Project Zomboid: An Undead Review (2024)

Project Zomboid

Developer: The Indie Stone
Platforms: PC
Price: $14.99
Copy purchased by reviewer
November 8, 2013

It might be the biggest understatement of today's gaming age to say that zombies are popular with gamers. A quick glance reveals everything from board games like Zombicide to zombie survival modes within games like Call of Duty. If you're looking for a game that tests how long you would survive in a zombie apocalypse, Project Zomboid might just be the definitive game on the market today, and yet it is like none of these other games that clot the genre. More interesting still is the fact that's it's been in early access alpha on Steam for over three years! If this game has flown under your radar for as long as it has mine, could it possibly be worth your attention?

Finding a good zombie game amongst the chaff is tough these days. The market is so saturated with zombies it practically oozes brains. Do a quick search on the Apple Store or Google Play for “zombie”, and you'll see that there's no shortage of games that let you blow heads off the undead. In fact, everywhere I turn I'm constantly finding this type of zombie game, especially around Halloween. They're all about chainsaws and shotguns and battling your way through the hoard. There's a place for that sort of thing, but what I crave when I think of zombie survival is something a little more subtle and a lot more terrifying. I want to cower in a corner as I scrape beans out of a tin for dinner. I want to flee in panic from twenty zombies because my baseball bat is woefully ineffective. I want to loot cupboards and basements for the really useful stuff: a lighter, a can opener, maybe a little medicine. Thank goodness then that The Indie Stone has given us Project Zomboid.

As part of something a little different with this article, each picture is captioned with a real review left on Steam by an actual player. See some of the hilarious stories this game helps you tell—before you kick the bucket.

Project Zomboid: An Undead Review (1)

Trapped in a second floor bathroom with zombies right outside. Ripped my clothes off and turned them into rope and climbed out the window. Ran away butt naked in the rain.50/10 would streak again. - WeirdBenji

Who Are You Again?

Project Zomboid is a sandbox-style survival game. You will be breaking into abandoned buildings, looting whatever useful supplies you can find, scavenging for food (or learning to farm and becoming self-sufficient), and exploring the game's extensive crafting system. You can adjust all the game's basic settings before you start, from how perceptive you want your zombies to the time it takes for the water and electricity stop working. The game lets you custom all these aspects to your liking, making your survival experience as breezy or as masochistic as you can tolerate. You can even customize how late in the infection you want to begin playing, facing individual zombies to full-blown hoards as soon as you step outside of your starting location. The first time you're forced to fight off a zombie with nothing but a spoon, because it was the most useful stabbing weapon you could improvise, you will feel the desperation that this game so masterfully crafts at every turn. How deeply you choose to dive in is left completely up to you.

If the level of customization in the world settings is The Indie Stone's first great move in building Project Zomboid, their second is applying the same level of depth to the character creator. After all, a zombie apocalypse is only as good as the survivors you throw into it. As with the completely customizable world settings, you can pick from over a dozen different starting “classes” to describe who you were before the end of the world. Maybe you were something immediately useful like a park ranger or doctor. Or maybe you were a chef. Yes, you can be an ex-professional chef! And if none of the preset classes are to your liking, you can be “unemployed”, the game's version of a build-it-yourself class, and custom everything exactly to your liking. Fans of GURPS-style tabletop RPGs will be immediately familiar with the point system, allowing you to take as many advantageous traits as you'd like so long as you can pay for those costs by taking an equally weighted amount of negative traits (and don't worry, you can add traits to the preset classes as well if all you need is a little adjustment). Currently, I'm playing with a burglar toting the “lucky” trait. I've found tons of useful tools, guns and ammo already! And my starting class gives me boosts to stealth, speed, and finesse. But to balance all these amazing abilities, I've also had to take a couple drawbacks: I learn new skills slowly and my burglar is very prone to infection. Either of these things could easily get me killed. Goodness help me if I'm ever scratched in a zombie attack! Project Zomboid does sandbox about as well as sandbox can be done. Play how you want! This is your survival tale.

Project Zomboid: An Undead Review (2)

>Spent hours collecting loot and supplies>started getting hungry>ran through hordes of zombies and cheated death multiple times trying to make my way back home>popped some salmon in the oven>read some books>flame started to rise behind oven>filled a pot full of water to put the fire out>didn't realize electrical fires were a thing>fire erupted into an inferno engulfing me, my friend and all my gear10/10 would ironically be killed by salmon again. - Mahoons

Live and Let Die

Let’s be clear about one point: this may be your story of survival, but it is also the story of your death. The game says so in its opening scene. Project Zomboid is not so much a game about “winning” as much as it is about surviving as long as you can. The story of who you are and how you finally meet your end is the story this game tells. Health, predictably, plays a large part in this. Side by side with the game's in-depth crafting system is a panel that lets you treat everything from minor cuts to broken bones. But it's not just your injuries you have to worry about. There's nutrition, and happiness, and boredom to manage. None of this is particularly overbearing either. Just a subtle icon appearing at the side of your display now and then, reminding you that you need a drink of water or a bar of chocolate to bring up your mood. Oh, you ate your last bar of chocolate last week? That's a shame considering those bugs you foraged aren't likely to do much for your happiness stat come dinner time. If these desires go unattended for too long, your character will suffer penalties ranging from stat drops to death. It's a wonderful feeling that all the decisions you make have the weight of your eventual death on them. What do you do when your packs are full and you have to decide whether you'd like to take some useful books on crafting you've uncovered or raid the pantry for non-perishables? This neighborhood is getting dangerous and you'd really prefer not to have to come back. Choose wisely.

If basic survival wasn't enough, you'll need to figure out what to do when the utilities go down. Do you have a means of gathering clean water? What about a sustainable food supply? You have the safety of your current hideout to consider as well. How do you enter and exit the building, and more importantly, is it zombie-accessible? Yes, they will break down doors/windows and get over fences given enough time. Do you have a contingency plan in case you hear the most dreaded of sounds: the helicopter? A hoard isn't usually far behind when one of those things goes by. And if all is going well for you, do you have plans for winter? It's only about 3 months away, you know. The game really is a masterpiece that allows you to bring everything you've learned from books and movies about zombie survival along to help. If you can think it up, you can probably do it in this game. It almost dares you to try. Go on, how long can you last?

Project Zomboid: An Undead Review (3)

I burned down the house next to mine to see what would happen, and the fire spread to my house and burned it down too, it then spread through town and burned everything down. Fire is more dangerous than zombies.- Nicolas Cage

In a State of Undead Alpha

No review of Project Zomboid would be complete without addressing the elephant in the safehouse: I am not the first to review this game, nor am I the second. That’s because this game officially hit early access on Steam about 3 years ago, and it's been available through the developers since even before that. So you may be asking: if a game has been in open alpha for three years, with no foreseeable completion date, is it worth purchasing? Will I ever have the finished product? Is this purchase literally a survival game in itself? I’m going to say this, dear reader. Relax. Like going into the apocalypse contained within this game, if you know what you’re getting yourself into, you be that much more prepared to get the most out of it. Perhaps that analogy is a bit stretched, but I’ll explain.

For those of you worried about The Indie Stone’s progress, they release Mondoids, weekly newsletters in which they detail what updates are currently under development and when they’re about to drop for release. For example, when I played this game with Wyatt on the site’s Twitch stream, he commented that the combat seemed a bit unfinished, and while I'm not particularly bothered by it myself, I was able to say that one of the main things being worked on for the next major update was an overhaul to the animation system, combat included. No one is sure when this update will drop, but it's next on the list. For some, that's a deal breaker, while for others, playing and getting involved in an active community that gets to see the game evolve is part of the charm.

Project Zomboid: An Undead Review (4)

Saw bacon. Got excited. Was raw. Died. GG, 100/10 - Ethan the Drake

Playing with Wyatt online may have also tipped you off to another great feature in PZ: online multiplayer! While the singleplayer experience is robust, NPCs were removed early on in the game’s development for an overhaul that has long been in the works (read: most of the game's life). While I’ve been told by the developers that after the animation update hits the future of NPCs are going to be discussed, it could still be some time, if ever, before we see helpful survivors and raiding parties re-implimented. Thankfully, there are several persistent world servers running right now that you can log into to get that experience. They may even be better in some respects since you’re dealing with real people who have the ability to outwit your clever stashing or slip poison into the food they’re offering you. You can also host games to play online with just your friends, so if you want to survive the apocalypse long enough to watch your buddy turn into an abomination that tries to devour you, you totally can!

Finally, the devs are incredibly supportive of the modding community. They’ve even increased their staff by taking on a couple of modders from the community itself. So if you can’t wait for certain features like vehicles to make it into the vanilla “final release” you can hit up the Steam Workshop and get your hands on them now. Modders, to date, have released some high quality mods ranging from additional maps linked with the start areas to expansions for the crafting system.

Back to the release schedule and your possibly purchase of PZ. Even if only some of what’s promised in the Mondoids make it into the game, or the game takes another three years in development, the biggest take-away I have for this review is that the product as it stands now can be judged on its own merits. The Indie Stone team has stated in no uncertain terms that they consider the game in alpha until it’s “done”, and “done” would be that the game standing on its own without the need for further, major updates. To be honest, I’m glad the developers are continuing to expand on Project Zomboid, even if the updates are months between. What we get right now is a perfectly playable, robust and terrifying zombie survival simulator that for less than twenty dollars, feels like a great game in its own right. Add onto that free major updates as the game works towards completion and as many mods as the modding community wants to toss at it. This game definitely gives you a complete enough, massive enough experience that will keep you busy for hours upon hours, nevermind the feeling that it will still be growing. Perhaps a couple years ago this game may have resembled more of a lithe zombie, turned to leather in the harsh Kentucky sun, but now it’s a well-fed monstrosity, nurtured by years of slow but steady meals. The most recent reviews on Steam are all thumbs down, stating the same thing: updates are too many months apart, and people are frustrated by the promises made in the Mondoids they feel may never come. A valid concern, to be sure; we may never see that content. People are frustrated at the idea of an unfishing game. But, if you click to show all the reviews, you'll see the most upvoted ones are front and center, telling some of the hilarious exploits I've quoted here.

This game might not be for completionists, or for those that want a polished experience, but at the same time, that's really not the point of this game to begin with. The point is to drop in, freak out, try your best, and have a good story to tell your friends later. When it comes to that, the unfinished Project Zomboid certainly is a winner already.

An Incomplete Game That Inspires Preppers Everywhere

I will leave you with this recommendation: if dealing with an extended release schedule doesn't bother you—if after reading this you feel this is a game you could enjoy as is—I definitely recommend you buy it. Buy it for what it is right now and don’t give thoughts to what’s promised in the future. Don't purchase it for what it could be a year from now. Instead, play it for what it is. If we get what's promised down the road, then this game will continue to reinvent itself as the definitive zombie survival game that many agree it already is. If not, you'll still enjoy every penny you spent on it and return time after time when you tire of endless hoard chainsawing and are overcome with a longing for something more.

Project Zomboid: An Undead Review (5)

I defended a pizza shop in my underwear with nothing but a shotgun and a bottle of whiskey and stayed like that for 3 days.10/10 - Born to be Mild

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Project Zomboid: An Undead Review (2024)
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