If you’re a fan of anything zombie related, Contagion has probably caught your eye already. Developers continue to release zombie slaying games left and right, but it seems less and less common to find quality survival based games. My initial experience with Contagion was far from great. Upon entering a cooperative match with a friend, the game’s audio glitched out and only silence continued, followed by a full on application crash. Contagion and I were having a bad first date. Date number two however gave way to the game’s better qualities.
You can choose from 1 of 8 survivors to play as in three types of game modes including survival, strong hold and Player vs Player (PvP). A recurring element in Contagion is that upon death, no matter what mode you’re playing, you become a zombie. Sticking together is key, given that there is no map whatsoever to locate your teammates. I seemed to gravitate toward the survival mode, as it only seems natural in a zombie setting. The default map spawns you in an office building, and of course you’re tasked with escaping. Available escape routes include the roof or the basement parking garage. This is where you have to make your first choice. From here it’s time to move out and kill the “undead”. A sub-point here is that each level is randomly generated before you do battle, so this takes some of the monotony of similar games away. It’s a fresh experience each time.
The game presents a variety of weapons from a sniper rifle, sub-machine guns, pistols, shotguns to melee based items. As with most survival games the melee weapons in Contagion allow for silent kills, but they also expose you to greater danger. There is a light swing and a power swing, both of which consume stamina. Though guns are more effective in terms of their strength, they do garner unwanted attention due to the sound output from each shot fired. The game limits you to carrying only 4 items; some levels will require keys, nail guns/boards, fire extinguishers and lock cutters. Sharing and trading items amongst your teammates is key to your team’s survival.
What differentiates Contagion from a game like Left 4 Dead is its more realistic approach to combat. Stamina is limited, therefore you can only sprint or attack with a melee weapon so many times before you tire out. Ammo is also quite scarce, and head shots are the only thing worth going for. I almost forgot to mention that each map is packed with zombies. The game is far from a cake walk, so it is vital to share ammo and information with teammates. If things go really downhill and you’re bitten by a zombie, you then become a zombie yourself. Naturally a zombie with a player’s intellect is much more dangerous than the AI, so if you lose a teammate the game becomes that much more challenging.
The core gameplay of Contagion is simple and fun, but it does suffer from a number of bugs. For example, more than a few times I found myself in a scenario where my shots would appear to do nothing to my targeted zombies. These were clear head shots that just failed to register. It’s the little issues like this that could affect the gameplay now and then. On the flip side, something that I found interesting was that although the maps can be difficult to navigate, one of Contagion’s more unique features see you using your in game cell phones to communicate and to check out current objectives. I thought this was a great approach, as it left the player interface without too much information, leaving details on the cell phone. It is something a bit different and added a bit of originality to the gameplay experience.
The zombies in this game don’t mess around. Each blow they land can take up to 10 hp damage a hit from you. If a player controlled zombie swipes at you and makes contact you’ll be reeling from a massive 20 hp damage injury. Player zombies have a number of perks, including sprinting and screaming, to gather more zombies to their side. In Left 4 Dead a horde of zombies was certainly bad news; in Contagion a horde of zombies is worse, due to the lack of resources available. Honing your sharp shooting is really the best thing you can do in this game.
The two other game modes, strong hold and PvP, offer fun in different ways. Strong hold spawns all players at random points in the map and you must all arrive to a location that is marked on your cell phone. Upon gathering at the designated area, you and your team will enter and protect survivors until they can be extracted. With the survivors outside and on their way to safety, ammo is delivered to tide you and your teammates over until the next check point. Your goal then is to clear out and extract several homes, and upon doing so you’ll be prompted with a completion message. Much like survival mode, ammo is scarce. You can board up windows and doors, but this only does so much. It really comes down to communicating with your team if you hope to survive. PvP is the last mode I checked out, and in this case the game takes on a free for all play style. Zombies are spread out all over the map, and the goal is to be the last one standing. PvP sees up to 8 players battling it out in total. These matches can be slow paced, as the smartest players tend to keep a low profile and the matches often become battles of attrition. While not an immediate threat, the zombies are a great addition to the fight, as they add that extra bit of tension to these scenarios. PvP and strong hold are fun alternatives for a change of pace, but survival mode is really where the game shines.
Contagion’s visuals are fairly rough. Given that the game is built on a heavily modified version of the Source Engine I didn’t expect it to look fantastic, but the animations are, in all honesty, quite brutal. Stiff legs and awkward jump animations bring me back a number of years when playing this game, and not in a good nostalgic sort of way. Textures do the job though, and I can’t complain too much as the mood is admittedly captured well with the dark lighting and creepy looking zombies. The audio is pretty solid in terms of its clarity and quality too. As I mentioned earlier I did encounter an audio based glitch, but fortunately this appears to have been a one-time deal. The developers appear to be updating the game frequently, as they are addressing glitches that players have pointed out.
Though zombie related entertainment appears to be finally coming down in its popularity, it’s still always fun to line up some head shots in just about any zombie themed video game. Contagion presents a tense survival based horror game, and if you can see past its rough exterior and occasionally shoddy technical performance, there is some fun to be had here. Rounding up some buddies to play the game as a team is highly recommended, as that is how the game is intended to be played. At $20, Contagion is worth any survival lover’s time and money.