood splatters and muzzle fire effects of combat also make the game more engaging for players.
Sadly, the game's super nice graphics come at a price; it is really unfriendly to low end devices. So if you are playing on a netbook, you might want to try booting up this game on a more stable desktop computer in order to play.
As mentioned, everything is in an isometric view, so expect some clutter to block your view every now and then (like a wall, a pillar or some pile of garbage). Thankfully, the walls and debris automatically fade out to a transparent blur when the need arises. Also, you can rotate the camera if the current angle is disadvantageous.
The music is simple, but effective, providing a slow haunting tune that reminds you of the grim fate that has befallen the city. The sound effects on the other hand, add the last layer of realism into the game. Overall, Last Stand: Dead Zone is pretty much the most well executed flash game we have ever played. And with the development still in the beta phase, any more improvements would simply be icing on the cake.
How the Game Plays
As we said, you start out in a warehouse -from there, you will begin the basics -like constructing a bed and some storage for food. Building anything will require raw materials, and surviving each day will require food and water. To get these valuable resources, you must venture out of your safehouse and into the various streets and homes of the Dead Zone and there you must fight off zombies while trying to gather food and materials. Your character will fight automatically, though you must still provide commands on where to go. Depending on your character class, you will also have other special actions available -such as healing. Along the way, you will also pick up weapons which will help improve your combat abilities and gear which will provide a variety of bonuses.
Once you gather enough materials and build more improvements, other survivors will join your crew -this will help you increase your chances of survival when going on further scavenger hunts. You will then designate a job class for each survivor, as well as equipping them for combat. In return, they will follow all your commands, helping you fight, scavenge and more. The more survivors you have in your party, the more things you will be able to do. Basically, it is all about building, surviving and recruiting and we love it. There is a certain level of satisfaction that the game provides when you meet the necessary requirements for getting a new survivor to join. Considering how much of a struggle it is to live in such conditions, the game makes you feel as if you are managing to strive in a city full of zombies, and ultimately, this is what makes players come back for more.
Being a Facebook game, Dead Zone also introduces another factor into the mix: time. Certain actions in the game take time: building new improvements in the base, upgrading your amenities, coming back home from a mission -these important tasks will leave your characters, and ultimately, your progress, on a bit of a hold as you wait for the timer to count down. Some of the delays are short (building a bed takes all but 30 seconds), some missions will take your characters a while to get back to base (a level 5 mission will require your party a 35 minute trip to get back home), and some things just take forever to build (a watchtower takes 12 whole hours to finish!). Thankfully, the timer will continue to move even when you are not playing, so if you leave your party with a big before going to sleep -like removing some junk, they might be done with it by the time you wake up. Also, once a timer hits the 5 minute mark, you can ask the game to speed up the process without any additional cost.
In order to speed up these tasks, players can choose to consume fuel, which will instantly end any of the above delays. While players will find one or two errant fuel tanks in game, the only real way to accumulate enough fuel to end long tasks is to pay up with Facebook Credits. Fuel is sold at 10 units per credit, with a minimum of 50 credits per purchase (the game offers a bonus of extra fuel for every purchase, with the largest bracket of 1000 credits giving players a total of 10000 units of fuel and an additional 5000 more fuel units as an incentive). Also, the game allows players to recruit survivors by spending fuel, as well as purchasing a variety of resources such as equipment, materials, food, water and even crafting ingredients. Basically. you can spend some cash to make your progress a little faster.
Real Life Cash and In Game Balance
Obviously, players with the extra cash will be able progress a lot further than those who play the game without taking up any micro transactions, after all, they will have the time and extra items that would make everything a lot easier. Still, this does not mean that others will lose out on a game experience. You can accomplish anything without having to spend your cash, and you will still enjoy the game.
What actually makes a difference is when player raids finally become available. Raids happen when one player decides to attack another player's base. Being a social networking game, the competitive feature is not all that surprising to have. However, a player with fuel-bought items, equipment and other such bonuses, will certainly have an edge over a player who did not buy fuel. Since resources such as materials, food and water will be at stake, it can be frustrating for players who do not buy fuel to have their storage containers raided. Also, the game lacks a cooperative mode -which is a shame since it would have been fun to go on scavenges with friends.
Without the player raids, the presence of fuel in the game would have been something that was easy to deal with. But with the threat of being overrun by well equipped fighters from players who have fuel, there is a certain degree of distancing that non-paying players will feel towards their warehouses -after all, it is not easy to get attached to something that you know you may possibly lose. The game does provide players with free raid protection for the first five days of playtime, but after that, you are on your own.
While the presence of a pay system is enough to put us on the fence with the gameplay balance, it would not be fair to ignore the amazing concept that the creators have made and also, how impressed we are with how well they have put their plans into action. Take away the fuel concept and you have a great game about finding all the necessary things a person would need to survive a zombie infested city. Gathering materials, recruiting survivors, finding better weapons, these are all small elements that have helped make the previous Last Stand titles big aces in our book. Put all of these in together with a great game system and we have one of the best zombie survival titles of all time.
We really cannot stress how much the fuel and credit system will imbalance the player vs player aspect of the game, and how much it would have improved the experience if users could simply opt out of the competitive experience. In the end, developers are still human, and like everyone else, they need make money. And while the raid system gets frustrating at times, the rest of the game is still wondrously fun to play.
With its amazing gameplay, stunning graphics, easy-to-follow controls and a compelling back story, Last Stand 4: Dead Zone manages to overcome any negative issues that the pay system may present. And as such, it is a game that we would heartily recommend any fan of zombie games, whether they be casual or hardcore. We give this game a pistol wielding scavenger's 95/100.