Opening articles by saying that the market is oversaturated with zombie games has itself become a bit trite, so that speaks to how true the statement really is. Walkers, infected, freakers, the undead, whatever you want to call them, we’ve seen just about everyone and their zombified dog take a swing at developing a game about the shambling biters, achieving varying degrees of success. New Zealand-based studio PikPok has been in the infected indie space since 2012, with its Into the Dead series having two well-received titles released on iOS and Android.
For the newest instalment, however, the team’s vision and ambition have grown past the mobile platform, facilitating a studio-first move into developing a game for PC, with a console release also on the cards. Into the Dead: Our Darkest Days commanded a lot of attention at PAX Aus this year, with a huge booth, replete with a vintage 80s look, and a neverending line of eager folks looking to get their hands on the game. With an alluring stage presence and promising pitch, a few of us here at WellPlayed figured we should duck behind the curtain and give this new zombie title a whirl.
Our half-hour demo kicked off with our first (but far from last) survivor looking to scavenge some resources from an abandoned suburban house on the outskirts of Texas, where the game is set. Entering the house I was confronted by an infected, longingly clawing at a family photo on the wall, showing some semblance of recognition for her former life. Taking a few seconds to sit in the sombre moment, I then snuck up behind the mournful zombie and shuffled it off its undead coil.
Pushing forward, I worked my way through the house, collecting supplies that might be helpful back at my base, before exiting through the other side of the level. It was a short introduction that got me up to speed with sneaking, peering through cracked doors and silently dealing with dormant undead, but I was ready for more.
The next sequence took place in a police station closer to the city that was teeming with zombies. Confident that I could get in, grab what I needed and go, I worked through several rooms, collecting keys to progress and avoiding the shambling undead by hiding under desks and stealthily dispatching them where necessary. That was until I bumped into a room full of them with little more than a bat to fend off the horde. I swung away, dealing with one or two of them, but weapon degradation and overconfidence became my downfall.
There are no second chances in the apocalypse, so my poor survivor, whose name is already lost to time, stayed dead and a new, cowboy hat-wearing fella from the same settlement came onto the scene. This attempt was far more successful, but it all ended the same way. Confronted by a rather heinous scene of bodies hanging from the ceiling, this gunslinger was beset by the trauma status effect, which hinted at some of the other systems at play, but he didn’t last long enough to suffer.
With a handful of objectives left to tick off, our third and final survivor stepped up to the plate, though she likely knew what was coming if she knew what happened to our previous two friends. While fairly simple, the mission objectives incentivised exploration and pushed me to search through the entire station, uncovering new weapons, key items and nuggets of lore. A brief stint with a firearm made me feel unstoppable, but when the ammo ran dry, my last living settler quickly joined her doomed partners.
I may have been overconfident, and all three of my demo survivors may have met grisly ends, but that further sparked my interest. While I wasn’t able to play around with the base management side of Our Darkest Days, I was nevertheless impressed with what I did get to see. The core gameplay felt tight, the combat, while reserved as a final option, was weighty, and the 1980s Texas setting shone through. The zombie genre is a crowded one, but I’m hoping that Into the Dead manages to have as much substance as it does style in its full release to let it stand out among the horde.