I enjoyed parts of this game enough that I felt it would be worth the effort to give some overall feedback, because I think the studio has potential. Here’s my “review” of sorts, but really just a list of dislikes and likes. I’ll start with the dislikes to end on a positive.
Inventory / menu GUI
I am carrying so many things, but to see what I am carrying I have to go through multiple different tabs each with a scrolling list that only shows half a dozen items. I can’t easily see the weight of what I’m carrying unless I click on each thing. I can’t filter, I can’t sort. Sometimes when deconstructing an item, the other items in the list change their sort position, so you thought you were going to quickly rip through deconstructing multiple ammo types you don’t want, only to find that in your rush something got re-sorted and you just deconstructed your primary ammo.
Inventory management is pretty much a solved problem in game design. For games where you actually have a large and varied inventory, a well designed grid is the way to do it, bonus points for sticky sorting, item pinning/locking, and text-based filtering. For reference, see almost any game from the last 10 years. I kinda thought the lesson on “inventory lists” was learned from the furore surrounding Skyrim’s inventory management system.
Now, I have seen that GZ originally did have a grid view, and it was changed. Looking at a few old screenshots I can sort of see why: it seems like the ammo icons were indistinct and you sort of ended up just looking at a patchwork of different coloured boxes. But the solution was not to switch to tabs and lists, the solution was to get better icons and provide more info on the icon (eg, show weight in one corner, count in another. For weapons show tier as a corner colour, and attachment slots as dots (see, eg, Rust).
Moreover, the efficiency in the UI is really poor. To attach an item to a weapon you open the inventory, click the weapon (left of screen), click “attachments” (bottom of screen), and click the slot (back to the left of screen now!). Now finally you get to double check if you even have any attachments available for the slot. And if you do already have an attachment equipped… it doesn’t show up here! Really, really confusing design overall. Original does not necessarily mean good.
How about this instead: Use a grid view. To attach something to a weapon, Click an attachment. Eligible weapons get highlighted in the grid, other items get dimmed. Brighten the “attachment dot” on the weapon icon for the selected attachment type as a reminder to the player as to whether or not something is already in that slot (empty circle for empty slot, filled circle for filled slot). Now click on the weapon to attach. For PC users, use click and drag. If you already have an attachment, pop up a “do you want to replace X with Y?” dialog. With this system all of the information is always visible, there’s no need to click through a bunch of entirely different screens to get anything done, etc etc.
I could provide a dozen or so more suggestions on how to improve various aspects of the UI, but the short story is - go look at how other games do it, especially those that have been around for a while and have had their UI refined and optimized.
Somwhat realted to inventory management above, the crafting system is… weird. I have so many craafting materials, and nothing to spend them on. I craft a few tier 2 health packs and some 50 cal ammo every so often. That’s it. Oh, I did build a base, and that was fun, but I had way, way, waaaaay more material than i would ever possibly need.
Why can’t I craft the items I’d like to use to suit a particular playstyle? Improvised flares, IED’s, etc? I have 1500 adhesive sitting in a mule character and I have no idea what it’s for.
Now, I have seen other threads on this topic, and the standard response seems to be “that’s still in development”. Well, sorry, I’m not here to review some hypothetical future game. This review is about the game as it actually exists. It’s not an early access title, after all.
I largely followed the “guided” path hinted by the game in terms of what to do next, so I was surprised that the progression was lacklustre. For example I am, as I mentioned, currently at level 30. Now, one of the first “neato” items you get in the game is a pair of binoculars, and one of the first skills available in the skill tree is “spotting intel”. So you would think that the “spotting intel component view” would be something you would work your way into pretty quickly (I mean, not that the game ever tells you about this possibility, but I’ll get to that later…)
And yet, even now, at level 30, when I whip out the binoculars and check out an enemy, I still don’t see the internal component view, because apparently I have not done the treasure-hunt required to get that particular schematic.
Now, there may be a few enemies for which I have happened to pick up a schematic, and if I happened to run across one of those and pulled out the binoculars, maybe I’d see the component view. But I don’t even bother pulling out the binoculars, and haven’t done for the past 20-odd levels, because as I actually moved through an area I learned that I would essentially never have the necessary schematic for it to be useful.
Additionally, as you move through different areas it seems like you encounter new enemies. The problem with this is that this seems to mean you have to scour the region for the schematic - by which time you’ve cleared it out and don’t need that schematic anymore. And the fact that it’s yet another “loot hunt” in a game composed almost entirely of loot hunting doesn’t help matters.
This could have actually been an interesting additional tactical bit of mini-game. If I have the spotting intel skill, looking at a new enemy with binoculars could bring up a “gathering intel” progress bar. of sorts. Keep the binocular circle on it for 10 seconds to get it to half way, and indicate to the player that they should get another view from the other side (or wait for the enemy to turn their other side to the player and view again). Now I get my component view for that type.
Also on the topic of progression, the skill tree needs a lot of work. But I notice there are plenty of topics about that already.
Perhaps the biggest problem I had with the game is that it’s very, very repetitive. Nothing about the gameplay loop ever varies. This even includes the looting. The game teaches you fairly early on to be thorough when searching through buildings (and later towns) because you never know, that really good item could be on the coffee table of the next house you visit. But that becomes incredibly, incredibly tedious over time. Going through so, SO many buildings and bags only to get a few rounds of ammo or another tier 1 med kit is frustrating, especially since, as I mentioned, you sort of have to go through everything - otherwise you might miss a schematic or a powerful weapon.
There was, as I recall, a single time the game showed a bit of thoughtfulness in regard to the loot hunting, but I’ll get to that in my “likes”.
Combat is also very repetitive. Don’t get me wrong, combat is going to be in my list of “likes” as well, but it has a couple of issues. While AI is mostly fun to play against, the problem is that every encounter plays out pretty much the same way. As a particularly grievous example, let me talk about how to kill a tank.
You can’t really fight it out in the open, even with dodging a few cannon rounds will hit and they have a lot more health than you. Sure, you could just chow down your health packs, but that’s an inefficient approach. So, cover is the way to go at first, which is fine. That’s tactical, that’s fun. But what do you do from cover? Here’s what I do. I shoot out its cannon and its rocket launcher (usually starting with the rockets, because from then on it’s simple to take out the cannon, stepping/ducking behind cover when you hear the windup, and popping out again to empty your magazine.
Now what you’re left with is a tank with no teeth. Sure, sometimes they will charge, but they seem to get “stuck” fairly regularly doing a little dance. And now you spend 5 minutes emptying bullets into various components. I just stand there shooting. Can’t get close and whack it with a hammer though, the gas attack prevents that. So every single tank encounter is exactly the same. Take out its weapons from long range. Get to medium range - basically the same range every time - and take out its components. Every so often it does little half step, then stops for a few seconds. Empty half a magazine into, say, the leg box. Wait for the half step animation to finish so it’s standing sill again, and empty the other half of the magazine. Repeat 20 times. Don’t bother trying to run around behind it. Yeah, you’ll get a few shots off, but you have to run a wide circle to stay out of range of the gas, which means it can turn fast enough that you won’t get many shots. Much more straightforward to just shoot it in the face. And hip. And other hip. And leg. And other leg. Every time.
Now, maybe some components “hurt” more than others. But I wouldn’t know because of the binocular/schematic issue I already mentioned. And that also segues nicely into…
Reliance on the internet for information
Suppose this game came out in 1986. How would anyone playing this game know that robots had component weak points? How would anyone know where those were? Or that the big barrel on the back of some enemies is the thing that’s dropping those ticks that you find so annoying? How would you know why the game has hollow/soft point, FMJ, and AP ammo? I mean, you’re fighting robots made of metal, so AP is obviously best, right? No, not right - but nothing in the game itself provides any of this information. That’s bad. The core mechanics should be taught by the game, in the game. In addition to just being a better experience in general, it would also provide an opportunity for a more varied experience, in terms of interactions with NPCs, missions, the environment, the robots, etc.
The sound design is really great. The ambient weather and environment sounds, the robot combat and ambient sounds, weapon effects, music. All great (ok, the fast drums combat music is a bit cliched, bit I wouldn’t have noticed that were it not for those few occasions where I exited a command bunker and was stuck “in combat” for a few minutes while walking through an empty forest).
While it does get repetitive, the combat at its core is satisfying. The AI usually puts up a reasonable fight (notwithstanding the confused tanks and what seems like a “guaranteed” DOT that comes from the way the robots aim their guns - ie, it’s not actually just a random spread of fire which is either accurate or not depending on enemy level and your amount of dodging. It seems like at least one or two rounds are “hard coded” to have a 95% hit chance no matter what). The ability to “blow off bits” is inherently more interesting and tactical than games where the only real tactic is to put crosshair on centre of mass.
Ambiance (in the early game)
Here I don’t just mean the sound, I mean the ambient atmosphere of the game. By level 20 or so this is no longer a factor, the game turns into more of a doom-like shooter than a tactical arma-3 type shooter. But certain early game elements create quite a thick and engaging atmosphere. I remember, for example, moving into the farmlands for the first time and coming up from the south of the airfield. I was looting the battlefield while carefully crawling around through the trench/behind obstacles so as to not get seen by three tank that wandered up on me from three different directions after I got there. At the time I was not equipped to deal with those, and so the need for stealth was real. Right then I thought to myself “wow this game is a lot of fun!”.
Unfortunately there was only one other time where I felt that. I am going to put this in the “likes” because it was by far the most fun I had in the game, and it ties together a lot of the things I mentioned above. I think there’s a few key lessons about progression, mission deign, combat encounters, and so on, that could be learned from the following story.
So, I watched a few youtube videos about this game and learned about the .50 (reliance on internet). I also saw a video which told me where to get a 4-star fifty cal (not that I can tell exactly how much better that is). I found this out shortly after Overby.
So, I set myself a mission. I would go get this rifle. If this had been an in-game mission, the game could have said “here’s a risky mission but with a big reward if you pull it off. There’s something super useful up the east coast. Here’s a route you might take to get there. Be careful! If you get seen you’re almost guaranteed to be taken out, you’re not really prepared for this. It’s a long way to travel, so take care”. That’s the mission I set myself. As an analogy, imagine a flight-sim with a mission that plotted out a long flight, briefed with a map of enemy air defense threats, that you had to thread your way through to hit a target. It was that sort of feeling, except I was doing my own intel gathering on the way, picking a route from hill to hill through what I thought was the best cover, etc.
After making it though a large city I headed for the coast and hugged the water as I wound my way north. I was fortunate enough to avoid most enemies, but I did stumble upon a group of what seemed like advanced hunters. It was a difficult fight and I did a lot of backpedalling, but I barely won.
Then there was some kind of installation in my way. I had to perform quite a lot of scouting to figure out how to get past it without backtracking a super long way to find another way around - and who knows, maybe that would be blocked too. I crouched through the underbrush, using thermal optics to keep track of doggos around the buildings, and got through without a shot being fired.
As I got near to my objective, near some windmills, I thought the mission was going to be a failure. There were so many tanks and harvesters, and several hunters walking around. The terrain was all very open, and quite flat, and I thought I had no chance. But after watching for a few minutes I saw a possible way through. I went prone and literally crawled through the grass for a hundred meters or more to get through a hunter patrol. At one point I was moving south to north and a patrol was heading west to east a little ways behind me. I was sure they would see me, but I was just fast enough to put some distance between us before they intercepted me.
That was a fun mission. That was easily the most fun I had in my whole time with the game. But the game didn’t prompt me to do it. And I only did it because I “cheated” and found out about the .50 location on the internet.