by Marcus Estrada
[dropcap]M[/dropcap]onochrome is a developer that I was familiar with long before Contagion came into being. Before the Kickstarter, Early Access, and launch, I had been playing their Half-Life 2 mod Zombie Panic! Source (itself an upgrade on the original Zombie Panic). This multiplayer game was tremendous fun and offered something that no other FPSes were offering at the time – letting players control the zombies. Its spiritual successor, Contagion, was hotly anticipated and led to a wonderfully successful crowdfunding campaign. How has the game turned out since launch?
So far, my time with Contagion feels well-spent. This is thanks to a variety of gameplay modes set to please different player tastes. Modes include the following: Escape, Extraction, Hunted, Panic (Objective), Panic (Classic). The last two modes bring back the original Zombie Panic! flavor by allowing teams of player-controlled humans and zombies to see who will be victorious. Escape has players, well, escaping in a cooperative fashion from a zombie-filled landscape. Extraction is a twist on this mode, wherein players must save other characters on the map and get them to safety. Hunted is a player-vs-player mode which only allows for one person to be left standing.
No matter which mode you play, it’s obvious that developer Monochrome have put a ton of effort into creating a “realistic” zombie apocalypse for their game. Zombies mill about, moaning but posing no danger until they notice a human. Being pursued by only one lumbering zombie is no problem but, just like classic zombie films, things become much more dangerous as hordes gather. And how can you stop a zombie in its tracks? Again, as per the established trope you should aim to shoot them in the head.
Although there’s not a ton of maps, each map is detailed and fairly creepy. Darkened alleyways, blood-stained streets, and eerie sounds in the distance put players on edge. This is quite a feat considering most horror games have long since lost any true “horror”. Of course, playing with a raucous group of others quickly disperses any scariness. With that said, players should definitely immerse themselves in the creepy atmosphere by playing at least a few maps in single player. Just note that Panic (Objective) can only be played with others, and Hunted mode makes little sense without others to compete against.
Contagion’s gameplay is mostly solid and the Zombie Panic! influence definitely shines through. Items such as guns, melee weapons, and ammo are not tremendously scarce (search carefully!) but each character can only hold a few things at once. Survival is at the forefront of this game, whereas other zombie shooters tend to take on a more arcade-like feel. Everyone must work together in co-op to ensure the safety of other players, especially since a dead one will end up playing for the zombie side soon enough.
This is my personal favorite aspect of the entire game. Once you are a zombie, there’s no need to follow the objectives dispensed via cell phone. No, now all you crave is human flesh – that of your once partners. You might think it would be hard for a slow-moving creature to kill off a human player but it’s much easier said than done. By utilizing your fellow zombies as covering as they swarm you can get right in and take a killing bite. Unlike Left 4 Dead and Killing Floor, there are no “special zombies” either. You’re just one shambling fiend of many and are still able to overwhelm co-op teams.
Where does Contagion falter? The main offender is not the gameplay but getting to it since the focus is on multiplayer. There are a ton of official and fan-hosted servers to play on but many enjoy just playing with friends. Doing this is not effortless and revolves around either creating a dedicated server or using a VPN client. Both are feasible, but more work than most want to deal with just to play a game. Why not just utilize existing servers? Well, it means you might end up playing with strangers, but the built-in server menu also fails to state what game mode is being run. It’s a bit of a pain and a let-down considering how fun playing Contagion with a group of buddies is.
Contagion is one heck of zombie FPS that manages to be fun while still insisting on maintaining tropes that made zombies scary to begin with. The multiple gameplay modes should please most and playing as a zombie is just too fun to pass up. It’s just a shame that multiplayer with friends isn’t more user friendly considering that is a big part of the experience. Hopefully someone in your group is tech-savvy so they can set things up! Updates are still coming to Contagion so hopefully it will become an even better zombie shooter in the future.
[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/marcus.jpg” ] Marcus is a fellow with a love for video games, horror, and Japanese food. When he’s not writing about games for a multitude of sites, he’s usually still playing one. One day when he became fed up with the way sites would ignore niche titles he decided to start his own site by the name of Pixel Pacas. Writing about video games is something he hopes to continue doing for many years to come. Some of Marcus’s favorite games include Silent Hill 2, Killer7, and The Sims. [/author]