No Happy Endings Here

HIGH Finding a machinegun just before I ran into an armor-clad behemoth.

LOW Finding out the hard way that it’s possible to drown!

WTF Is that a speaker growing out of a mound of flesh?

The zombie apocalypse is a perfect thematic setting for a roguelite — what better way to feature scrappy survivors constantly scrounging for equipment, renewing hordes of enemies at every turn, and the risk of familiar, safe locations becoming sinister deathtraps? The Last Stand: Aftermath incorporates all of these things and then does one better — it narratively justifies the endless series of heroes common to rogues by positioning each one as an already-infected survivor who’s volunteering to go into the undead wasteland on a one-way trip.

An isometric twin-stick shooter based around survival and crafting, The Last Stand: Aftermath has the player controlling a series of exiles — they’re human survivors who’ve been infected with the zombie virus, and are just days away from turning into flesh-hungry ghouls. They’re given a car, bare minimum equipment, and told to go out and locate as many supplies as they can. They then mark the cache they’ve collected so that it can be recovered by uninfected humans after the deteriorating volunteer has either succumbed to the virus or been torn to pieces.

This zombie virus is a central mechanic in The Last Stand. The volunteer’s health bar is broken up into segments, and their infection gradually consumes one segment at a time. Every time a segment becomes fully corrupted, the player receives a mutation — basically, a perk that compensates for the fact that they’ve just lost a big chunk of their maximum health. These perks can range from a camouflaging smell that makes it harder for zombies to detect the player, to suddenly-musclebound arms that crush zombies while slowing movement speed. The player is always able to choose from a selection of three possible mutations, and new ones are added as milestones are hit. It’s a great way to constantly mix things up and ensure that the player is constantly experiencing new challenges.

The Last Stand keeps its roguelike formula compelling by offering some great zombie-fighting gameplay. Faced with degrading melee weapons and limited ammo, players are encouraged to use every trick in the book to avoid the attention of their foes. They can throw items to distract, crouch behind cars or furniture while zombies shamble past, and use the cover of darkness to sneak into locations unnoticed. The stealth options are fab, but there is a heavy cost to them — at every moment the player’s infection is spreading, and sneaking around takes much longer than going in guns blazing. Aftermath has balanced the risk and reward of each playstyle exceptionally well — the only thing missing is an ‘execute zombie’ move to use on unaware foes, which is notable in its absence.

While players will begin encountering familiar locations after just a few runs, The Last Stand has an impressive amount of maps to cycle through. There are four zones, each with a half-dozen unique location types, and each of those offers a handful of possible layouts. Naturally, the loot is always randomized. As a consequence, in the thirty-odd hours I spent with the game, I never had two runs that felt identical. Keeping things interesting are ten unique story missions where the player must infiltrate a one-off location to keep the plot moving forward. The result is a roguelike that manages to feel epic in scope, even if the player is only ever controlling a single person smashing in zombie heads with a nail bat.

Supporting this feeling is how completely right the developers have gotten the presentation. Every location is meticulously detailed in its decrepitude, gunshots have loud cracks that serve as a dinner bell to zombies, players can make quick getaways by busting through store windows, and cash registers go flying as they vault over counters. The worlds feel authentic and lived-in, and the farther the player travels from home base, the stranger and more utterly wrecked the locations become. It’s clear that the world is on a steep downwards slope, and every new stop the player takes just reinforces just how hopeless things have become.

While it’s largely fantastic, I do have a few misgivings about Aftermath. The game absolutely demands that players use a controller to play it — combat is baffling with a keyboard — but aiming thrown weapons is inexplicably difficult. When I’m sneaking around using bottles to distract, it works fine, but every time a horde of zombies was charging towards me, tossing a molotov cocktail became an ordeal. A simple ‘throw grenade’ button that automatically tossed in the direction I was aiming would have helped in dealing with hordes of bulletproof zombies that the late-game areas throw in. I also felt like batteries (a resource the player needs to power high-level equipment in the field) were a little harder to locate than they should be. These are small things, though, compared to just how much the game gets right.

The Last Stand: Aftermath is as good a zombie roguelike as I’ve ever played. Scrounging for ammo and crafting materials never stops being a desperate struggle, and the balance between virus-fueled perks and ever-dwindling health ensures that every combat encounter is a tense struggle. Exceptionally great design, balance, and gameplay turn this into one of the best action rogues I’ve ever played, and it’s a clear high-point in the survival horror genre.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Con Artist Games and published by Armor Games Studio. It is currently available on PC/XB1/PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 30 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode. The game was completedand there is a TON of post-game content after the story ends.

Parents: This was rated M by the ESRB, and it contains Blood and Gore, Strong Language, Violence. Keep kids far away from this one, folks. Non-stop brutal violence, human experimentation, heads on spikes, zombie children that explode when shot. Hardest possible recommendation that this is adults-only.

Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played almost the entire game without sound and encountered zero difficulties. All key information is provided via onscreen text, which can be resized, along with the game’s UI. I’d say this one is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable on a gamepad, but can be remapped on the keyboard.

Daniel Weissenberger
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