Reviews

New Growth – Survivor Squad

I mentioned Survivor Squad a couple of weeks back, to let you all know about the demo, and since then I’ve been delving into the full game. The demo impressed me, can the complete survival experience do the same again?

For anyone who hasn’t read my previous post – or anyone without a rudimentary understanding of the English language – Survivor Squad puts you in control of a Squad of people who are trying to Survive after some sort of catastrophe has destroyed civilization as we know it. As is so-often the case, the old civilisation has been replaced by zombies… lots of zombies.

When you’re outside the safety of one of your shelters, Survivor Squad is played from a top-down point of view, with stark, dynamic lighting. In screenshots it almost resembles a twin-stick shooter, but in actuality you play it like an RTS. You select your squadmates with the number keys or by dragging a box around them, the right mouse button moves, attacks and interacts with the environment, and there are a few other shortcut keys.

You can, but shouldn’t really, take direct control of your guys in combat; it’s better to position them well, and let the AI take care of any zombies that come within range. The exception (there’s always an exception) is with the special zombies, who can do serious damage to your team if you aren’t there to give them a little TLC… by which I mean MURDER. These critters are basically the Spitter and Hunter zeds from Left 4 Dead and here they serve the same purpose – mix things up, scare you, and keep you on your toes.

The missions available to you are varied; Sometimes you’re simply eliminating the undead and scavenging what you can, other times you’re rescuing survivors, trading goods, or destroying car-sized, beating demonic hearts (yeah, I don’t know).
The game is loosely structured and partially procedurally generated, with a few main story beats to hit, but otherwise random locations and objectives between these beats.
It’s a system that works well – what you think is going to be more standard search, scavenge and destroy turns out to be a mission with a little more flavour, and the pieces of story themselves are just interesting enough to remind you that there is a bigger series of events at play here than the plight of your feeble band.

The graphics are a mix between simple and cartoon-ish on the one hand, and dark and gore-coated on the other. Zombies are left in pieces after they’re killed, and blood spatters cover the floor of any building you’ve cleared. Survivor Squad won’t win any awards for its art, but everything is clear and easily distinguishable, even in the midst of chaos.

The rest of the game takes the form of lite management. You have a map showing the various nodes you have cleared, and the ones that are still infested, as well as the danger level of each area and a dollar sign to mark traders. From this same screen you can craft equipment, skip days, assign survivors to various safe houses, and get weather information.

This is the portion of the game that most needed to be expanded on. Killing the same zombies in the same sorts of environments is always going to get repetitive, but a deeper management game would have made all the zombie killing feel more worthwhile.
There’s a reason why the management aspects of Jagged Alliance 2 (for example) are compelling, but sadly the same can’t be said for Survivor Squad.

Unfortunately, Survivor Squad isn’t entirely bug-free or stable. For instance, searching containers that an NPC is meant to search broke that particular mission, I’ve had a Hunter jump on one of my survivors whilst he was in the jeep heading in to the mission area, occasionally special zombies will attack through walls and crashes to desktop seem to be irritatingly regular. The game autosaves, so you never lose too much progress, but getting taken out of the game – either literally or figuratively – just gives your brain a chance to remind you of all the other things you should be doing.

Survivor Squad has atmosphere, charm, a few new ideas, and enough variation and randomness to keep things interesting, but the experience is damaged by bugs, repetitive combat and shallow management aspects.

[UPDATE: Since this review a patch has gone live adding Multiplayer support.]

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