Due to a close friend at Capcom who will remain nameless, I’ve had a copy of the full game since Thursday. I was initially playing it under an informal embargo, but that’s now been lifted so here I am posting my thoughts. This isn’t any kind of real review, just a rambling mash-up of my impressions so far.
I fucking LOVE this game. It definitely has its problems, some of which I’ll detail below, but for the most part I haven’t had this much fun, nor felt so edge-of-the-seat engaged, playing anything in a long, long time. I didn’t play the demo, but from what I’ve read about it, it only scratches the surface of what the full game offers.
The opening sequence is really cool. Flying over the quarantined city of Willamette in a rented chopper, you can zoom down onto the streets with your camera and get started learning to take photographs for points. The atmosphere is just great as your on-a-rail trip takes you past a bunch of choreographed scenes - an exploding gas station, a woman cornered on a rooftop by zombies, zombies attacking a school bus, a guy being pulled from his car and torn to pieces… great, gory stuff. There are undead shambling around everywhere… yup, this city is fucked. Great opening for setting the atmosphere of dread.
The mall is HUGE. Or at least it seems to be. Missions require you to do a LOT of running around from plaza to plaza (there are several plazas separated by a large open “leisure park” in the center). The initial temptation is just to batter every zombie you come across, but since melee weapons have a limited lifespan, the smart play is to avoid them except where necessary, at least until you have a better handle on where good weapons can be located and replaced so you’re always armed, with backups at the ready.
While it’s true that everyday items can be picked up and used as weapons, many are too unwieldy to be of much use. A much better bet is anything that seems like it could logically be used as a weapon - lead pipes, baseball bats, brooms, even a heavy toolbox. Oh, the broom is great - it’s a slow weapon until after a few hits when the head snaps off leaving a sharp point, then it’s a much faster stabby weapon.
So you have 72 hours in game-time to uncover the mystery of what has happened to cause this nightmare. The main “story” quests are, I believe, mandatory - if you fail one of these missions, it’s game over. Beyond that there are dozens of side quests, with time gaps inserted between certain story episodes to allow you to go do them. Most of these (so far) have been escort quests; locate a barricaded survivor and escort them back to the Security Room, which is the only totally safe area in the game (for now, at least.)
PRO TIP: Survivors will very easily be waylaid by zombie attacks if you don’t help them when you’re escorting them. You can slaughter zombies to clear a path for them, but it seems like there is a never-ending supply of the fuckers. So make sure you have a spare weapon on hand to give to your escortee. Once they’re suitably armed they can hold their own and even help you - if you have a large group of survivors, all of whom are tooled up, zombie carnage goes through the roof. You can also give survivors food to replenish their health when it gets low. I really struggled with the escort quests until I discovered the simple trick of giving them food and weapons. (Bizarrely, I’m told that female escortees cannot be given weapons, only the males. Don’t ask me why this is, maybe it’s a Japanese thing.)
Levelling up is a big deal. Take a lot of photographs (the very first side-mission is rendezvousing with another photographer who gives you a tutorial on how to take good shots for maximum points) and complete side missions to gain maximum points toward each new level. Each time you level up you get something new, either an extra life point or a new skill (skills are basically different context-sensitive zombie attacks like judo throws, wrestlings slams, disembowel maneuvers, etc) or an extra inventory slot. The slots are also really important because you have only a limited number of spaces for both food and weapons, and you’ll want to increase your load-carrying ability as much as possible. Fast, on-the-fly inventory management is important.
At night the zombies basically get much tougher. It seems like it takes about twice as many hits to kill them - the first couple of hits will knock them down, but they’ll get right back up, or continue to crawl after you. They don’t seem any faster, but they do seem more plentiful and it’s much tougher to see them in the dark. Shudder. The night portions are really freaky - it’s about 10pm in game-time on my current save, and I can’t wait for the sun to come up again so I can play without freaking out all the time.
I’ve still only explored a small portion of the mall; so far my favorite shop is the hardware store. Chainsaws are AWESOME - one of the animations involves splitting a zombie in half vertically down the center - as are the sledgehammers which are one-shot killers. Is the lawnmower in the demo? There’s a part near the beginning of the main game where you have to get through a set of doors but there are so many zombies it’s impossible - until you grab the lawnmower and shred them all to pieces, blood and body parts flying everywhere. That was my first squealing-with-glee moment.
Also look out for zombies carrying weapons. Undead security guards usually drop nightsticks, and there are knife-carrying zombies too - the knife is a really fast weapon. I wish you could dual-wield.
Almost all shops have some kind of function. Not all provide useful weapons, but there are the fun clothing options and the bookshops - these are useful. Carrying particular books in your inventory provides skillups and other bonuses. Be sure to check each bookshop you find to see what titles are available.
Zombies are dumb and have very limited ability to scale obstacles. You’re usually safe behind a store counter, although the longer you wait there the more they’ll shamble over and surround you. The “zombie ride”, which is one of the first skills you’ll learn and allows you to jump up and walk right over a zombie, is a key skill when surrounded.
The atmosphere, presentation and imagination in this game is flawless. There are a handful of mechanical/design issues that kind of annoy me, though:
You’ll often get calls on your walkie-talkie from Otis, the janitor who gives you your quests. Problem is, you can’t attack or perform any action while taking a radio call. I can move, but nothing else - doing so kills the call and you have to wait for the radio to squawk again. And there is hardly EVER a moment in this game when there aren’t at least a dozen zombies less than ten feet away, so it can often be hard to take a radio call when it comes in.
Weapon firing, at least with the pistol, is a little cumbersome. I’d prefer it if you could lock onto targets and hit them with some accuracy in normal view mode, but firearms only seem to have any real accuracy in Aim Mode, which is fiddly. Maybe this is less of an issue when you have shotguns and the like, but I haven’t got to the gun store yet. It’s way on the other side of the mall from where you start.
(Oh, another tip: There’s a full map of the mall in the back of the manual - keep this open in front of you - I found it easier to refer to than the in-game map; actually using both in tandem works pretty well. It’s really easy to get lost in the early part of the game.)
Save points. Apparently this was a design decision to limit save points in order to increase the feeling of tension and dread when you’re out in the mall, and it works - maybe too well. Getting all the way back to the Security Room each time is a pain because the main entrance has been welded shut and you have to travel through an improvised route which involves winding corridors, an elevator and an air duct. You can also save in restrooms, but these are very few and far between. Basically you’re going to want to save every time to finish a sub-quest or case file. It’s worth the trip.
Taking photographs - or at least good ones - is great when you get it right, but again you’re under such constant siege that there rarely seems to be an opportunity to get a good shot. Particularly at night, there are ALWAYS zombies right up on you. Fuckers.
I’m going to grab the official Brady book for this game because I’m told that there’s more stuff hidden in this game than there is out in the open. And I want to discover it all. So far the most important thing to learn seems to be a working knowledge of the mall (without having to always refer to the map), and of where useful weapons/food can be found. You should always know where this stuff is lying around (for example, in the center of the food court there’s a bar with lots of bottles of wine that replenish health). Most importantly, KNOW HOW TO GET BACK TO THE SECURITY ROOM. Do NOT try to go through the main entrance to it, because it’s welded shut. I learned that the hard way. Know where you are in relation to the entrance to the elevator ALWAYS.
That’s all I have for now. I’m still only halfway through the first day, so there’s tons more to see and learn. I think the official guide will be helpful given the insane number of hidden things. I am having an absolute blast with this game, although I admit my view of it is colored by my sick fascination with all things undead. Capcom has created the best zombie game ever IMO, an interactive rendition of Dawn of the Dead so flawless that they’ve even had to put a big fat disclaimer on the front of the box to prevent legal action.
I’ll be really interested to hear the thoughts of others, and to share tips, as people start getting hands-on this week. Happy hunting!