Zafehouse Diaries (besides being a symptom of the terrible naming conventions that zombie works have given themselves) is an intriguing little PC game by Australian company Screwfly Studios. (As an aside, they have perhaps one of the coolest logos for a game company I’ve ever seen.) I’ve had this game for more than a couple months now, but am only now getting around to writing this review. Is it because I’m lazy? In part. But it’s mostly because even after all this time, I’m still not sure how I feel about this game.
The game takes place in a small town during the zombie apocalypse. You’ve got five survivors who just met and aren’t really sure what they think of each other. Each survivor has a few things they are better at, such as searching, building barricades, or other things. They also each have their own predispositions and prejudices that make them like or dislike the other survivors, and that’s it. You start off in a house in a small, but orderly town and need to immediately start searching for supplies and a way out, preferably without letting the survivors kill each other in the process, because believe me, some of them will start hating each other. There are two “story” modes and a survival mode. One story mode is where rescue is coming to town on a specific day and time, and you need to find the clues to reach the right place or get left behind. The other involves you finding the parts to fix a car and escape.
The game involves a lot of what you would expect: Searching, barricading, fighting, looting, and praying you don’t run across a random event. Seriously, I’ve never run across one that helped me and most will usually cause a TPK if you aren’t prepared.
Most of the game is played either from the diary or the map. The diary contains everything that has happened to your group and also contains all of the clues you pick up along the way. Since it is a diary, though, so you’ll have to keep flipping through the virtual pages to find that info. This can be annoying, but it fits the theme very well.
The map of the town shows all of the buildings and where your survivors are. You move your survivors form building to building by dragging tokens representing where they are to where you want to them to go to. The map too, has some frustrating features, but thematically it fits perfectly. The little tokens are even small things that you might find on the ground, such as a bottlecap, or small rock, and other stuff you might resort to using during a zombie apocalypse.
My biggest problem is that I always try to finish a game, or at least get close to finishing it, before starting my review… I have never beaten either campaign in this game. I keep dying! After the first half dozen complete failures, I went to Screwfly’s official forums and found some advice that did help me a bit. I started surviving to day 5 or 6 instead of day 2 or 3. Forget about finding all of the clues to where the rescue vehicle will be or all of the parts for the truck. I dunno, maybe I just suck at this game… That’s probably a big part of it. But DANG this game is hard. So, yeah, it’s hard for me to be able to talk in-depth about the game when it’s so hard and I suck so bad that I don’t even get halfway to winning. I can say that while the game itself is unique, it’s not because any individual part is all that special. I’ve seen a lot of individual parts of this game in other games, mostly flash games. What Screwfly did was take those disparate parts from those other games and melded them together into something completely different. And it works… At least, I assume it does. Like I said, I suck so bad at this game it’s hard for me to tell. But from what I’ve seen over the last long while is that the game, while it has its quirks and problems, seems to mostly do what the developers set out for it to do. But those quirks it has can be a bit jarring. Like your survivors will be in a house and if they’re not doing anything, they might try to say… take a shower. That sounds reasonable enough. The problem is that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, they can’t find the bathroom. Seriously? This is especially jarring if they had just taken a shower a couple of hours before in the same house. Did they seriously forget where the bathroom was in the 120 minutes since their last shower?
Bottom Line: This game is complex, on multiple levels. It’s both frustrating and satisfying to play, and which adjective applies better is up to the individual. It’s far from perfect, but it is rather unique in what it does and how it goes about it. And I think that they capture the theme pretty well, visually if nothing else. Ultimately, Screwfly should be applauded for trying something so different, if for no other reason. I would hesitantly suggest giving this game a try if you’re looking for something different. I would recommend this game whole-heartedly if you’re looking for a challenge.
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