This is one of the first Jayisgames referred games I have for you. It’s the choose-your-own-adventure style text game Dead Frontier: Outbreak. It’s a better version of one of those books you read as a kid, which is not saying a whole lot. It’s worth a look if you’re interested in the form and it does improve on the total lack of causality that the old books had, but it doesn’t escape from all the weakness of the model. Spoilers within.
So Dead Frontier is a choose-your-own-adventure game, in that you read some text and then get a choice of actions that takes you to more text. Some of the choices forward the story; others kill you. I’m sure you have read one of these books before. The question is how Dead Frontier stacks up against the randomness and lack of meaningful agency of those gems of my childhood.
It’s a zombie story that starts in your office as the infection begins (notice the influence of 28 Days Later here) and follows the 1st-person narrator as he tries to get home to find his wife. The screen is a red tinted background which changes at save points in the narrative — okay, but nothing special. The text is read by a pretty good voice actor, and the music is okay, but when you die, you go back to the last checkpoint and hear all the text and music again, and that gets old very, very fast. That’s about it by way of presentation.
The text is well-written for what it is. No one’s winning a Booker Prize for this, but it creates the mood well enough. The story itself is very cruel. There’s a lot of gore from rotting corpses and dismembered victims, and people get infected at the drop of a hat. I felt a bit like I was getting beat up here — just about everything you encounter is a danger, and the zombification seems almost wanton. Of course, that’s not out of bounds for a zombie story, so maybe I’m being a little too precious here.
But that’s not what you care about. How are the choices? Well, better than most choose-your-own-adventures. There is generally a solution to each set of choices. Pick the wrong one and waste time or die; pick the right one to move one. The correct choice usually has a somewhat clear logic, and that makes sense since the game presents the winning choice as the one that demonstrates knowledge of what one should actually do during a “real” zombie emergency. Most of the correct answers are written in a “You realize that [the other choices were stupid for reason A and B]” construction, which gets repetitive but also makes it clear when you’ve succeed.
Nonetheless, there are some places where you simply have to guess and chance death. There’s a a part in the middle where you die from slipping in blood and falling into a circle of zombies as a result of a choice; someone’s got to tell me how you can see that one coming. There are also seemingly meaningless choices. When you have to pick which group you travel with, the resultant text makes a big deal about how the different attributes the group gives you, but the group is immediately eliminated in the next scene. So the old-school randomness remains, but at least Dead Frontier gives you some logical decisions to make.
I died about five times getting through the game, which seemed reasonable to me. The game ends with a grade which gives you a yes/no result on a couple of goals, and then a grade on your zombie knowledge and compassion. This seems to imply that you can be more or less compassionate, but I didn’t quite see how. Maybe there’s more choice here than I realized. Of course, I got A’s in both grades on my first try through, which can only mean one of two things:
1) The hours I wasted on choose-your-own-adventures as a kid paid off in my success with this game, or…
2) I am totes ready for the zompocalypse, and when the dead rise from the grave, you better stick close to this guy.
Anyway, if you like CYOA books or you’re interested in what they are all about, check this out. It’s not genius, but it’s better than the norm.