DEADCRAFT Review – The Borderlands Effect (feat. Zambos)
DEADCRAFTMay 19th, 2022
Alright, alright. Let's just throw the comparison everyone will make out of the way. Yes, DEADCRAFT looks like a Borderlands rip-off at first glance. You can't be blamed for thinking such in terms of the art style and the overall feel. But this game is entirely different in so many aspects that it can find an identity of its own.
That's why I nipped this comparison in the bud from the get-go. DEADCRAFT is a unique experience in many ways (good and bad) that doesn't warrant such comparison. It's a top-down action shooter game that focuses on two things, crafting and survival. Despite this, the game is also very easy to pick up and play.
DEADCRAFT was announced during PAX East 2022, and it's a game made by the original creators of the Harvest Moon series. It's different due to having the objects you farm being zombies themselves. You still have to farm your ordinary things like veggies, but the game emphasizes Zambo farming.
Is this game as good as the concept sounds? Well, let's begin with the plot.
DEADCRAFT's world is pretty much a post-apocalyptic Earth. A hail of meteors ravaged the world alongside a mysterious virus that resurrected the dead. Humanity as we know it went majorly extinct, and a lot of groups were relocated to small outposts where society's rules became radically different.
This game focuses on a half-zombie character named Reid (voiced by Xander Mobus), who escapes the clutches of a maniacal scientist known as Nebron, who wants to use Reid's half-zombie nature to conquer the world essentially. Reid manages to escape from his operating table and into the surrounding wasteland, barely alive with almost nothing but a tattered cape after losing all of his weapons.
The journey and its destination become clear: Reach the Ark, find Nebron, and kill him. Reid has a personal investment into this not only because they experimented on him for being a half-zombie but also because he killed his closest friend, fellow Zombie Hunter Gene. They later try to shoehorn in the fact that Nebron was experimenting with children, probably to make him more of a douche than he already was. But I was more invested in the revenge plot, so I had enough reason to kill him.
How is Reid, a literal half-dead man, going to do this? By using his crafting and farming skills to raise an army to fight by his side and make some good weapons that will help him storm enemy fortresses and get to Nebron. Along the way, Reid will be able to meet with other apocalypse survivors that are not necessarily Reid's friends (mostly because he doesn't give a shit about them, frankly speaking), but at least try to help him achieve his objective.
DEADCRAFT, while playing its story straight, has its sense of humor and that is noticeable with the kind of characters you interact with. For crying out loud, one of your allies is a petite nurse girl with a death crush on one of the game's main antagonists. I'm talking TFS Android 16 kinds of murder crush where she wants to kill the woman she loves for what's essentially a perfect end to her own life.
That's honestly a breath of fresh air compared to Borderlands, which just throws these elements in your face and is obnoxious about it. DEADCRAFT focuses on making the characters less of a walking quirk and more of a human with a slight twist that you'd expect from the wasteland. Their backstories become more grounded once you talk with them and get through their sidequests.
Some of the characters you meet have a lot of heavy baggage attached to them and some of these stories are pretty tragic when you come to realize the implications. That isn't to say that DEADCRAFT doesn't have its sense of humor because it most certainly does. This is, after all, a game in which you can make a Bloody Mary-like machine that uses zombies to help you get their blood.
The game isn't afraid of being light-hearted and funny in some places. The weapons you can craft are pretty exaggerated, and most of the game's nature revolves around making zombie-themed things. What good will a bowl of Miso ramen do to you if you can make a freakin' zombie ramen?! I should probably move on to the gameplay if I want to talk about the stuff you can make.
In this game, Reid will have to use his farming and mechanical skills to slice and blast his way through enemy bases. As you fight, you have to pick up any and every resource you can find to craft things such as weapons and tools that will help you craft even better weapons and tools.
One of the major focuses of DEADCRAFT is its farming elements. You start off with nothing, but not long after the introduction, you'll be able to plant seeds for veggies. Of course, you're also expected to water them and let your inner farm-owner go. Once you are done growing veggies or picking up dead rats for meat, you can start cooking some dishes that can give you some temporary buffs to your Attack, Defense, or other aspects.
Once you begin getting used to the farming mechanics, you'll start to be able to farm zombies. Yes, farm zombies. You'll be able to pick up enemy corpses, plant them on your farm, water them with Zivblood, and then see them spring to life, ready to cover your back or be used as a resource to craft more items. You'll also be able to create Hybrid Vegetables by dousing seeds with Zivblood instead of water. These zombified veggies and items allow you to essentially zombiecraft (yes, that's what it's called) dishes that can make your stats go up or give you unique perks such as more Zel (the in-game currency) or less stamina drain.
Of course, as you progress, you'll also be able to find materials to craft and zombiecraft weapons such as knives, guns, paddle saws, axes, and even electric guitars. The more you progress, the more stuff you'll be able to make. Honestly, this game is fun enough with the number of things you can create. Later in the game, you can even make a freakin' zombie kart that literally eats anything it crashes into.
The survival aspect of DEADCRAFT is a bit more simplistic than what you usually would find in other games like it. For one, you have to keep an eye on your Hunger and Thirst meters that drain over time. You fill those meters up by eating your food at your disposal and drinking water. Different foods have different effects, and some are better at filling your hunger meter than your thirst meter and vice versa.
How much stamina and vitality you have after you clock in for the night and crash in your bed is also tied to how full both of the meters are. It's downright essential to make sure they are always full because everything you do has a stamina cost, and even the simple act of running can put a strain on you. If you run out of stamina, you'll begin to take vitality damage, and if your vitality gets to zero, it's game over.
But that's not it, either. You also are a half-zambo guy, which means you have a balance between your human and zombie sides to keep track of. It is one of the best aspects of the game, in my opinion, because it has some great perks attached to each side of the proverbial coin.
If you eat healthy food and drink clean water, you'll be able to become more human. This effect makes you able to have higher defenses against enemies at the expense of reducing your vitality bar. However, if you start eating zombiecrafted foods and drinking Zivblood, you'll become more of a zombie. This effect makes your stamina drain faster, but it also increases your attack and gives you access to unique special moves which you can use in combat.
Honestly, though, while I get where this is going, it almost feels like these mechanics are tacked on for the sake of having you consume resources later on in the game. After the second area, I always had to waste a bunch of resources just to make sure my meters were full before crashing in and having as much stamina and vitality as possible to tackle the next day.
And if you're wondering why I haven't spoken about the game's combat, it's because it's painfully simplistic. You attack by pressing the Right Trigger (or R2) and... Yeah, that's it. The attacks you do depend on the weapon you're carrying, and you have access to a dodge button. As you progress through the game, you'll be able to craft zombies that can draw aggro from enemies and also have access to unique weapons such as shields.
This extends to boss fights as well. They are the most disappointing bunch because they have highly predictable attack patterns and often reduce themselves to a game where you kill them before they kill you. In my case, I just crafted a Rifle, made a ton of bullets, and then watched in boredom as their HP bars drained quickly.
This is where I start talking about my grievances with the game and its mechanics. So, let's start with the biggest one. Why are sidequests allowed to be done one at a time? The game allows you to cycle through multiple quests at the press of a button but if you start doing one sidequest, you have to cancel the one you're currently doing.
This is especially aggravating because you won't even know what the sidequest is until you accept it. Some sidequests involve gathering items, and others involve crafting specific items, going on errands, or simply doing an escort mission where you (or, more accurately, your zombie companions) fight off enemies. So I fail to see why I can't have multiple sidequests active simultaneously, especially for simple item gathering purposes.
Another decision I can't understand for my life is that this game about crafting weapons and items doesn't have a wishlist feature. This means that I am often left blindly collecting items, praying that I have the right ones to craft the specific weapon I want. While yes, I can memorize the items I need for the next thing I want to craft, there are a lot of resources you can pick up along the way. So, it's hard to keep track of what items you need to craft the weapons you want.
I praised the mechanics surrounding the zombie and human sides of Reid earlier, but this game really loves Reid the Zambo. The human side of Reid doesn't have much going for it outside of increased defense. Meanwhile, zombie mode allows you to access several special moves and even gives you access to an install mode that increases your power tenfold and makes you invincible. Sure, you lose your zombie powers afterward until you go to sleep, but that's a heck of a move that makes things more focused on the zombie side.
The worst part about this is that DEADCRAFT's game time is often panned out by the amount of grinding you need to do just to get the right resources to craft the weapons you need for the next part of the adventure. Then, when you get to beat the boss, you often feel like you overleveled because you are essentially a walking arsenal with dozens of zombies at your disposal while the enemies and bosses get melted.
Don't get me wrong, though. This game is still loads of fun. Its presentation may give you familiar vibes, but it certainly does enough to stand out on its own. I certainly had enough fun in the nearly 25 hours of game time I gave it. Honestly, the fact that it managed to keep me hooked was surprising since it's rather simplistic compared to other games with crafting and survival mechanics.
Once you're done with the main quest, you are left with sidequests and what's essentially a gauntlet mode that tests how far you can go. If you felt overleveled throughout the adventure, you're going to get your just desserts there. You can also use the game's online features to share your zombie creations with the world. You even get rewarded as you register higher quality zombies, so there's an incentive to always strive for the best.
There isn't another game like DEADCRAFT right now that would match its quality. Although, I wish the combat mechanics were a bit more complex for it to be a truly epic experience. But hey, life in the wasteland is unpredictable, so I guess I should just live and let live as a farmer who hates people.
Reviewed on PC (code provided by the publisher).
DEADCRAFT's zombie farming and crafting mechanics definitely offer a breath of fresh air for wasteland adventurers. However, the survival aspects and other small problems keep it from being a truly wonderful experience. It still is a fantastic game that offers more grounded characters while retaining its post-apocalyptic sense of humor.
- Decent characters with good development
- Non-intrusive and fun farming mechanics that only get better as you level up your skills
- Weapons are powerful and can cause some mayhem both at close range and long-range
- Every aspect of the survival mechanics is important and plays into the nature of the character through gameplay
- Great voice acting
- The game heavily favors zombie mechanics over human mechanics
- Awfully simple combat mechanics
- Sometimes the survival elements can be intrusive
- Inevitable Borderlands comparisons