Monday, April 30, 2012

Pestilence Z

I've been waiting, for a long time, for a good zombie-based RPG to come out. Zombie games are typically shooters or survival horror deals - for obvious reasons - and the genre could use some branching.

As far as I can remember, Pestilence Z is the first zombie RPG I've ever played. (Feel free to argue that if you've read the archives. I honestly can't remember.) First GOOD one? Ehhh... that's debatable. Pestilence Z ain't bad, but it could use some work.


Pestilence Z is like any zombie movie. You're a survivor in the midst of a zombie outbreak. Time to   escape your home and fight your way through massive mobs of the undead. There's a bit of a plot involved, mainly in getting to the home of a doctor who may be linked to the outbreak (read: probably), but for the most part it's an out-and-out survival-fest.

One with surprisingly high numbers of zombie fatalities. Run away? Meh. You're a one-man-woman-whatever wrecking machine.

As the screencap above hints, you can choose to be one of three people: a sexy nurse, a high school jock, or an army vet. (I, naturally, chose the nurse.) Each has different starting stats, skill progressions and specialties, and each appears differently in cut scenes. Consequently, each play through IS a fair bit different from the last, though the main goal is, as always, to blow the shite out of zombies.

And how do you do that? Via turn-based, strategic combat. The game is laid out in a series of grids, allowing you to move only a few spaces each turn before the zombies get to move. Once you get caught in battle with zombies (which can be done from a distance or at close range), you duke it out in long- or short-ranged combat with a variety of weapons. As is typical with RPGs, new weapons are scattered all over the place, and skills earned while leveling make killing zombies a little easier.

Yep. Pestilence Z is a bonafide zombie RPG. One that could use some spell checking, true, but a zombie RPG nevertheless.


As far as I can tell, you can't play Pestilence Z without a mouse. There are tons of menus, and you have to click on the map to make your character move. That said, many of the in- and out of-combat actions have hot keys that greatly speed up game play. Entire battles can be waged without touching the mouse.  Be careful using these keys, as it's easy to accidentally hit the wrong one. 

The primary issue as far as control is concerned lays in the turn-based nature of Pestilence Z. When you're on the map, it's a very slow game. Your character can only move two squares at a time when there are zombies about, which means there's a hell of a walk from one side of the screen to the next. This isn't so bad when the zombies ALSO move towards you, but there always seems to be one or two on each screen who refuse to budge. Either you hoof it to them or you tolerate a long, annoying search when looking for items in boxes or shelves or whatnot.


It's hard to classify Pestilence Z's visuals, because they're both 'good' and 'meh' at the same time. Everything is clean and identifiable, there's a lot of variety in the surrounding environments, and the artwork is many steps above other browser-based games. I give extra points to the menu symbols, which are all easy to identify thanks to efficiently-drawn symbols.

And the meh? Again, it's a matter of speed. Everything looks and feels sluggish. There's no sense of urgency in this zombie apocalypse. The zombies never feel alive, which is an odd thing to say about the undead. Even your survivor seems detached from the whole scenario. I know RPGs can be slow, but this... this needs a few jolts of excitement.

Also? More variety. Seeing the same six or seven zombies over and over and over is so damn blech.


Pestilence Z is, by far, weakest in the sound department. There's a tiny handful of subdued songs, none of which real capture the flavour of the end of the world, and almost no sound effects. No groans, no fleshy thumps of a bat, no crazed screams... the best you'll ever get is the rat-a-tat-tat of a gun. The outbreak is devoid of menace without sound.

Challenge Rating

Because it has four different difficulty levels, Pestilence Z's challenge rating can fluctuate. I played it on Normal and it was fairly easy, with lots of findable weapons, med kits, ammunition and armour. That doubtless changes on more fiendish play-throughs, granting the game more replay value. Expect to take at least a couple hours for each complete circuit of the game.

Problem is, most run-of-the-mill RPG players probably won't replay Pestilence Z. The combat system is way too tedious and repetitive to maintain much interest, regardless of a different character choice. Movement alone will keep me from touching Pestilence Z again, or at least not for a long time - and if I DO replay it, I'll focus all of my efforts on head shots and one-hit-kills. They speed up the game significantly.

Oh, and one major problem for an RPG: though Pestilence Z allows for game saving, once you refresh the screen the save game disappears. No saving in cache. Thumbs down.


This game doesn't knock the zombie genre out of the ballpark, nor does it grant much innovation to RPGs in general. Hell, it didn't even seem that strategic to me, despite the grid system. Pestilence Z IS still a decent game, however, and level-grinding fanatics will probably enjoy the pace.    

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