Review: Fort Zombie (PC)

Fort Zombie
Genre: Survival Horror
Developer: Kerberos Productions
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: 10/31/09

When the decade closed out some, people might have remembered the last ten years as the rise of social networking such as Facebook, Twitter, and so on or one of the numerous other changes that occurred. Personally, I will always view the last decade as the return of the zombie genre. The number of movies and video games dealing with zombies just exploded, especially in video games in the last couple of years. In fact it is almost a little overwhelming, even to someone who likes zombies and zombie related media. Still for all of the games like Zombie Apocalypse, Left 4 Dead, Dead Rising, Wolfenstein, Call of Duty: World At War, House of the Dead, etc, there is still a lot of room for growth in the zombie game genre.

I’ve always wanted a game that gave me a city to roam around in that suffered a zombie outbreak. Romero zombies, not Dawn of the Dead remake running zombies. Something that really captures the horror of trying to survive against an endless horde of people that were once friends and neighbors. For me Dead Rising is the closest a game has come to capturing that, but it still seemed like it was only a beginning of an idea that wasn’t really capitalized on. Then came the details for Fort Zombie.

A zombie game. Set in a town overrun with zombies that shuffle around. A game where you have to take over a building and gather survivors and fortify the building for an eventual showdown with the horde. Skills to upgrade, different job classes, and so on. It was sounding like the zombie game I always wanted to play. Sure, some of the screenshots looked rough but I’d be willing to sacrifice next gen graphics for an indie game that presents some great new ideas.

Fort Zombie certainly has some great ideas. It’s just a shame that it’s such a technical mess that the game is barely playable.

Right away after downloading I got hit with the first annoying thing, the game wouldn’t boot up. Turns out there was something else I needed to download to make the game work that wasn’t in the installation file of the game. What the hell? Okay, fine, I find the program and download that and launch it again. Loading screen tells me that it’s sending for more paramedics. Cute. I start getting excited for it again. The character screen showed a lot of different jobs with varying skills to choose from. I chose prisoner and then police station as my fort just for the irony.

Then the game started and everything sort of fell apart.

For starters, the camera is a mess. The game can be played from a zoomed out isometric perspective or from a zoomed in behind the character. Neither of these is a good option. Zoomed out worked better for me to move around with and for combat, however with that angle you can’t look down the street to try and avoid altercations with zombies and as soon as you enter a building it comes in close again. Hell, for indoor environments the camera is barely functional at all. They really should have built something into the game where a wall could become transparent if the camera was behind it in this game because in every building I was constantly having to adjust the camera just to see my character. Outside any building the zoomed in perspective doesn’t help much as you have to hold down the right mouse button in order to move the camera instead of it being fixed to the cursor position which makes handling groups of zombies more difficult. I spent far too long in the game changing the position of the camera over and over again.

Another thing that doesn’t help with the camera is the constant frame rate dips. I have no problems running games on my system and Fort Zombie certainly isn’t pushing any technical barriers so I have no idea what the problem is but I barely saw the game run at anything above 15 frames per second. The support forum recommends spinning the camera around twice when starting in an area, and this does help, but only for a moment before dipping right back down again. It’s like watching a movie while someone is rapidly tapping the pause button. I’d play a JRPG if I wanted that experience. I couldn’t play the game for long periods of time without getting a headache from needing to constantly move the camera around and frame rate issues.

The graphics are something you would expect from a game from the early part of the decade, not from something within the last year. The textures are blander than eating pizza rolls every night. The character models are only so-so. The main character is fairly detailed but the zombies are boring. The buildings in the town are randomized but it’s the difference between one bland building to another. The fact that there are minimal textures, boring graphics and lame model makes the fact that it runs at a low frame rate even more unacceptable.

The sounds of the game are nearly as bad. The groans of the zombies are generic as well as any other sound effect in the game. The audio aspect of the game is something that seemed to be on the back of the developers minds.

Gameplay is where everything just falls apart.

At first it seems like a good thing that the main character doesn’t have the best ability to aim and shoot. I mean it makes a sort of sense that during a zombie apocalypse a normal guy wouldn’t know how to shoot. Just because I’ve been preparing for the eventual zombie apocalypse doesn’t mean everyone else has been. But it goes beyond just not being able to shoot accurately. The zombies are a pain in the ass to shoot and reloading is extremely slow, to avoid this the game recommends that you don’t engage zombies at all. This makes sense. However once you do encounter zombies it is possible not only to out run the zombies, but out walk them as well. There is an adrenaline meter and when it runs out you are forced to walk. This would be more intense if it didn’t run out so quickly and if walking wasn’t still much faster than the zombies. For some reason the AI of the game will forget you exist if you walk outside of a certain radius from the enemy.

Yeah. It’s a survival horror game where you only need to walk at a slow pace to evade the biggest threat of the game. This completely kills any suspense that could be had in the game. There’s nothing that is a real threat. The only thing you’ll really struggle against in this game is the controls, nausea from spinning the camera, the framerate and boredom. The game builds towards an eventual zombie attack on the main base and most of the game is spent gathering survivors and supplies while balancing rest and health. So the whole game is built around the idea of creating a defensible fort where you have to defend yourself against an enemy that can be lost by merely walking in one direction for a few feet.

Another part of being a survivor is scavenging for supplies. The game encourages you to do so. You’d imagine that maybe after years of video games where you search an item by clicking on it that this game would make such a thing easy, right? Nope. You have to hold down a button while a yellow circle slowly expands a couple of feet around the character in order to search an area. This is a horrible idea. You hold down a button and then wait. Most of the time you don’t find anything. This is annoying, not user friendly at all, and just counter intuitive. It makes absolutely no sense why they went this direction for searching for items.

Shooting means aiming at a zombie, but since the character isn’t good at shooting at first then most shots miss or hit areas you weren’t aiming at. It makes sense with what is established in the game that you aren’t playing as a sharpshooter but combined with all of the other problems with the game the fact that even the action parts of the game aren’t fun just add to an overall experience that had the game run at a fluid framerate it still wouldn’t be an enjoyable game.

If you do end up enjoying the game, the random layout of the town and multiple class and fort options certainly encourage replayability. Every beginning will feel different from the last time, which is a feat few games can claim.

While I’ve ranted about the various disappointing aspects of the game I want to make one thing clear, Fort Zombie is an extremely ambitious game. There are a lot of new ideas especially for the genre, and new combinations of ideas that have existed in other game genres. If anything it feels as if the game tries to force too many ideas into one game without the necessary tools or time invested to make it work. Much like how the first Assassin’s Creed had some good ideas that just weren’t well implemented. I would like to see the ideas presented in this game more fleshed out and better developed. When playing you can tell there’s an amazing zombie game somewhere underneath all of the technical flaws and poor design.

Fix the framerate problems. The bland textures. The repetitive sounds. The poor AI. Fix the camera so it doesn’t need to be constantly corrected. Balance the difficulty so that the zombie threat is an actual threat. Overhaul the controls, and for the love of all that is holy just let me search a box by clicking on it so I don’t spend so much of the game by just holding down a button over and over again. Also, quality assurance test this crap next time. This feels like an alpha version of the game. No game should be released this rough, no matter what the price.

The Scores

Story: Bad
Graphics: Awful
Audio: Bad
Gameplay: Awful
Replayability: Great
Balance: Awful
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Awful
Appeal Factor: Awful
Miscellaneous: Awful

Final Score: Bad Game

Short Attention Span Summary:
I wanted desperately to like this game. I love zombie movies, games, etc. Fort Zombie is just such a mess in nearly every way that the only thing I enjoyed was the references to other zombie fiction. Good ideas, poor execution.

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