‘I Shall Remain: Prologue’ Review – Shoot It In The Head
Indie games are often praised for innovative story-telling features or for putting gameplay ahead of graphics, but sometimes small developers become too ambitious, trying to fit in as many cool features as possible without ever getting these all important basic mechanics down. Such is the case with the squad-based zombie shooter survival horror RPG I Shall Remain.
I Shall Remain uses the basics of survival horror by putting the player up against endless waves of shambling undead while limiting access to weapons, ammo and health supplies. The main character is a military officer who finds himself in the midst of the zombie apocalypse. He’s in command of a small unit of other soldiers who’ve survived the outbreak too, and can issue orders to these AI teammates. As they fight off the endless hordes, this squad gains experience points to level up their abilities and upgrade their equipment. All of this takes place during a gritty story of one man flaunting his commanders in order to rescue other trapped soldiers facing imminent death. Orders be damned, he’s bringing his boys home!
That all sounds pretty cool and I’m sure the development team behind I Shall Remain have high hopes for the project, but it’s a case of having too many sinks in the kitchen, then throwing in the kitchen sink for good measure. No single element of the game works well and when these many frustrating pieces are lumped together, it creates a game that only the hardest of hardcore survival horror fans will enjoy.
I Shall Remain is basically a third person shooter that uses an overhead camera to facilitate the squad-based mechanics. Players directly control one character by moving with WASD and aiming with the mouse. Up to four AI buddies can be given simple commands like “Follow Me”, and “Attack Nearest Enemy”. As a shooter, it is competent, but unremarkable. There’s a small selection of weapons which each have an ideal range and the squad must be balanced by divvying up the arsenal between the teammates according to the player’s desires.
The problems begin with the fact that the tutorial doesn’t do an adequate job of explaining how to properly equip the squad, or even explain that the AI teammates won’t use their guns unless their inventories are micro-managed.
Adding to the frustration is the fact that the team begins their mission armed only with hand-to-hand-weapons and guns have to be scavenged during the early parts of the mission. This is easy if players do exactly what the designers intended the player to do, but deviating from a specific path of events will almost certainly result in mission failure. This is a big problem for a game that purports to have “free roam” gameplay.
For example, the game is divided into several short sections, each of which boils down to “reach a particular point on the map. Kill 50 zombies. Proceed to the next point”. Here the troubles come with the way that these missions can be accidentally triggered from the wrong spot. The zombies come in endless waves throughout the map and once the kill count is reached, a new objective is fired off regardless of where the player is. Thus players might be told to secure a specific location when they haven’t seen it yet, or when they have already run far past it. Even then, after killing 50 more zombies players can complete that mission and get assigned another.
The AI is rather dumb too. Both the squadmates, and the zombies will get stuck in walls or corners easily (poor collision detection makes it easy for the player to get stuck too). The squad has to be baby-sat and can’t administer their own health packs, so players have to maintain a close eye on their team. The soldiers can go from full health to dead in seconds. Making it worse is that the final sequence of the game is almost impossible to complete without having at least one of these pals alive.
There is also an overly complicated control set up. Flares, water bottles, health packs, flashlights, grenades, mines – all of these items plus numerous actions have dedicated buttons clustered around WASD, and this is on top of the party inventory system, and squad command buttons. Once players have sorted out the controls, learned how to manage their squad, and discovered exactly what part of the map they’re supposed to be on at each moment, they will then find that I Shall Remain is actually a very short game.
Completing this prologue will only take a few minutes once players know what they’re supposed to do and how to do it. It can be replayed at different difficulty levels to extend the playtime, but I suspect that the typical zombie-fighter will spend much more time struggling against the bad interface and unhelpful tutorial than they will spend battling the undead menace. I Shall Remain requires a lot of work just to enjoy a few minutes of zombie fighting! It should be noted that this review is only for the Prologue which could be considered a demo rather than a final product. The rest of I Shall Remain is being released in episodes that will allegedly add in new features and hopefully much more content, but the project is off to a shaky start.
Gamers who are extremely tolerant of early builds can download the Prologue for free from www.ishallremain.com. Release dates for the coming episodes haven’t been announced.
Review summary Pros:
Fight the zombie horde with a squad of fellow survivors
Very short. Uninformative tutorial. Easy to trigger scripted events from the wrong location.