Game Review: Zafehouse Diaries
Game Name: Zafehouse Diaries
Developer: Screwfly Studios
Joyful greetings to you and yours, lovely readers. I’m going to take a break from the AAA games for a moment and focus on some lesser known games.
Today we have Zafehouse Diaries, the debut game from Australian developer Screwfly Studios which released in September of 2012. As you might have guessed by the big ‘Z’, this game has zombies.
The best way to describe the game would be to call it a tactical, text-based, survival game. You’re given five humans and planted in the middle of a zombie-infested city. Your job? Get at least one of them out alive.
In Zafehouse Diaries, you are in control of five (temporarily) living humans. The main screens you can toggle between are the planning screen where you will see a map of the town and your characters’ places in it. From here you can also assign them tasks from watching out for the undead, to cleaning up the corpses of the ones you let in an hour ago. Navigating to the left you’ll find the diary where you are given reports on everything that’s happened. And then to the left of that is the list of game winning items you must collect for your respective mode. There is also a small watch set into the corner. After you’ve assigned what your characters are meant to do for the round, you click on the watch and time progresses one hour. The diary details what happened during this hour and just how badly you’ve done.
In the planning section you can also click and review your character portraits that will give you a brief spat of info about the players as well as their relationships to each other. You would think that getting a group of people to form a somewhat cohesive front against an army of the undead would be fairly simple. A band of brothers and sisters united against a common enemy. But no. Not these people. One of the interesting mechanics the game throws at you is that each person has their own personality traits and they can either work with or against the people in the group. You’re given a brief biography of each person; their former jobs, class background, education, age, sexual predilection, and their prejudices. In my experience, these will most often not work in your favor.
In one of my games I had a single person who was wealthy and hated the poor, while the rest of my party came from poor backgrounds. The wealthy person was also a musician (which means basically useless in this game) and so after he continued to give backhanded compliments and snide remarks to the others, I finally decided it was time for Mr. Moneypants to go across town and wage a one-man assault on the hospital (one of the heaviest concentrations of undead). Ol’ Daddy Warbucks was never heard from again and the party was generally okay with that.
But you really can’t just go around killing every person you don’t like. Even if they are useless. At the end of the game you need at least one person alive to win and you never know when some piece of bait will come in handy. So the game allows you to spread rumors about people. “Did you hear John donated his time to help uneducated middle-class gay people?” “Really? I thought he was a classist homophobe?” “Apparently not as much as we thought.” Through this system of lies, you can pull a balancing act on keeping your people from outright killing each other before the undead can.
Of course it’s not all about surviving. You could always try to win. The game as it currently stands has two modes: Classic and Roadkill.
In Classic, you are aware that there is a helicopter coming to save you, but you don’t know when or where it’s going to land and no way to contact it. So you set out on the town to recover the precious pieces of information that will tell you where and when to be in order to avoid becoming a meal. The info is scattered haphazardly throughout the town, because the previous tenants hate you for living, so it’s a bit of a gopher hunt while the clock ticks down.
The time limit is something I’m not a big fan of. It’s reminiscent of the Dead Rising games where you’re given a certain amount of time to do one particular thing, and if you don’t manage it then sorry Charlie, you’re dinner. This constricts the amount of strategies you can implement into the game, though on the plus it does give you a sense of urgency that ties in with the general zombie theme. In the end, it is a decent amount of time to get the job done, and I imagine a large percentage of people will be completely fine with it, but I personally enjoy taking my time and house by house clearing out the zombie menace while building up my impressive arsenal. Screw survival. We’re taking our town back one corpse-filled street at a time.
Thankfully, Road Rage gives you another option. There’s no chopper. No time limit. The goal is to find and fix a broken down car and drive off into the proverbial sunset. The added difficulty with this mode is that the longer you stay the more zombies appear until you’re practically overrun with the smelly buggers.
There aren’t too many graphics in Zafehouse Diaries to speak of, since this is primarily a text-based game. Though the diary is filled with photographs of (what I believe) are real people and real places. This does give the game a little more sense of realism and makes it that much harder (though still not much) to send poor Missy to her death because she just can’t get along with everyone else and she’s addicted to painkillers.
I would definitely say that the sounds in Zafehouse Diaries more than make up for the lack of graphics. The beginning piano solo for the main menu is fairly haunting (think the Dead Island teaser trailer), while throughout the game you are provided sound effects of actions that have taken place: barricades being erected, food cooking, and the moans of nearby zombies. All tie together quite well to give you a sense of ambiance.
Here we are again with yet another zombie game. Yes, I know, the culture of the last few years has been utterly saturated with zombies to the point where I (I’m so sorry for this Mister Romero) am getting tired of hearing about zombies. Particularly when they have to put a ‘Z’ on everything (looking forward to an older McCaulay Culkin fighting off two zombie invaders in ‘Zhome Alone’).
So I started out playing Zafehouse a little embittered, which isn’t the best way to start off an unbiased review. But the gameplay quickly won me over. I didn’t even look at the manual (because honestly who still does?) and just went in blindly and had a blast. After learning the constrictions for actually ‘winning’ the game I was a little soured but still intent on playing and having fun.
To this point, I still have yet to actually win the game. But to be fair, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and often quit and reload after I’ve lost a single character BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL GETTING OUT ALIVE DAMMIT.
I would like to see another mode added to the two already present where the goal is to survive and try to reclaim the town. Personal preference, I know, but this whole thing is my opinion anyway.
If you want to give it a try I recommend the demo on their site. Afterwards, if you feel like supporting it, the game’s available via a number of online retailers (GOG, Desaru, or right on their site where the demo is). It is also eligible to be greenlite by Steam so head on over and vote for it if you’d like. Or don’t. I’m not your mother.
Zafehouse Diaries for the PC? 5/6