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PAX Prime 2012: Contagion Preview

Article by FTG Contributor Robert Beach

Game Mods have created some of the finest multiplayer games ever made, two words, Counter and Strike. Want a more recent example of a fantastic mod? DayZ, barely anyone has heard of the Arma series before the zombie survival horror mod. Another mod that generated buzz in a Half-Life game is Zombie Panic: Source, bringing the survival aspect to multiplayer zombie killing. Monochrome Games looks to take their mod and reinvent it to test the waters as a stand-alone product on Steam, as Contagion.

The game mode is called extraction, set in an empty suburban town rescuing local survivors. A round starts off with a given random weapon (Shotgun, SMG, Assault Rifle) and a pistol, after choosing one of five characters you and other human players must pull out a cell phone to locate the house of extractable survivors. Reaching the house, you must defend those inside for a short duration. In the building, you frantically search throughout the home for guns, ammo, and other equipment to use on the incoming horde. More importantly is finding a nail gun and boards to add a barrier between the broken doors and windows. A helicopter minutes later calls in to announce they touched down nearby and is ready to nab the NPCs. You struggle as you escape the house with the shambling NPC behind you for as the more people you save, the more items you receive to continue your search and rescue.

Of course, when every human dies the round is over. I say “human” because once a gun touting survivor’s health hits 0, they spawn as a playable zombie. If you’ve played any game mode called “virus” or “infection” in any multiplayer game, you realize how exponentially chaotic it will soon become. Once survivors’ numbers dwindle, the infected grows. These player controlled zombies are the worst. They can attract other walkers, find alternative routes into homes, and even have “zombie vision” that turns the screen red to help spot survivors’ last tracks. Lastly, as a playable undead, the same way you aim down the sight as a human is the same way you can pounce on humans to infect them. You can infect them instantaneously or stretched out throughout the round. Eventually, they will turn.

Some interesting ideas popped up when I was playing that seem to occur in popular zombie related games. The director’s unpredictability from Left 4 Dead, having the same set up of buildings, yet items are in randomize locations creating a diverse experience with every round. Resident Evil’s fear of conservation of ammo appears frequently as it is unpredictable what a home will have laying around. Additionally, the panic of the upcoming horde can incite berserk hip fire dropping clip after clip. When you’re in that state of mind you forget about manually reloading your gun adding one more apprehensive layer to the fight. Ultimately, creating more of a sense of realism, yet still be an arcady shooter.

The underlying realism in playing extraction had me reminded of my days playing Counter-Strike on the original Xbox. Naturally, not the best way to get into one of the finer multiplayer games to grace the PC, but rescuing hostages and survivors are one in the same. The humans try to save and evacuate people and the zombies try to stop the rescue or eliminate their squad. The simplicity created a dynamic of hiding in ventilation shafts or crouching behind a crate near the exit, ready for an ambush; cooperating to form a plan of some sort and using your wits against the opposition as a team. It was never about who’s the person with the best K/D ratio.

The demo I got to try out was very rudimentary, character animations were subpar and NPCs acted like they were in an early Counter-Strike game. However, speaking with one of the devs at Monochrome they said what’s shown here is just an early build, “We’re in a close relationship at Valve, so in the future we’ll have a new engine and a full game.” I spent a good 20 or more minutes on just the one game mode and map. It empowered my love for mods and left me wondering how a larger group of players would fare. Be sure to keep an eye out for Contagion in March of next year on Steam.

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