Deciding that the zombie genre that’s been done to death, developer Marvelous Inc. brings the innovative Deadcraft to the table, a Mad Max/Walking Dead story steeped in morbid humor and some interesting mechanics.
With a combination of action, survival, crafting and zombies Deadcraft brings a different spin to the transactional crafting formula – one with lopped-off limbs and rotten corpses – and is a gruesomely good time – for the most part. The one catch is that the game is dead set on clinging to a drawn-out linear structure that drip-feeds the fun a little too slowly, and forces the game into repetition.
That’s not to take away from the hilariously dark tone though, which has a charm that will bring you back for more despite its shortcomings. How can you not want to murder and zombify people to make your own small undead outfit, and then chop them up and mould them into ridiculous weapons all while swearing like a sailor with cartoony visuals? It’s got to be seen to be believed, and it’s a great concept.
As a half-man, half-zombie in a post-apocalyptic world, your zombie-hunter character lives for the sole purpose of revenge on the group responsible for the death of your partner. It’s an ambitious goal as even just surviving is an accomplishment as the need to sustain your desires for the plain and the gruesome is a constant battle.
For example, if you eat too much human food and clean water, your zombie body will suffer and you’ll be without your super zombie powers, but drink too much zombie blood or consume too many zombie body parts and not only will your defense lower, but you’ll also be attacked by the local population. It’s an interesting balancing act that starts off a challenge but eases as you boost your abilities through your skill tree.
What you’ll soon come to realize during your playthrough though, is that the action – and most else – takes a backseat to the game’s obsession for items, with the new maps and non-story NPCs rather shallowly dedicated to the unlocking and crafting of the next tier of upgrades, instead of adding to the world in any meaningful manner.
Before you say anything, I am fully aware of the irony of this statement – this is a crafting game after all – but there are so many other great ideas that could and should have been expanded. Any momentum gained after defeating each area’s boss and section of story is soon lost as you get stuck in another tiresome fetching/crafting loop, making long playthroughs quite unappealing.
Killing enemies (humans or zombies) is by far and away the most enjoyable method of farming zombie items, with you able to use your zombie powers, weapons, and any zombie-created paraphernalia to mow down the enemy. Individually, those three are not particularly deep, but combined make for a great mixture in battle. You can approach battles with a long-range strategy with guns and allow your zombie assistants to do the dirty work, or choose to go face-to-face with the enemy with swords and your own zombie moves via a long monster arm that obliterates and throw enemies up into the air – it’s a blast.
If that wasn’t enough, the crazy craftable zombie equipment that you can place on the battlefield to add to the flight of the limbs is aided by an amusing and smooth animation.
Outside of how you kill the enemies though, an underexploited element of the game is choice, as although you have an immense number of upgrades and items to craft, they are often hard-wired into the story and anything else seemingly autonomous of this gameplay loop, such as interactions with the NPCs is largely restricted to side missions.
This essentially means that you can’t experience the world without it having to be attached to very game-like transactions, and this shallowness and lack of consequences are present throughout.
It must be said, though, that it is amusing that you can rob nearly every NPC in the world, but you could actually go as far as to rob or kill off an entire area of people and they’ll either respawn the next day or forget once the game’s 4-star wanted system expires. As you start the game and have no feel for where items spawn you get pretty desperate, so being the bad guy and ‘borrowing’ their items is inevitable at points, it is just a shame your actions aren’t remembered in some way.
This theme of a hollow and artificial world continues with the forced breaks that become more common as the story progresses. It’s one thing to be stopped in your tracks if you need to craft something important to the story, but another when you have to spend a ton of time scavenging for and then crafting huge pieces of equipment just to create a meal for an NPC you will never speak to again.
There’s also a day/night cycle, which while appreciated for its attempt to give the world some believability, is yet another feature full of unrealized potential. Illegal events, dodgy shops, Tower Defense and Arcade Carmaggedon modes – there could have been so much going on during the night or on story ‘off-days’ (when instructed by main characters to return the following day), but as there is a stark load of nothing apart from repetitive side missions, sleeping for a full 24 hours is often the most attractive option.
Unfortunately, the awkwardly implemented features don’t stop there either, with a perfect storm for poor navigation as identical-looking streets and a minimap with scant regard for any direction-reorienting combine, meaning that you often end up lost or heading in the wrong direction for no reason other than badly designed maps.
Ultimately, Deadcraft feels like it’s wasted a lot of its own potential as it so often ignores the stars of the show – the zombies. Story characters might have decent voice acting and their own close-ups during cutscenes, but few have as much personality as the groaning choir who follow you around and do your bidding. Even a small feature like teleportation looks tremendous when it’s animated by zombies pulling you into the ground. I personally think that an interactable and upgradable zombie system, like a mini zombie town or warrior zombies that you can craft for, wouldn’t have deterred from the overall goal and would have allowed the game to focus on its decaying stars.
Creating and gathering a mini zombie army for boss fights is where the game’s best features really come together, the (putrid) meat of the game if you will, but its left to waste away in the desert sun as there aren’t anywhere enough grandstand fights to use your full arsenal which, for me, doesn’t justify the rest of the very bland and long grind.
While there is a decent game and some great ideas in Deadcraft, its ambitious attempt at a big interactive world and long playing time forces the gameplay’s narrow formula into constant repetition, all while leaving the best till last, which dulls the middle of the experience and risks players not finishing the game.