Friday 13 September 2013

Shambles (PC)

Planet Earth is at saturation point with zombies. It would take forever to list the legions of zombie related franchises laying waste to all the world's media even as we speak. Zombie related novels are going straight to the slush piles of most major publishing houses, apparently, and big budget Z-movies are being critically panned. People are getting sick of the world's sickest people.

A game that can cut through the fog of media overexposure and fly in the face of the desensitisation to the hordes of walking dead shouldn't be allowed to pass by without this reporter popping his head up from behind the parapets of zed-besieged RGCD Towers and taking an extended look at it, and Shambles certainly warrants a good shufti.

Shambles is a low-resolution first person shooter that throws the player into a hellscape reminiscent of the opening anarchy of Dawn of the Dead, seeing blue-jumpsuited soldiers (maybe an homage to the equally blue jumpsuits of that film's cops) taking on zombies with a load of freaking out civilians between them. In fact, it looks like everyone's freaking the hell out. There's no cool hand Rick Grimes action here, everyone's running around in circles shooting pretty much everyone else and getting killed quick step. Just, as I imagine, a zombie apocalypse would be.

Shambles does a sterling job of conveying a sense of claustrophobia, tension and utter panic. It's a simple game with only three weapons (plus the player character's trusty zombie-smashing fists) and conveniences like mouse aiming and ducking are absent. But Shambles isn't about ticking the boxes on a 1998 want-list for first person shooter features, it's about fear and death and the inevitability of both of those things in the very near future. Or at least, that's the vibe I get from it.

A few tiny flourishes add a huge amount to the game. There's a reload button, without which you'll get the dead man's click after licking your first ten shots at the zombie hordes and die very quickly soon afterwards. It flies in the face of the first person shooter logic that's ingrained in all of us.

The only way to get health bonuses is to kill a civilian. The only way to get a better weapon is to either kill a soldier or wait until one gets turned into a zombie, at which point he'll probably be surrounded by his zombie mates and they'll be a hard nut to crack even with that nice assault rifle and its 300 rounds of ammo.

Assuming you get that nice, fully automatic game-changer from the cold dead jumpsuit of a soldier it's not the trump card you expect. Opening up wildly on a crowd of zombies may result in lethal return fire if you nick a soldier with a wayward bullet. His buddies are going to join in as well, assuming he's not alone.

The scoring system isn't based entirely on kills. Each zombie drops a little yellow sphere when destroyed, and each one of these equals a point. You can kill as many zeds as you want but if you're not running into the fray to pick up the orbs from the fallen shamblers then you're scoring zero. It's a neat trick that pushes the player into risking their character's life.

Notch, the developer of Minecraft, knocked this game out in only seven days as part of the 7DFPS challenge. It's a brilliant little game that offers the player both challenge and reward. And zombies who, as this game proves, aren't quite dead yet.

Download the game or play within your web browser here (from the developers website).
3.5 out of 5

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