Jazon and the Dead - Pre-alpha Gameplay Impressions
Written by Ryan Noble
Studio: 2nd Studio
Available on: Steam
Platforms: PC, Mac
Release date: 2017
Crowdfunding campaign: https://www.fig.co/campaigns/jazon-and-the-dead#about
Forget Jason and the Argonauts, it's all about 2nd studios' Jazon and the Dead. In their own words, their debut title is a “style-rich, blood-splashed, top-down, action-adventure game that mixes brain-twisting puzzles with an engaging narrative, dark humour and a hip 80’s vibe.” How do you argue with that? Honestly, you can't, and the pre-alpha demo on GameJolt and itchi.io proves this with a short stand-alone experience.
The style is one of my favourite things about the game so far, considering it's also the first thing that caught my eye. It gives the zombies, and the characters themselves, a comical style that is reminiscent of the Borderlands series. The world is still suitably bleak for an undead apocalypse, but thick lines and bright colours (especially splashes of red or the glowing greens of retro PCs) keep the demo from seeming bland. Although believe me, it was never in danger of that.
The demo begins with a short cutscene that shows Jazon and Zoey surrounded by zombies in the locker-room of a military facility. Naturally, the zombies are nude and you can see their lifeless (heh) penises. I know this means you'll definitely see them when you try the demo, so... You're welcome. Jazon promptly beats the undead to an even more lifeless mass of body parts, and then you're in control. The first task? Find a way into the next room while Zoey barricades the door against another crowd of the dead.
Solving puzzles will be a big part of Jazon and the Dead, and this is immediately put into play when you unlock one door with a bobby pin, which leads you to a key card, which leads you into the next room. You're also able to open a few of the lockers, where you'll find a roll of duct tape which becomes a puzzle-solving item later in the demo. Amidst the chaos, or controlled chaos – since there's no real danger of the zombies breaking into the room at this point – you're forced to search the environment for useful items and think about how they can be used to solve a puzzle and progress. I'm all for that. If someone is going to be gnawing on my brain in the near future, it might as well be a proper mouthful.
Not only are these puzzles a nice break from undead-slaying action – of which there is sure to be a lot, if my enjoyably frantic time mowing down the dead with a double-barrelled shotgun is any indication – but the few featured in the demo are also refreshingly interesting. Though it begins with a puzzle of “locked door + keycard = open door,” later puzzles involve stacking corpses and using multiple items that you collect earlier in the demo, which appear to have no real purpose at first, but then immediately click when you're facing the right puzzle.
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Another thing that clicks is the 80s vibe that 2nd studio are aiming for. From the back-and-forth between Jazon and Zoey, the chunky PCs dotted around the base, and the soundtrack itself, the pre-alpha gameplay shows that the studio is heading in the right direction. One moment that really sold this to me was when I was crawling through a vent above a group of zombies. Only when I was directly above them did a light flicker on and reveal just how many zombies there really were below me. At the same time the soundtrack rose, and, even without being able to put the exact sound into words, it felt perfectly 80s. The B-movie feel is strong with this one.
Of course, being pre-alpha, there are a couple of minor components that aren't quite as strong.
At one point I struggled to get Jazon to walk up a set of stairs as if an invisible barrier was blocking him from walking up all but one thin strip of staircase. It didn't hold me back for long, and wasn't an issue again, but something to be aware of. Also, the direction of Jazon's body didn't quite match up with the direction I was aiming the handgun, which meant that it looked as if I were looking to the left or right of a zombie despite actually hitting the target with my bullets. Both only minor issues and things that I'm sure will be long gone by the time the game, or even next demo, is released.
Another issue I had, and one I'm sure that I'm blowing way out of proportion in light of recent political events, is the fact that the opening scene saw Jazon staring down at the ample chest of Zoey before realising there even were zombies in the room. As long as the game doesn't rely too heavily on this kind of humour, I'm sure it won't be a problem. If anything, Zoey seems like she'll be just as badass as Jazon. Oh, and Jazon's neck is also terrifyingly thick, but that may just be my issue.
Outside of what is featured in the pre-alpha demo, Jazon and the Dead also plans to include:
- “Player-driven story where you must weigh the consequences of your choices. The story is divided into acts, each with bridging cinematic scenes that focus on different aspects of human nature.”
- A journey that “takes you through deserts, abandoned towns, underground caves, surviving cities and military facilities.”
And the game itself will also begin in a completely different way to the demo:
“Jazon wakes up disoriented in the restroom of a bar and he doesn’t remember a thing. As he leaves the bar, he finds a ruined world ruled by zombies and scumbags. As Jazon travels across the wasteland, he must discover his past to save the future. Along the way he meets Zoey, a wasteland veteran who just wants to forget about her history. Together they visit the oracle in the mountains, who foresees a prophecy leading them on an epic odyssey to save humanity from complete annihilation.”
Jazon and the Dead shambles onto PC and Mac in 2017, when it plans to bring its over-the-top mix of top-down, zombie-killing, 80s B-movie horror to your hands. Pledge $15 to the game's crowdfunding campaign on Fig – think Kickstarter, but tastier - and you'll find yourself in possession of the gore-splattered game when it is released next year. That is, if the game reaches its crowdfunding goal of $65,000. $22,000 has been pledged so far and there are 14 days for gamers to pledge the rest. In the meantime, you can try the pre-alpha demo for yourself on GameJolt or itchi.io, and find out more about the studio and their upcoming game on their website http://2ndstudio.com/
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