Zombie games are so plentiful, it’s hard to pick one up without it feeling like something else. A few games end up sitting on the “zombie throne”, like The Walking Dead is doing this year, and generally everything else blends together as “just another zombie game/mode”.
2012 was another big year for zombie games. For fans of the genre, that’s a fantastic thing. I generally keep my eyes peeled for interesting new games in the genre, which was how I stumbled across Zafehouse Diaries. Zafehouse Diaries (or ZD) is a ‘time survival team management” simulator, or any other variation of those words you can concoct.
You control actions for a group of five individuals holed up in a random position around town. Every game is randomly generated from the start, and the path you take will be drastically different because of it. The people you start with, what location, what’s in each location, the final destination; all of these are random.
Once you start a game, you are in charge of managing your groups actions. Things like barricading your zafehouse (ha, sorry, had to), searching for useful tools, scouting the area, etc. All of these things are important, but they also all take up time. You only have so much time until the helicopter comes to some pre-designated point in town, and without the right equipment and frequency to radio the chopper, it’s game over.
Of course, that’s to say you survive. ZD is brutally hard, which is a double-edged sword. I played well-over a dozen games, and only made it to the end once. I had one survivor left and no radio, so it was game over. The rest of the games ended rather quickly as I tried searching other buildings.
I still remember my first game. I poked around the map, looked over my relationships between people, and decided to send out a recon party of two. They made it back okay, so I was feeling pretty good. Of course, I had no idea I would soon be mauled in the same building I just scouted out when I went back. Apparently “one or two zombies could be seen through the window” translates to “half a dozen hungry zombies waiting for you to return”. That was fine, until it happened over…and over…and over. Game after game was a few survivors meeting their demise while trying to go out and find more supplies. Tip for when the real zombie apocalypse happens: Don’t get stuck doing scavenger runs.
Given the title, Zafehouse Diaries presents information to the player in diary form. You make your decisions on a map, and then go back and hit a watch on the diary screen. Words scrawl across the screen, letting you know what happened in the past hour. There’s no action or anything else of the sort. But for the intention of the game, it works well and sets itself apart from other zombie games that mostly rely on your shooting hordes of the undead. The graphics themselves actually look good, even if you aren’t running around in a 3D environment.
One of the coolest draws of ZD is being allowed to customize your experience. You can create characters to be randomly drawn into the game, or locations. Playing as people you know (complete with a picture and background information) ties you to the character(s) that much more, as you obviously don’t want your spouse to be mauled by zombies; even in a game.
The part that scares me away from this survival-sim game, and probably will others, is the difficulty. It’s a great concept, but not being able to finish a game gets more and more disappointing. It’s very harsh and realistic, but an option to choose a difficulty would be great. For such a frustratingly-difficult experience, one that starts to wear thin after a dozen or so playthroughs, Zafehouse Diaries still offers fans of the undead something different.