Have you ever found a diamond in the rough? A game with an amazing concept and execution that it seems nobody has really heard of? That was the original Survivor Squad game for me. The crafting and looking for new survivors while trying to keep your current crew healthy enough to avoid permadeath was fun and engaging. Setting up new bases and balancing your resources between various outposts, and clearing infected zones with your selected survivors offers a glorious mash-up of Left 4 Dead and State of Decay that is absolutely mesmerizing. Survivor Squad Gauntlets is in Early Access, and lacks many of these features, but if these mechanics are combined with the new toys offered in Survivor Squad Gauntlets… It is almost assured to be a game of mammoth proportions.
I absolutely love line-of-sight in games, and this game takes that very seriously. Some maps give you enough light to see movement outside your sight, but most are pitch dark and require extreme caution. A game like Teleglitch offers a wider field of vision, and this is somewhat compensated for by the fact that you have four squad members, but it can take some adjustment (and a few surprise zombie attacks) before you really know how to maneuver them as a unit. If you’re sending four guys into a room to check crates and they have their backs to the door, you may want to think again… Much safer to post someone on guard duty and take a few more seconds to loot the crates than to have uninvited guests. I’ll admit that I enjoyed finding components to craft weapons in the original more than just finding the weapons in this game, but crafting might just make its comeback yet. Picking your fights is also very important, if you’re surrounded by a horde, try to move your squad into a corridor or through a gate so they can all concentrate fire on the same area. Being rewarded for thinking strategically makes this game a real pleasure to play.
The special infected are quite varied, and aside from the Pouncer, Spitter, and Grabber, seem like innovative additions to spice up a game that might otherwise be quite droll. Room to room zombie clearing is one thing… Getting blinded by a smoke cloud and having a couple teammates dragged off makes the whole zombie-clearing thing a bit more complicated. Oh, and you might want to think twice about unleashing that assault rifle, because zombie are like toddlers… They simply LOVE noise. I can’t get enough of the frantic action this game has to offer. Most zombie games have you in first or third person, in the middle of the action, Survivor Squad goes to show that a zombocalypse is a frenetic situation no matter which way you look at it. The puzzles aren’t necessarily difficult to solve, but they do offer a nice chance of pace from breaching, clearing, and searching. In addition to the addictive strategy, the game also features a level editor so you can create the corpse-filled slaughterhouse of your dreams. You can even edit existing levels to give them a little extra OOMPH! With this feature in place, the replayability is drastically increased, although the build menu could desperately use some music.
I’ve sung the merits of my diamond in the rough, but now I must point out the flaws. The music in the game matches the action, however it is quite forgettable. The voice-acting is just passable, and the voice spam everytime you give an order can be grating, though there is an option to prevent this. The graphics are also nothing to write home about. Some puzzles, if not solved in time, can lead to a complete zombie gangbang. Keeping your members focused in the direction you specify is also quite difficult at the moment, since they spin around to help their allies when they hear gunfire, thus leaving the flank they were assigned to wide open to attack. In addition, the game would greatly benefit from a sneak mode, and the ability to autofire while the squad is performing a move order. Overall, the flaws are easy to overlook because of how enjoyable the game itself is, and just like the original Survivor Squad, I see myself playing this one for a long time to come. There is indeed a bit more polishing to be done for this little beauty, but as it stands I am delighted to see a fantastic indie game like this available for purchase.
Summary: An engaging, but low-budget, top-down strategy game about murdering the undead.
Final Score: 7/10 for gameplay and replayability. 9/10 if original mechanics (crafting/travel) implemented.
Survivor Squad: Gauntlets went into early access on the Steam store November 14th, 2014.
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