The original Infectonator series of flash games involved spreading a zombie virus across the world. Now, Indonesia based Toge Studios are putting players on the other side of the infection with Infectonator: Survivors.
You control a band of survivors in a permadeath turn-based strategy game. The gameplay is tactical, with rouge like and tower defense elements along with resource collection and management. The title is in early access Alpha and still developing, with plans to implement a stronger storyline, more characters, cutscenes, and boss battles: this is a quick look at where it’s at right now.
The developers describe the concept for the game as arising from a conversation about what would happen if they could “mix Left4Dead, XCOM, and FTL”. The mechanics are most similar to FTL, but Infectonator: Survivors doesn’t have the same darkness that its zombie / survival reference points do: its bright, flash style and strong retro soundtrack give it an arcade feel, and it’s not as punishingly difficult as for example, Left4Dead and XCOM can be.
You balance your time in the game between missions and resource development. Parties can be sent out to explore the town with a limited number of moves for missions to kill “Zeds” and gather resources, with the ultimate aim of getting your car running and escaping the area. The towns you explore are randomly generated, so no two play throughs will be quite the same. There are lots of random encounters to be had with other survivors who you can save and bring onto your team. This feature is also randomly generated, with some playthroughs yielding more new teammates than others. Combat works by placing your characters tactically so they can automatically take shots at the zombies, building turrets to help them out.
The overall tone of the game, considering its subject matter and what zombie / survival media like The Walking Dead have taught us to expect from it, is actually pretty chipper. There’s not much information given about the characters, so it’s not easy to get attached. Games like This War of Mine manage to draw an extraordinary amount of emotion from their minimalist survival strategy style, and that’s not the case here. It’s an entirely different beast, a fast-paced shoot-em-up with a cartoon vibe. For a survival game, you’re rarely worried about surviving: resources are easy to come by, you never come close to running out of ammo, and even heavily overrun areas can usually be overcome by just two survivors. Once you get used to the style, you get into a rhythm of clearing out an area’s resources between waves of infected. The whole thing is driven by a quirky sense of humour, with some well known faces appearing as playable characters.
This can lead you into a dangerously false sense of security. Perhaps the most survival-like aspect of the game is just how fast things can go wrong. It is a little like The Walking Dead in that sense: if it seems like everything’s coming up Rick Grimes, something awful is probably about to happen. In my play through, I lost half my survivors so fast I barely realised what happened on a less than death defying level where I got cocky. Due to the prevalence of supplies in the game, however, my remaining two characters were able to get the car running and meet some new friends to help them out in the next area without any trouble. Overall, it seems pretty hard to run into disaster: the fun of Infectonator: Survivors is in blasting your way through a ton of undead enemies rather than the tension of fighting for survival.
Toge have promised a more story based final version of the game, which is something to look forward to: at present it’s a little repetitive. This isn’t really a criticism, since turn-based strategy is literally repetitive. A more elaborate story could create a game that you want to get immersed in rather than dip in and out of, however. There seem to be some hints at stories and moral elements that have not yet been fully developed, and due to the game’s early access status these repeat. I found about 20 letters telling Jim that Sarah was taking the kids to the hospital (between you and me, I don’t think that worked out so well for her). If you get the car working, you go to another part of town and start the whole process again, aiming to eventually reach safety.
There are also some more basic issues: the English isn’t perfect, though that’s certainly not a major problem. The things I found most disruptive to a smooth experience were the fact that the “follow” function doesn’t work when you send a character to search something, irritating when what you’ve sent them after is a few rooms away. You also can’t control characters when the base is attacked, meaning they fight the zombies in the most illogical way possible and you have to hover over the heal button playing damage control.
What this early access shows, however, is a solid foundation for a turn-based strategy shooter that could be taken to the next level with a stronger story. It’s probably not one for diehard strategy fans, who will find it pretty easy. Where it is now, it’s a fun casual game in keeping with Toge’s previous titles that has the potential to expand into something a little more immersive. Hopefully it holds onto its explosive, arcade form, sweet sense of humour, and fun, playful style.
The dedicated team have taken the game to Kickstarter to support development.