The Whole World Is Your Resource
HIGH Getting a weapon strong enough to one-shot the skinless hunters.
LOW A few quests have confusingly-worded instructions.
WTF The ancient ancestors left behind… sokoban puzzles?
As gimmicks go, DYSMANTLE’s is well worth naming the game after it.
While other entries in the crafting-survival genre have allowed players to destroy a world’s elements — houses, cars, and so on — and repurpose them into resources, very few of those elements start out as something the player might feel bad about tearing down. Instead of procedurally-generated shacks and scattered resource piles, DYSMANTLE gives players a huge open world so meticulously and delicately hand-crafted that it almost feels like a shame to tear it all apart in the name of staying alive — assuming, of course, that they have tools strong enough to manage it.
DYSMANTLE is the new top-down zombie survival game from eclectic developer 10tons, and it’s an impressive achievement. At its core, this experience is about finding the tools necessary to complete a set of tasks. This might have resulted in a collection of busywork had it been in less confident hands, but the developers have so perfectly managed the difficulty curve that what should be a chore winds up feeling like a pleasure.
In DYSMANTLE, every item has a health bar and a minimum damage threshold — a single hit with an item below that threshold does not deal damage in any way. For example, a wooden chair might have a damage value of 6. In order to get the wood resource it’s made of, the player must figure out how to build something strong enough to deal at least 7 damage.
This system feels vital and engaging thanks to each area being littered with items of every level of toughness — while there are always low-level things able to be broken down, players will constantly be temped by items that would be very useful if only they could harvest them. At one point I was spending half an hour busting up porcelain plates because I hadn’t yet devised a way to crack any of the bathtubs I’d come across… Until I managed a baseball bat. Every type resource has a kind of “super tough” deposit, and the delayed gratification of finally being able to reap them makes the late game a delight.
DYSMANTLE’s combat is above average for the genre, although it’s fairly basic stuff — the player locks onto targets and then chooses between a strong attack, a weak attack and a dodge roll. Damage scaling is based on what kind of tool or weapon they’re using. Bonus items mix things up a little, with the player getting access to limited-use throwable or place-able weapons to help deal with the zombies.
Instead of worrying about ammo or additional crafting, each item’s use is refreshed when the player rests at a campfire — of course, as we now live in a post-Souls world, resting also brings every enemy back to life, so players have to be thoughtful when deciding how to use these refreshes. There aren’t a huge variety of zombies but that feels appropriate, as fighting zombies isn’t really the point of the game — they feel more like environmental obstacles than specific threats.
While these system all work wonderfully, the one thing DYSMANTLE is relatively lean on is the narrative. The player starts the adventure as the last survivor of a zombie apocalypse now living on an island, and the game doesn’t stray far from this structure. Players learn about the world via the standard radio broadcasts, notes, and environmental storytelling, but to be fair, there is an interesting story being told. Solving the mysteries on offer are a pleasure, even if the main character remains a disappointing cipher for most of the game.
Despite this light narrative, DYSMANTLE remains an accomplishment — it’s a crafting adventure that doesn’t just have a destructible world, it makes destroying that world important and satisfying. DYSMANTLE may just be a gimmick stretched out to full-game length, but it’s a hell of a gimmick, and it certainly deserves praise.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by 10tons. It is currently available on PC, PS4/5,Switch and XBO/S/X. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 75 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completed.
Parents: This game was rated T by the ESRB, and it contains Blood and Violence. It’s a game about a zombie apocalypse, so there’s a core bleakness to it that means younger kids shouldn’t play it, and innocent deer can be hunted as a resource. But beyond that, it’s completely inoffensive, and the violence isn’t particularly gory at all.
Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. All information is delivered through text. While some information text cannot be resized, UI elements can!
Remappable Controls: Yes, the game’s controls are remappable.