I am here to review Defrosted by Riyadth, and Zombie Blast 2023 by Sam Ursu!
(My first two reviews ever!! Yayyyy!!!)
I will do my best to avoid spoilers, but I will also take the liberty of using any information given to the player at the very start to articulate my thoughts!
Okay, so let me state for the record that I have a strong hyperfixation for science fiction; the harder the sci, the stronger the fixation.
Also, for context, I completely missed the “eco-horror” tag, so this review is going to be written according to the notes I was keeping during gameplay. I don’t want to go back and revise my experience at all, but I do want to share some afterthoughts.
Also, some of you might find this extremely hilarious; I’m just thoroughly embarrassed, though.
Death By Awkwardness: This Game Is Not A Dating Sim
So I had managed to land one of the “Bad Endings” (specifically
Bad Ending 1), but felt satisfied by the outcome, and honestly concluded it to represent the average situation for anyone in the game’s universe.
When it comes to choice-based games (as opposed to parser games), I will almost never go back to play the game differently by hunting down the other endings. Authors put so much work into each stage of a choice-based game, and exploring anything else afterward just leaves a “non-canon” taste in my mouth. Because of this, I can only speak on my experience that got me
Bad Ending 1.
The game immediately introduces us to some once-frozen denizens, who now inhabit the Earth alongside humans: the Hyphaens. These wondrous beings are a fascinating twist on the fungal networks of forests.
(At this point, the lack of “horror context” made things interesting for me…)
At every single turn, the game puts the Hyphaens on absolute blast. They’re “monsters”, they “can’t be trusted”, the player character expects them to be empty beasts, committing unspeakable acts in barren, concrete cells (or something like that).
However, there are enough tiny hints throughout the game to suggest that Hyphaens are a civilization, like anything humans might have. I was immediately disregarding the jarring differences in species, even regarding the player character as bigoted against the Hyphaens. At every disparaging comment or assumption, I was chomping at the bit to celebrate these beings, and was eager to learn more.
I was manically pointing at any evidence of Hyphaen community and organization, but the narrative continued to describe my findings as illusory or obscene. This, apparently, was to be the tone of the entire story. These hints of familiarity and depth as a species were apparently meant to be uncanny, and were not supposed to fuel my optimism.
In fact, the game killed me for it (not a spoiler; it’s supposed to be a horror game, after all). Your character is there to do a job, and this job involves interacting with the Hyphaens, but it also involves a lot of uncertainty and risk.
Full disclosure, the job title is “companion”. The game tells you this at the beginning.
I don’t think I had interpreted this job title as intended.
Looking back, it was all clearly signposted, but I had thought that maybe I was supposed to be like an “escort” of some kind. This fundamental misunderstanding might have been what set the “dating sim” expectation in my mind. Funny how that works.
I was, perhaps, not the intended audience for this game, even though I loved it!
As many of you know: I have anxiety and autism. I know I say this a lot, and some people might getting tired of me mentioning it, but it turns out that having a fundamentally-different neurotype also affects my entire life and perspective, including how I process a scenario in an IF title.
Supposedly-comforting social protocols—which everyone seems to take for granted—are often things that I find upsetting, and/or deeply confusing. I fail to relate to most people, and I deal with constant alienation, uncertainty, and fear as a result. Every interaction provides a new opportunity for me to make an unexpected mistake, and be promptly punished or infantilized for it.
So, you might understand that when this game went out of its way to make the Hyphaens scary, unknowable, and anxiety-inducing, I felt like everything was perfectly normal. It’s just like any other day at the grocery store to me! “Common sense” often looks like nonsense, so how is this supposed to be any different??
Again, I thought the player character was failing to show the Hyphaens their due compassion! My heart is pounding, because the Hyphaens have brand-new social norms, which I haven’t learned yet! That’s okay, though; I will learn these norms, and become a good friend to a Hyphaen in no time! The text’s grip on my heart is just because I’m stuck in another difficult social scenario! I’m just experiencing awkward nerves! This is normal; I will work through it, just like every other time!
So—if you can believe it—once the game finally killed me for meeting these potential friends with open arms, you might understand why I felt so thoroughly surprised! “What an unexpected twist!!”
I understand that a lot of you will play this game, and wonder “Why-in-the-heck did Jess fall so in love with the Hyphaens?? They’re clearly the source of horror in a horror game! There are multiple points where your character is hinting ways to kill and escape them! It’s so obvious!”
I was ready to be an ambassador for these people! What do you mean they’re actually the antagonist?! What do you mean ‘it’s obvious from the start of the game’??
Honestly, I would have loved to play a game that explored how Hyphaen society worked! This game, in reality, was aiming to set a terrifying tone, which it only succeeded in right at the very end, when I realized that my death was upon me, and that I was not partaking in some kind of exhilerating Hyphaen hug!
This is not a joke, by the way. I really thought that I was engaging in some kind of intimate activity with the Hyphaen, right up until the final sentence, where the game announced that my demise had concluded. Those of you who’ve also played this game will probably think I’m insane. I—with 100% bold honesty—thought every passing sentence of that scene represented a very different activity. I had only realized how wrong I was, when the words “Bad Ending 1” had appeared.
I would like to humbly request the following upon my gravestone:
"Was it good for you...?"
Realizing The Genre of the Game
Okay, so I had learned after dying that this was a horror game, and not a Hyphaen dating sim. Oops! Coulda fooled me! (It did fool me…)
With that in mind, the game absolutely nails everything it sets out to do, now that I can rearrange my expectations appropriately! It sets the tone, has excellent atmosphere, and an engaging premise!
Pacing and delivery is absolutely perfect, and the phrasing and word choice both succeed in the balance between colorful and clear. Honestly, I hope this author continues to write, because their writing style is very engaging!
Also, this game gives you neat translations and phrases in the Bangla language! It also tells you how to pronounce everything! I absolutely adored this! I really hope this was something that the author was excited to share, because it was a wonderful detail of the experience!
The only slight quirk I could find: On desktop, there’s a little banner that opens and closes, and shows you some stats that are important to the gameplay. On mobile, this might be a separate screen, but desktop players should keep this open at all times. The two meters you find there will change, according to certain decisions, and will give you some necessary context.
Absolutely phenomenal time! Highly recommend!
Zombie Blast 2023
This was advertised to me by @AmandaB as a “shoot-em-up”. Admittedly, I didn’t believe her, but I was curious to know why it got this tag.
Hey, uh, dear readers: It deserves the tag.
Gameplay is very engaging, and your choices matter. Combat is done through turn-based systems, where zombies gets closer (3 steps away, 2 steps away, etc), and you select a weapon to use, according to the appropriate range.
Other things will pop up too: You have the option of eating, scavenging for parts, resting, and you have a baby to defend.
The house is divided into rooms, and each one has a window for zombies to enter through. You need to manically run between rooms, and keep a close eye on each window, so your attacks will require planning and timing. Most notably: Your shotgun has limited ammo (duh), so I recommend only firing when the zombies get withing 2 steps, for best results.
That said, I did have a few problems with this one.
First of all, the zombie accelerate. They stay 3 steps away for multiple turns, but once they’re 2 steps away, they’re a simple blink away from being in your house, and providing unwanted critique on your interior design choices. Also, they will quickly redesign the interior of your corpse, unless you swing your axe!
Also, part of my autism gives me auditory sensitivity, and the sounds are heckin’ loud, but most won’t have a problem with this.
Basically, the whole game is silent as death itself, until a sound suddenly plays, and then it’s loud. I had music playing to pad the silence, and had turned the volume down on my computer, but the sounds were probably compressed really hard, which makes their apparent decibel level a lot higher.
HOWEVER: You do not need to hear to survive! I suffered through jolts and startling stabs of audio for you, beloved reader! I can confirm that anything presented through sound is also presented through text! Mute the browser tab, if you want to! Otherwise, the author has selected beautiful and impactful sounds for the experience!
Also, fun fact: I absolutely detest zombies as a narrative element. I cannot stand them. There’s a whole soapbox I can stand on, but I won’t.
I need you to understand something, though: Despite suffering through auditory problems, and pushing past the premise of the enemies, this game absolutely rocks. Play this.
It’s so much fun.
ALSO, IT’S BASED IN CHOICE-SCRIPT???
You read that correctly! This game presents you with a turn-based combat situation, in the form of a ChoiceScript game! The game dev behind this has really maximized the potential for such an idea in this engine!
Honestly, there’s not much more to say on this one! Play it! Do it now! Defend your tiny baby from hordes of zombies! Go! Why are you still reading this?? There are EctoComp games to play!! Go!!!