Remember when zombie games were all the rage? I recall flying home from school, binning any homework and spending my time playing zombie-themed flash games on shady looking websites. One such game was The Last Stand and its sequel. Skip to today and it appears I’m still binning education commitments to again play another Last Stand game. How funny the cyclical nature of life, and falling into the same pitfalls. The newest entry in this cycle, The Last Stand: Aftermath from the Melbourne-based studio Con Artist Games, has evolved into a rogue-like twin-stick shooter that excellently draws you in with its addictive systems and gameplay, but is unfortunately counter-balanced with an overstayed welcome and is mired with bugs.
Zombies still showing up to Black Friday
At the end of their roads, a group of survivors have resorted to sending their infected volunteers from the confines of their compound to seek food, information related to the governmental body H.E.R.C, and to pursue a strange radio signal beckoning out into the wasteland. Being an experience that’s meant to be rinsed and repeated over and over, plot and world building are naturally very light. Even in this context it’s incredibly sparse, with inconsequential dialogue trees occurring only in brief pre-determined areas of the districts you traverse. At its heart it’s a very typical zombie plot, one that doesn’t challenge you, even to the point of seemingly not wanting to be noticed at all. The scarcity of plot encounters doesn’t do the allure of the mysterious signal any favours either as it becomes mostly forgettable.
But the game actually doesn’t need too many favours, as The Last Stand: Aftermath creates more enjoyment from its gameplay and progression systems, which are much more effective in making you not want to put the game down. With that said though, the carrot on the end of the stick does always seem just out of reach in a detrimental capacity, as the further you get into the game the longer it will take you to return to getting any closure to the mysteries at hand.
This is a rogue-like, and as such is filled with randomisation of loot drops, map layouts, and progression systems so that every run offers new challenges to overcome with the toolset you find. Generally in the early game you’ll arrive at a location and just scrounge around in every nook and cranny looking for useful stuff like a dog on the trail of some schmackos. Whether that be crafting supplies, weapons (both melee and ranged) or ammo, there’s always a use for something you find. It’s definitely a process, but an enjoyable one that’s kept tense and nerve wracking by the constant hordes of shambling, speedy, chonky and special undead foes. The balance of looting, shooting and punching is attuned perfectly as the zombies always arrive to mix things up at the right time.
Gandalf at first light on the fifth day
There are two points of great satisfaction that the game consistently produces throughout. The first is reaching a stage of decent equipment where you can confidently mow down waves upon waves of hard-hitting enemies, all without receiving so much as a scratch. The second comes from the progression systems that creates opportunities for you to vary your builds run to run, to the point where I was able to conjure a beautifully destructive unarmed build that had me monster mashing with my bare hands. Such is the power and variance of a well-crafted build.
There’s a skill tree that affects everything from crafting to item and fuel finding, that’s par for the course. The catalyst, and the main facilitator of my big slap build though, is the mutation system that gradually infects you, decreasing your total health pool but bestowing upon you passive modifiers like +100% unarmed damage, that can also stack. The interplay of purposefully infecting yourself to become an absolute weapon to hit with the force of a falling fridge, but dying if a zombie so much as coughs near you is so damn fun to mess around with. Not to mention the external factor that you can stave off the infection with a booster shot, which comes around greatly as something you need to consider towards the late game, where having every bit of health is more important than memeing around.
Rogue-likes are very contingent on how they carry themselves into the later game. The Last Stand: Aftermath tries its best to alleviate some of the mundanity of returning to a point of actual progress by allowing you to skip over individual locations once you’ve overcome a district’s climactic event. The problem is that the further in you get, the longer the process of finding and refuelling your car (that you don’t actually get to drive around in) weighs the experience down as you yearn to get back to later areas. There’s a noticeable transition from 20-minute romps that make The Last Stand: Aftermath hard to put down to hour-long journeys that end disappointingly by an obscured instant kill trap or landmine. I get this is half the challenge and appeal of rouge-likes, but the bloatedness of collecting equipment, refuelling and hoping that you have enough to survive later does greatly impact the overall pacing.
What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
Another factor that impacts the player experience is the numerous bugs that come from all walks of life. We’re talking wall clipping, falling through the map in the Sunken City, AI that frequently gets stuck, menus failing to display their text, and most notably a save file error that causes a perpetual loading state. Most of these are non-factors and at times endearing, however seemingly losing a save file doesn’t rest well on the soul, even if a game is focused around infinite replayability. In the case of my lost save, I’m optimistic such a bug will be weeded out in time, and that bug squashing will be a continual goal for the developers post launch.
In the aftermath of such an event as being locked out of your save file one has to take a look at the road travelled in a very particular light. There’s a lot to like and even love about The Last Stand: Aftermath. Its moment-to-moment treasure hunting and rogue-like systems are top-notch at pulling you in and keeping you playing. I especially love the mutation system and its run-altering effects that make each volunteer you send to die uniquely fun. Frankly though, it’s hard to recommend something that clearly needs more time. If the bugs can be flattened to the point where they don’t endanger the player experience then there is a really good time to be had here. However, it might be best to stay away from this infection, at least for the time being.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Con Artist Games
- Armor Games Studio
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / PC
- November 16, 2021