IFComp 2012: A Killer Headache

And here’s our first you-are-a-zombie game of the year. Will there be more, like in 2010? Spoilers follow the break.

I’ve noted before that there’s a big problem with the whole you-are-a-zombie premise: the idea of being a zombie while still being you. The main thing that makes the idea of turning into a zombie frightening is that it means you’re not yourself anymore, that everything you value in yourself is replaced by something lesser, something mindless and brutal. If your zombies recognize their names, they’re basically not zombies any more; they’re just ordinary folks with an unusual medical condition. You need some way of restoring the zombiness of the situation.

This game’s solution to that problem is to make that unusual medical condition into a really unpleasant one. Zombies here are essentially brain addicts, always looking for a fix. When you don’t get it, it’s the pain that drives you out of your mind and makes you forget yourself. Furthermore, the zombies here are perfectly capable of eating each others’ brains. So other zombies are a danger to you, just like they would be if you weren’t infected. There are no normal humans fighting the zombies in this game, outside of flashbacks to before your infection, which occur whenever you achieve a goal. These flashbacks show you treating the zombies as fully inhuman, as in most zombie games, so there’s irony there from your new perspective. Dangerous though they are, zombies in this game are also things to be pitied.

The whole thing is played half for gruesomeness and half for comedy, with some unexpected religious overtones as the story develops. This still strikes me as an interesting new development in IF, that a piece can have a religious element without being mainly about religion. Here, it might actually be better described as a sacrilegious element, with its vague implication that the zombie apocalypse is an ironic fulfillment of the promise of life everlasting. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, but I suppose that anything that expands our palette is a good thing.

The gameplay is fiddly. Most of my time spent playing this game was spent trying to get sequences of actions done on a tight time limit, undoing or restoring a save whenever I messed up and got torn to pieces by wild dogs or fellow zombies. The chief place where you have to do this is a multi-room affair where it matters what you’re chased through, and that’s nice. A couple other nice touches: Before you get to the game’s main chase sequence, there’s a lesser one elsewhere that effectively acts as a tutorial. In the middle of the main chase, there’s a bit where you slip into flashback specifically to provide a moment of frustration — the flashbacks here aren’t mere literary devices, but reveries on the part of the PC, which you really can’t afford at that time, so you have to shake it off as quickly as possible. I don’t think I’ve seen flashbacks treated quite this way before. So, basically, the author understands the medium and knows how to play tricks with it. But it’s still uncomfortably fiddly, and I never really fully understood why my actions were having the effects on the pursuing zombie pack that they were.

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