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SURVIVAL HORROR Review: But Wait, There are Zombies

Released for iOS in early 2015, Joe Sellers’ Survival Horror is a title that promises a heavy story-based user experience in the context of a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the undead. Not anything surprisingly fresh or innovative here.

But the game itself is unique in the way it presents itself. Rather than, say, shove some snazzy graphics in our face – which isn’t to say that they don’t help when the situation calls for it – it relies on those old tried and true methods of the classic text-based genre back when gaming was in its infancy.

Story: You’re a Horrible Person, Deal with it

The story itself begins like a lot of other gaming stories that typically dwell within the genre of horror do: wake up as a character in location A, with a convenient bout of amnesia, and it is up to you, the player, to piece together this misshapen puzzle of a man and find out the series of events that led to this predicament.

But the twist here is that there are shambling undead corpses everywhere looking to make a meal of you.

The man in question is named, well, I don’t recall if he actually ever gave a name. Regardless, he is a man trapped far from home and the safety of his clan, in a location that has conveniently attracted shambling hoards of the recently deceased.

Suffice to say, you escape the tight confines of your makeshift prison and now it is up to you and your varying degree of point-and-click gameplay experience to find a way out.

With little emphasis on evocative imagery, the game relies heavily on text-based scenarios to move the player from point to point, Zork style.

There are a variety of environments and predicaments that you, the player, will have to sort out in a timely manner. Perhaps you find the keys to a school bus and head to the highway for the umpteenth time, or maybe you’ll swing by the lakeside resort to catch some fun in the dreary overcast that perpetually hangs overhead like some Eldritch black mist.

The game adds a bit more variety each and every time you dare to tread into this post-apocalyptic hell, but things tend to meld together after a while.

To even further exacerbate the issue, some of the morally questionable decisions seem like things that are ‘forced’ upon the player, decisions that will ultimately come back to haunt them later on in the story despite the inclination that we had no choice otherwise.

download2

Source: JoeAaronSellers.com

One rather striking instance was when the player is trapped beneath a dock hiding from the undead prowling above with an infant inexplicably clutched in their arms — a scene which, in hindsight, reminds me of a rather tragic story of a chicken in M*A*S*H. Now it is here that you are left with two choices: drown the baby and live, or get dragged from the water and devoured.

It deals out this sort of ultimatum much like Spec Ops: The Line does: forces you to commit these horrible acts to survive and justifiably makes you feel guilty about the horrible things you’ve done. However, I feel that forcing us to make these decisions sort of lessens their emotional impact. It is indeed a story of survival in a world that only seeks to maim, murder, and maul you, but that shouldn’t mean that all my efforts of being a sensible human being in these situations should always end in my swift dismemberment.

The game has its scares and it certainly builds a tense atmosphere, with a clever array of sound work, however, as far as the actual setting is concerned, it was, well, “meh…”

Not too snazzy or memorable, a bit predictable at times, but it’s a tense experience the couple times through.

Gameplay: Severe Lack of Urgency

One would think that an entirely text-based game would be severely lacking in any engaging gameplay elements and, for the most part, you’d probably be wrong in that regards.

Yes, Survival Horror feels like a text-based adaptation of something like Telltale’s The Walking Dead with half the character and all of the undead skullduggery that one could have in this post-apocalyptic wasteland, but this mobile title offers an odd mix of point-and-click gameplay and some rogue-like elements.

There really isn’t much to this sort of style of play, you just sort of click what you want to do from the wall of text presented to you and your character does just that though the jury’s out on how exactly your decision will play out.

The game offers a rather descriptive summary of events as you move from scene to scene sort of like a book would. In fact it feels like of those Choose your Own Adventure stories from way back in the day: lots of ways this scenario can play out, most of which end in death and dismemberment.

No worries though, you’ll have enough time to decide the best choice of action. The crushing tension of becoming trapped in a difficult situation becomes a lot less oppressive given that there doesn’t seem to be that much of an urgency to these scenarios. I imagine that the zombies, despite their mad desire to rend me limb from limb, still have the common decency to wait patiently for me to decide before sticking their rotting fingers into my eye sockets.

It’s got a severe lack of urgency in whatever horrors the game sends against you. That being said, the game does an interesting little thing when it comes to its own item system. Since the shambling horrors seem very obliged to give you as much time as you need, you’re free to explore you’re surroundings much to your heart’s content.

Sometimes you find a weapon conveniently stashed in a nearby gear locker, other times there might be the keys to a school bus. There’s always something new to find in this broken, irradiated world, so take the time to search your surroundings. You might be in mid-chase by an insatiable hoard of flesh-hungry mutants, but there is always an opportunity to get some much-needed health.

It’s a system mostly based on random happenstance and the author’s intentions — rather than just the general skill level of the player and, albeit a rather egalitarian approach — and many of the decisions seemed rather preordained.

It’s not some strident colossus of innovation, but the mechanics are solid and most of these situations can be more or less resolved by paying attention to the context clues. Whatever the case, it’s an interesting entry into the genre but can get rather tedious looking for the right choice amid a sea of text.

Music and Atmosphere: General All-Around Creepy

Remember those old Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books with the creepy illustrations that kept you up late at night as a child? If there was ever a method out there to convert images into its musical equivalent, then I would argue that Joe Sellers had done just that when crafting the atmosphere for the game.

The music has this weird, eerie vibe to it, the kind that they always tend to play in horror flicks because of it’s sense of impending doom. It was tense at first, however this, like many other things with the game, tended to wear as time went on.

It would have sufficed to have the music start-up during an appropriate scene or build up gradually to said scene but the game itself seems content with reiteration. That’s not to say that there’s only one looping track, all too often I was startled out of my mid-morning routine stupor as the soft rustling of trees in the distant breeze was replaced with the dying wails of what I think were demon offspring.

Add to this the fact that some scenarios have very audible predicaments (the wet squelching ones are the worst), and you’ve got yourself a recipe for awkward bus trips in the afternoon.

Source: JoeAaronSellers.com

Source: JoeAaronSellers.com

It certainly builds up that all-important creepy factor, however, much like its mechanics and gameplay, the atmosphere tends to lose its impact after a few playthroughs.

Story: 3.5/5

  • Strong themes of hopelessness and bloody mutilation.
  • Often forced to make very horrible decisions.
  • Often judged for making said decisions.
  • Can be a bit on the predicable side of things.
  • Sort of a middling story, bit on the “meh…” side.

Gameplay: 3/5

  • Everything works as it should.
  • Choices are a bit black-and-white in terms of morality.
  • Text-based gameplay doesn’t tend to pair well with survival horror.
  • Few randomized elements interspersed throughout.

Music and Atmosphere: 4/5

  • Very oppressive atmosphere.
  • Bit on the repetetive side.
  • Tense the first few times.
  • Accenuates the dark tale very well.

Overall: 3.5/5

Given the rather divided opinion on the role of app games in the gaming industry, Joe Seller’s first title should be welcomed as a sort of “coming of age” for the platform. It’s got gore and dismemberment aplenty, however, it sort of deals with them much like a child would a swear word: use it often and frequently with little to no regard to the context of said word.

Despite the game losing its all important atmosphere a few playthroughs in, Survival Horror has a few worthwhile scares. Either way, give the game a chance. Who knows, you might end up lying awake at night struggling with the morally duplicitous actions that you’ve been forced to make.

3.5 out of 5 stars

3.5 out of 5 stars

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  1. Survival Horror: Interactive Fiction | joe aaron sellers - 04/01/2015

    […] 3.5 out of 5 stars on Another Castle.  […]

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