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C32 Comp 2004 Reviews - Zombies!

Game #2: Zombies (Z3), by Chris Cenotti
Played On: 12/07/2004 (7:00 PM to 8:00 PM)
Score For Comp: 6 -- Unofficial Score: 5.0

     Yikes. Where do I begin? The premise is promising. Around Halloween, I saw the original "Night of the Living Dead" (for the first time). "Shawn of the Dead" is a more recent (and quite good) example of the genre. With that in mind, I was hoping "Zombies" would deliver on its "B-Horror" subtitle. Under-funded movies can't hide a weak story behind snazzy cinematography and special effects. B-Movie acting is often laughable (watch "Undefeatable" some time). What I expected of "Zombies" -- and more importantly, what it seemed to present itself as -- was a caricature of all that.

     A caricature would have been great. Even a competently-written homage to the genre would have been nice. "Zombies" succeeds at neither of those things, for several reasons. The writing was broken enough to detract from the experience. The second and third sentences of the introduction should have been four sentences (one, a run-on with "and" -- the other, spliced together with a comma). Other similar problems with sentence structure made the text choppy and uncomfortable. If the game was beta-tested (it offers no indication that it was), the author must have changed numerous last-minute things. If I can make sense of my hastily-scribbled notes, I'll include a bug report for the author's benefit.

     The problems with the game aren't exclusively technical. In a zombie-ridden warehouse, you encounter a grand total of one zombie. Apparently more exist, but they are never mentioned. Even if it isn't important to interact with them, it would have been a good idea to have (for instance) rooms leading out in unimplemented directions. Upon attempting to go that way, a simple "No way! Zombies are in there!" would have sufficed. In the interest of simulating a cheap movie, that could have pushed the point across. As it is, the lack of zombies (needed in order to reinforce the PC's desire to take action) just seems lazy. Perhaps nameless zombies could enter the area randomly, dispatched by the player as necessary.

     I almost won without peeking at the walkthrough. In fact, I solved all but the final move. This puzzle was almost redemption for the rest of the game, but the more I thought about it, the more my newfound optimism dwindled. In theory, it's pretty clever. In practice, it's another broken aspect of the game. Without giving a spoiler, it's hard to describe this. The puzzle has several problems, both in logic and in implementation. I thought the burning 55-gallon drum would play a part in it -- it seems likely, after all -- but surprisingly, it does not. If you dropped what you need in another room (even though you have no reason to do that), you can't go back to get it. My biggest frustration was in solving that last command. I couldn't do it. I kept dwelling on the burning drum. Even if I hadn't, I had no indication that a guess-the-verb was the answer.

     My theory about "Zombies" is that the author either imagined a game too large to fit the 32k limit, or he adapted a larger work-in-progress for the contest. Maybe he was struggling with the size limit? The compass directions are abbreviated to a single letter, even in the game text. The burning drum felt as though it had been only partially implemented. Since the game could have been 3.5k larger (it's the smallest of the competition), I could be wrong.

     On the plus side, the game was focused enough to keep me moving in the right direction. With some additional work, most of the problems could be fixed (even within the 32k limit). I liked the idea that Mac's advice followed me through the game, but I think this one-sided dialogue might have been trimmed in favor of bringing bytes to more sparse areas.

     Skip the next paragraph unless you want to read the bug report. After a time, I started tuning out the problems, in the effort to get through the game. For that reason, I probably missed more things than I noted.

     When Mac collapses in the chair, unconscious from blood loss, the PC begins considering him dead (also, unconscious is missing its second "c") -- even though he didn't die, according to the text. Where the pig brains are needed, "give" doesn't do the trick. After doing what does work (in regards to the brains), I still have it in my inventory. I can't hit the biohazard box with the chainsaw, yet I can "open" it with the chainsaw (weird verb-guessing). Why does that work, when it won't work against the zombie? Look for "a outer door" and change the "a" to "an". You can search the boss (or "x bulge") multiple times. Of the three distinct things in his pocket, two aren't implemented at all (toothpicks and change). The game says I took the change, but it isn't in my inventory. "Theres a small hallway." is a bad start to a sentence (at least put an apostrophe in "There's" -- ideally, re-word it). What you can use in each room just gives a blank line when used in the north part of the warehouse (think "fuse"). Not a bug, but it would be interesting if "eat brains" (when holding the pig brains) gave a custom response. I tried to unlock the outer door, and the game told me to be more specific. I typed the exact same command a second time ("unlock outer door") and it worked. The boss can't be referred to as "Mac" -- unless I'm mistaken, isn't that who he is? The room description just south of the office is a run-on sentence. In the janitor's closet, the nouns "wicks" and "lead" do not work. With the bag, an attempt to "get powder" results in "not portable" being shown directly after the custom message. Lastly, have somebody proofread the text. It just doesn't flow right in many cases (run-on sentences, etc).

     The author may have just rushed to get the game done in time. It has some potential, but I would recommend waiting for an updated version. If the bugs are fixed, the writing reviewed, and the plot given a boost (even if this means exceeding the original 32k goal), this could be a better game.

     Post-review wrap-up: It wasn't difficult to rank this one. It falls below four stronger games, but well above the sixth. For that, this is the "6" by the guidelines I set for ranking the games. If I had used my IF Comp `04 criteria for scoring, this would have been a 5.0.

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