The Last Stand: Dead Zone is a Facebook-based hardcore strategy title themed around the concept of surviving a zombie apocalypse. It’s the fourth entry in the The Last Stand series from Con Artist Games, and an excellent example of how to design a quality experience for core players on the social network.
The Last Stand series has undergone considerable changes over the years. Beginning as a relatively simple defense shooter where players simply had to fend off ever-expanding waves of zombies, this newest entry has expanded the concept into a full-featured, complex and deep combination of strategy title and role-playing game.
Initially taking on the role of a lone survivor, players must build up their shelter, ensure it remains stocked with food, water and building resources, defend it from zombie attacks, attract new survivors and scavenge for additional materials. The game unfolds from an isometric perspective in real time, using realistic, gritty 3D visuals rather than the cartoonish aesthetic seen on many other Facebook titles.
By following an initial tutorial, players are introduced to building up their shelter, attracting survivors, scavenging materials from other locations and defending from attack. Once the tutorial is complete, they are then given a series of tasks to complete to direct their experience, but are free to play the game as they see fit if they so desire. There is no “energy” system limiting play, though certain actions, such as building and returning from missions, take periods of real time to complete. These may be sped up by using the game’s premium currency of fuel, though if there is less than 5 minutes remaining the “speed up” process may be performed for free.
When defending the base from zombies or exploring new locations, players take direct control of the survivors they have assigned to undertake the mission. Survivors will automatically defend themselves and attack zombies that enter the range of their weapon, meaning that micromanagement only becomes necessary if it looks like an individual survivor is going to get into trouble. Defending the base is a simple matter of killing all incoming zombies, while exploring locations gives players a time limit to scavenge as many supplies as possible from containers in the area while holding off the undead hordes.
The game largely focuses on the player’s own team of survivors, though it’s also possible to visit other players’ compounds and help out with tasks that need completing. Later, it also becomes possible to attack rival survivors, though low-level players are protected from attack for a period of six days or until they attack someone first. At the time of writing, my base was surrounded by level 1 players who seemingly had barely started on the game, making both help opportunities and attacks unlikely. This situation will likely change as the game’s population increases, though there is more than enough to do at present without having to worry about other players.
Besides this, social features are a little limited at present, as a chat system has not yet been implemented, though space has been reserved for it on the interface. In some ways, this works in the game’s favor, as it helps with the feelings of isolation, loneliness and fear, but it also makes collaboration difficult and makes it feel as if the player may as well be playing an offline solo title.
The game monetizes through its hard currency fuel, which may be used to purchase premium items as well as speed up time-consuming processes. Premium items range from more effective weaponry to further protection against attack from rival players. Players aren’t obliged to purchase fuel as it is possible to scavenge it from missions, though in many cases they’ll find it easier to afford items simply by paying up with Facebook Credits. It’s also possible to use fuel to fill the base’s resource stocks, allowing new survivors to be attracted and recruited considerably quicker.
Unlike many other Facebook titles that describe themselves as “hardcore,” The Last Stand: Dead Zone doesn’t feel like it makes any compromises for being a social network game. It feels like a standalone downloadable game, thanks in part to its excellent (if a little dark) 3D visuals and atmospheric sound effects. It also helps that the initial tasks players are given to do cover a wide variety of different activities rather than spending several hours doing nothing but building and upgrading, say, farms, cottages and barracks. Players are quickly given a taste of everything the game has to offer in the tutorial and are then invited to play their way. It’s proof that “hardcore” doesn’t have to mean “time-consuming” or “boring.”
It remains to be seen whether or not The Last Stand: Dead Zone will pick up a substantial audience, as its gameplay is more complex and demanding than many other Facebook titles, making it less universally appealing. That said, it is worth checking out purely for the fact that it is a highly polished, accessible but deep game that will likely appeal to those who play standalone PC and console games rather than those who simply do all their gaming on social networks. It’s an example of a good direction for the “hardcore” Facebook game field to move in, and it deserves to see some success.
Proof positive that you can make a game for “core” players on Facebook without compromising on quality, depth and complexity.