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Darkest Of Days, Brightest Of Gameplay

If you're like most gamers, you're probably sick of zombies by now.  Following the success of Left4Dead, so many people jumped on the zombie bandwagon that it firmly derailed into a ditch where hopefully someone was considerate enough to bury the remains.

Once again, the indie developer to the rescue.  Enter Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, which is essentially what Project Zomboid would be if they weren't bogged down with graphical overhead.  It reminds us what zombie games should really be about: post-apocolyptic survival scenarios where you have the freedom to freely loot the remnants of society and become an utter badass.
Cataclysm gameplay video courtesy of Td30s, whose accent alone makes him far cooler than I shall ever be.

So it's text based but, if you have ever played a roguelike game seriously, you know that you will eventually learn what symbol means what.  Even the prettiest graphics in the world eventually breaks down to symbols in our head, text-based roguelike games just cut to the chase while only initially being a bit less user-friendly.  Oh, and I have yet to figure out how to adjust the resolution of the game, assuming it's even possible, so it just plays in a little box in the middle of my screen.  [Edit: Oh, here's how you adjust the resolution, although your viewport into the game world remains the same.]

I think what really impresses me about Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead is the sheer feature set the game has available.  Warning, clicking on the links to the wiki may result in spoilers:
  • Randomly generated overworld complete with nifty features like houses, stores, abandoned science facilities, military bases, swamps, forests, cities, ect.
  • Robust roleplaying system with a wide range of stats, skills, morale is a concern, traits, mutations, bionics, diseases and status effects.  Even books: learn by reading, not just doing!
  • Rather large monster minagerie of cool post-apocolyptic enemies ranging from mutated bugs and plants to zombies to technology and more.  I rather like the monster balance, an individual zombie is not very hard to beat down with a nailboard, but they tend to come in droves, and there does exist many, very nasty monsters out there as well.
  • The timing system deserves special mention, you really feel like days in the game are spent like days would in real life.  A move takes less than a minute, and the time taken to perform each action is modeled very accurately to the point where wearing cumbersome clothing will slow your movement and actions down.
  • Actual working vehicles that you can assemble yourself from parts if you want, or even cannibalize existing vehicles for parts.  These will typically have storage and gas gauges.  The actual control mechanism is pretty cool: you spend turns accelerating, decelerating, or turning.  Each turn (and you may pass turns) your vehicle continues along its current path and speed.  Occasionally (depending on your character's driving skill) you will lose control and need to apply course corrections.  Feels marvelous, about the only thing vehicles lack are weaponry... or do they?
  • Meticulous crafting system (of which the wiki currently does not do proper justice to) which allows you to cobble together a wide range of nasty recipes depending on what your character's skills.
  • Meticulous construction system (again, the wiki currently does not do proper justice to) which allows you to perform actual modifications to the map in order to properly fortify your position, repair damage to houses, and so on.
  • Combat can be done with firearms, melee weapons, or even 20 styles of martial arts: ever wanted to use aikido against a zombie?
So basically here we have this fantastic open-world where you can carve out a wonderful little survival bunker for yourself against fearsome monsters.  You can build your little death fortress of zombie repelling, get yourself a nice vehicle, and make frequent foreys out for more food and water until you have completely depleted the map of food (which would take a very long time) or the zombies finally manage to finish you off. 

In short, this game accomplishes more towards being a true roleplaying game than 99.9% of all other software that exists anywhere.   If this could be combined with the gameplay and graphics of Kingdoms of Amalur, you would find me two months later, dead from glee, with a permanent priapism that proves immune to all attempts of the mortician to tame.   Who would have thought yet another zombie game could do that?

About the only bad thing I can say about Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead is that there's ultimately no final goal, no "I win," scenario.  Like Project Zomboid and games like it, the goal is ultimately to see how long you can survive.  Some people would say that this is actually a good thing, but personally I would like to see the Darkest Of Days equivilent of the Amulet Of Yendor.

Also, the game crashes sometimes, which sucks.  But hey, it's not even version 0.3 yet, and it's free, so why complain?  Oh, and did I mention the game is open source so, if you know enough about coding, you could always try to fix it yourself?

On a final note, it's a good thing Cataclysm: Darkest Of Days is freeware and low profile, because they actually use the copyrighted names of firearms (something Counterstrike got in trouble for before renaming them) and consumables like Dayquil, V8, SPAM, Prozac, Adderall, and Xanax.  This is good from an immersion standpoint, because we've all heard of these things and can associate them easily, but suicide from an avoiding-getting-Cease-And-Desist-notices standpoint.  It is also just a bit problematic they copied a lot of undead from Left4Dead, flat out calling them Boomers or Spitters.  But I suppose you could always just tweak the files a bit, make up your own weapon and consumable and monster names, and be in the clear.


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