Romero's Aftermath: A Zombie Survival Game for the Rest of Us?

Romero's Aftermath: A Zombie Survival Game for the Rest of Us?

Free Reign Entertainment's spiritual successor to The War Z pulls away from realism for a much more accessible take on zombie survival.

Back in 2012, I dabbled in a bit The War Z. These types of sandbox survival games were still fairly new at the time, so I considered it my duty to see what all the fuss was about.

Of course, I use the term "dabble" because a certain set of circumstances kept me from playing for long. The story would always be the same: I'd spawn into the world, naked and afraid, wander for roughly 20 minutes towards the nearest point of interest, then immediately have my life ended by some sniper I couldn't have possibly seen. Based on my experience, The War Z amounted to an aimless walking simulator that ended in my sudden and arbitrary demise before I could discover or do anything worthwhile.

So I had my doubts about Romero's Aftermath, The War Z's spiritual successor. Even if it bears the name of the guy who basically created the modern, pop culture version of the zombie—or rather, his son—a celebrity endorsement wasn't enough to immediately pacify my worries. Sitting down with one of the developers, though, I got the sense they, too, recognized the problems with The War Z (later renamed Infestation: Survivor Stories) and are seeking to make a much more accessible—but still tense—player experience with this new creation.

Aftermath doesn't rock the boat too much, though. You're still tossed into a hostile world and forced to scrape together the few remaining resources and build a secure base in order to withstand the ever-present zombie hordes. But this time around, it's much easier to find areas worth exploring. While Aftermath's rural environment contains plenty of small settlements, between them lie several camps, full of items worth nabbing—giving players something to do in the long trudge between some of the more interesting landmarks on the map.

The real challenge though, can be found in taking over some of the larger towns and military encampments: Here, you're tasked with eliminating the zombie population of a given area and refueling a generation within a certain amount of time. Finish the job, and helicopters will drop in some valuable loot—though hostile human players may notice the zombie population dropping in your location, and head there to mess with you.

Thankfully, sniper rifles aren't as devastating as they once were in The War Z; now, they have a much more limited range, and reloading takes a significant amount of time. Again, these choices add up to a concerted effort by Aftermath's developers to give the experience a healthy amount of friction to keep players motivated instead of demoralized by sudden and often unfair deaths. And other elements of Aftermath have been given this treatment in order to make experimentation less intimidating: Crafting only entails 10 core components, for instance, and stats are provided for each and every item found in the world, underlining their purpose and potential danger.

Most of my brief, guided demo with Aftermath involved one of the developers going to great lengths to point out the many tweaks they've made for the sake of accessibility. And even if I don't have much time in my life for this type of a game right now, I'm downright impressed by how far Free Reign Entertainment has gone in making a zombie survival game that actively tries to pull new people in, rather than pushing them away by enabling veterans to grief newcomers. As of now, Aftermath has a particularly negative rating on Steam, though, skimming through some of the reviews, it seems that a good portion of this hostility stems from the War Z/Infestation baggage this new game carries—something that really isn't an issue for me.

But if you're skeptical, Aftermath's free-to-play status means giving it a try doesn't take much of an investment. While I haven't seen how the human element could possibly disrupt Aftermath's design, they groundwork laid by Free Reign could make their zombie survival game a good place to start for the curious.

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