As long as developers are willing to explore beyond the boundaries of the usual third and first person shooters, we can live with the fact that zombie games aren’t going anywhere any time soon.
Luck would have it, then, that Survivalist Games are a fine example of somebody trying to do something new with the undead.
Developed by just one person, Shelter depicts a zombie outbreak through the means of turn-based card battles, alongside some simple yet pleasing elements from the tower defence genre. Comic book-style presentation holds the package together, detailing a well-told tale of a zombie outbreak survivor trekking across the UK to find his girlfriend.
Once the brief but comprehensive tutorial is out of the way, the first few battles involve finding essential supplies for the trip. They help to ease you in gently, even providing a bit of confidence for what’s to come. For us it wasn’t until we lost a few battles that Shelter’s genius came apparent – it’s just as much about defending and planning as it is about attacking.
At the start of each battle a row of defence cards are automatically placed along the middle of the duelling table, including locked and barricaded doors. The zombie’s cards then start to shuffle – pun fully intended – down from the top of the battle screen, where they slowly start to tear down your defences.
This provides a couple of turns to plan attacks by choosing weapons card and upgrading them with special rounds and scopes. Every attack uses up valuable AP, forcing you to pick your targets wisely and taking them down with the appropriate arsenal.
If defences are broken, health slowly beings to drain. Usually you can survive for a good few rounds more, providing you’ve remembered to reload weapons and have melee weapon or two in your current hand.
Decks can be customised as soon as the story’s second chapter, adding randomly acquired battle cards that can give the chance to reinforce defences and boost health by swigging energy drinks. It’s also as soon as the second chapter that a couple of survivors join your quest. One of these just happens to be a member of the emergency services, bringing with them a fire hose and the infamous ‘jaws of life’. Let’s just say that neither ends up being used for their originally intended purpose.
Indeed, the array of weapons and the variety of enemies has clearly had a bit of thought invested. When pillaging a farm for supplies, for instance, you’re faced against mutated livestock. They go down with just one shot of the hunting rifle, but not until they’ve used their horns to tear your defences to shreds.
There’s also the rather grim sounding ‘barbed zombies’ who have suffered an additional side-effect of the infection, causing their bones deform. Almost every battle adds something new – ‘pouncer zombies’ can jump ahead of the pack while the battle cards for infected rats – amongst others – can be stacked onto one another, combining their HP in the process.
Although made by just one man, Shelter has more ambition and imagination on display than some games made by long established studios. It’s also one of the few titles in recent times to get our imaginations flowing – as battles raged in their card-based glory, we started to conjure up images in our mind of what the front line would look like.
With games promising photo-realism just around the corner, titles that cause our imagination to run riot nowadays are few and far between. This makes Shelter a very humble experience, and in the best possible way.