Have you ever been enjoying the pastoral delights of Stardew Valley and thought, ‘you know what this needs? A zombie apocalypse!’? Well wonder no more, as developers G1 Playground give us our first look at their farmsim come zombie survival game, Zelter.
Now before I get stuck into some zombie goodness, I should say Zelter is only in early access right now, so I’m taking that into account when writing this article.
You can play with a controller but it didn’t recognise my dualshock 4 (which isn’t unusual as most games work best with Xbox/Steam controllers) so I opted for mouse and keyboard. Keys are sensibly mapped to what you’d expect- WASD to move, left click to use your equipped item etc. So I was able to jump right in.
The early version of the game opens with some character customisation. You get to tweak the look of your 2D apocalyptic survivor; choosing a gender, hairstyle and skin tone. Then you’re off into zombie land with a pistol, a modest stash of bullets and a makeshift axe.
There’s no tooltips here or tutorial. Instead you’re left to use your own wits to figure things out. Thankfully Zelter follows a well-trodden path in terms of resource collation, recipes, and tech trees. I was quickly chopping down anything that rustled and shaping it into a crafting desk, a new bed, a storage box, a…you get the picture. There is an extensive list of items you can craft if you can find the resources. Around your starting location there are plenty of trees and rocks to farm, but not much else, so to make the snazzier stuff you’ll need to venture outside of your 16-bit SNES-style compound.
This is where things really pick up
There are clear signs the proverbial sh+t has hit the fan. Burnt out cars line the streets, homes are empty, and military blockades have been abandoned. Which means you’re free to help yourself to what’s left lying about (great!) while fending off roaming flesh-eating cadavers (not great!).
Zombies have seen an evolution in cinema over the years. From Romero’s shambling, barely held together undead, to the monstrous, predatory creatures in I Am Legend, you can’t just say zombie and get away with it anymore. In Zelter we’re definitely more in ‘shambler’ territory than ‘rip your arms off as soon as look at you’ types.
I was actually able to kite (that classic method MMO fans will know well) most enemies by simply running backwards and peppering my assailants with crossbow bolts until they dropped. The only time this doesn’t pay off is when you get stuck on a piece of terrain or lose visibility because of some trees. I died in the trees a lot.
There are bigger and badder things out there that would also like to nibble on your pixelated body. I ran into a cackling witch-thing that lobbed green stuff at me. There are also hulking brutes to tackle too and other nasty beasties – so do not expect an easy ride. The developer actually states at the start that in early access it’s going to be difficult to survive. They weren’t joking.
And it’s not just killing the living dead you need to contend with
You also have to stay fed, hydrated and rested of you’re to survive. You track these gauges through a nicely drawn in game menu in the style of a handheld tablet. It was an interesting challenge managing those separate meters while trying to gather resources, develop my tech, explore the nearby town. It adds some realism to the situation and forces you out of the starting area to secure more resources.
On occasion you’ll run into other people eking out an existence in the ruins. Convince these NPCs to join you and they’ll follow your instructions. Set them to gather materials, patrol the area or follow you. All hugely helpful but the AI still needs a little work. One of my recruits just stood while a zombie chewed on his face. I’d armed him so he had no excuse really. But remember this is an early version of the game so plenty of time to iron out and improve these points.
But how does it sound?!
Rather than breaking the tension with some lo-fi tunes, Zelter keeps it real. Coming through my headphones were the rustle of trees, chopping of wood, and guttural groans of the brain-hungry undead. I liked the little flourishes the developer has added – like the sound of a zip when you open your backpack (inventory). It’s small details like that, that help elevate the game as a whole.
Zelter has potential. Sure there are a few things to fix but even in its early form, the game is a fun sandbox experience that offers a challenge with simple mechanics and a nice retro aesthetic.
Fans of farmsims and survival games should check this out.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of Zelter as it develops.