“Ever Heard of It?” is a new series of articles focusing on news items and games that maybe flew under the radar, not just from players but from us writers as well. It happens from time to time. An obscure gem hides and isn’t well known and covering the Big Dog AAA companies we miss it. Sometimes a viewer sends me an email that says “Hey, this game is so awful you just HAVE to check it out.” Sometimes we get a press release sent to us from a company we’ve never heard of about a project we know nothing about. We’ll check it out and report it back to you in this series of articles.
That last example about getting a press release and having no clue what it even was happened just 2 weeks ago. I received an email about a project called Romero’s Aftermath being developed by Free Reign Entertainment in conjunction with George C. Romero (son of the better known George A. Romero of Night of the Living Dead fame.)
So let me set the stage: I’m writing an article (probably another Skyforge article since their PR department pushes information daily) and I get an email from an address I don’t even remotely recognize. The email asks if I’d be willing to take a look at a new game going into open beta called “Aftermath.” I inquire about the payment model to make sure it’s something I can cover on a free to play site so as not to waste their time. Turns out it’s free to play and bears the Romero name. I’m surprised. I’m a HUGE horror movie buff and obviously know the name, part of my heart sinks a bit though as by bearing the name “Romero” I know I’m likely in for another DayZ/War Z/Infestation Survivor Stories/H1Z1…etc etc.I agree to the developer walkthrough and get it scheduled.
I get the game set up and await contact from Adam Skidmore, Lead Designer on Aftermath. In the meantime, I do my research. The game’s been available for a while now actually and has gone through a few iterations. How did I miss this?
I hop on a call with Adam, log in, and we start chatting a bit. “Are you familiar with The WarZ/Infestation?,” Skidmore asks. “Oh, shit,” my brain says. Out loud I say “Yes…very.” Skidmore then goes on to explain that Free Reign Entertainment is made up of some of the devs that were working on that game that weren’t happy with the direction of the game, the company, and some of the decisions being made on that project. As a result they splintered off, made their own company, and set out to make the zombie survival game THEY thought Infestation could have been.
Skidmore points out that yes, the survival elements of games like H1Z1 and DayZ do create a certain experience, but at the end of the day, Free Reign wanted to create an experience that was fun from top to bottom. Does that mean Aftermath maybe leans more towards the “arcade” side than “simulation” side of things? Yes, absolutely. But Skidmore says that’s ok, “after all we’re talking about a game that has zombies in it, how real can it be?”
So how’s the game? A mixed bag at the moment. Aftermath is now in open beta so you can check it out right now if you want to by visiting the game’s site. We’ll be posting our official First Look sometime next week but I’ll take you through some of my thoughts here to give you an idea of what you’re in for in Aftermath.
First, visually you’ll notice that it looks a little bit familiar. If you’ve played The WarZ/Infestation, then it will look VERY familiar as it is built on the next level up version of the same engine. The interface is standard, nothing to write home about and it does have some intuitive issues (things aren’t mapped to the buttons you think they would be by default) but again…open beta, so hopefully things like that will change. Performance is a bit of a mixed bag as well. It’s not top tier graphics by any means but it does the job, when the frame rate isn’t going crazy. Skidmore mentioned that DirectX 11 players (which I am) were having a particularly big set of issues with performance and a patch that came shortly after our demo addressed those issues.
Aftermath has both PvE and PvP servers so players have their choice of co-op or true survival gameplay. The game features a crafting system where almost everything you find can be used as is or broken down into parts to create something else. Once you learn a design plan, feel free to sell that plan to someone else if you find another one, it’s unlocked for life for you. Unlike other survival games I’ve played, there is loot everywhere. That doesn’t mean it is all useful for you, but it may be for someone else and I did like at least the feeling of finding things rather than walking for hours and finding nothing. Weapon skins and cosmetics are the game’s primary monetization but you can find many of these in game through discovery or trading with others.
Aftermath has a lot of good ideas in it. Take for instance Liberations. In your travels you may come across cities or settlements that have been taken over by zombies. Clear the zombies out and restore power and the city becomes liberated for a while. During this period of zombie free goodness, air drops provide higher quality loot. Eventually the zombies will return though so if you see a city on your map (a map much larger than this games spiritual precursor, by the way) get over there and strike while the iron is hot. Some liberations can be done solo while others will require players banding together. Make sure you bring any weapons you’ve managed to find or craft.
Aftermath also has a “housing” type feature. Players can lay claim to a plot of land (limitations on placement restrict building too close to cities or to other player settlements for griefing reasons) and use resources to build water purification systems, shelters, secured storage for their items, and more. Players can allow other players to assist in the collection of resources for these settlements. Lacking a settlement? You can hide things in the world as well and hope others don’t find your secret stashes. Sleeping bags can also be placed in the world and provide one of the 5 options available to players who need to respawn after a death.
Aftermath is a tough call for me right now. It certainly seems like there are a lot of good ideas in place and it does seem more like the zombie survival game type that I want to play personally, but there are performance issues and other annoyances that get in the way from time to time. Granted it’s still in beta and it’s a small team working on the project, but I worry if it is in the “add all the ideas” phase rather than the “fix what’s here first” phase. Skidmore and team are certainly passionate. Just talking to him you get the feeling that they want Aftermath to be a contender but on their own terms and that the sky is the limit for them. If you can get past the game looking like The WarZ/Infestation since it’s the same engine (granted it’s the next version of that engine) and get past some of the performance issues that I hope beta works out, there is some fun to be had in Aftermath.
If that were all to report, I’d say if it interested you at all, give it a shot. It’s free, has some great ideas, needs some work which the team is well aware of and working hard on, and has some fun moments. For me though, there is one component to this “spiritual successor” to The WarZ/Infestation that makes it totally unplayable for me.
Sergey Titov is part of the team behind Romero’s Aftermath. I confirmed this with Skidmore to be sure and for me, that’s a deal breaker. When Skidmore advised me that Aftermath was a team of people unhappy with some of The WarZ/Infestation decisions, I assumed that meant unhappy with not just the game but some of the public perception issues casued by Sergey Titov as well. I assumed incorrectly as Titov is involved in Aftermath, the publishing of the game, and even posts updates to the game’s forums.
I’m not going to rehash the whole debacle with The WarZ/Infestation here. If you know about it, you know about it. Despite the entire affair, the game managed some pretty serious sales. That said though, the handling with players and the press (as well as the game itself) by Sergey Titov causes me to not support any product in which he is involved. Remember that GameSpy interview where he said “‘Over 100 sq km’ falls in ‘100 to 400’ right?” How about his Gamasutra Postmortem on the game where he says, “All of the bad press obviously gave The War Z and OP Productions a bad reputation.” No, the game and the company’s behavior made that reputation. Titov may have learned all the valuable lessons he speaks about in that postmortem. I hope, in fact, that he has. However, Aftermath will not be benefiting from my wallet or even time. Fool me once…
If that sounds critical, I apologize. If you enjoyed The WarZ/Infestation and are OK with how it was handled, by all means, Aftermath may give you some fun times as the kinks are worked out. As for me? Even though I think I can find a fun time in Aftermath, my wallet will vote elsewhere.