ZCREW Preview: Grinding Zombies

ZCREW is an isometric zombie shooter where players must fight to save the world after the spread of an alien virus. Its core gameplay is solid, and its visuals are good. However, it proves to be a slow grind that ultimately comes off as a bit lacking.

ZCREW Preview: Grinding Zombies

As the first game developed by Emotion Studio, ZCREW has left me with mixed feelings. Going into it, I expected a fast-paced looter-shooter with bullet hell elements. However, I found myself playing something slower and more tactical. Being a fan of tactical shooters and turn-based strategy games (and pretty much everything else, now that I think of it), this did little to discourage me. While I played it, however, I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied. I must note that I did not play the game with anyone else, so my commentary will be based on a solo experience.

ZCREW is available for Early Access on Steam.

ZCREW: The Last Legion Trailer

Story: I Think it was the Aliens…

The trailer for this game carried an intense, mysterious tone that made me want to dive deep into its world. Because of it, I was led to expect some world lore and a solid story. ZCREW provided none of that. The in-store description of the game stated something about an alien virus and that players are members of the U.N.R., “an apocalyptic salvation organization.” Other than that, short (two-three sentences) explanations are given before each mission to justify it. Not exactly a Naughty Dog masterpiece.

Ultimately, I thought, “Who cares? I’m here to mow down zombies, not to watch a movie!” And so it went.

Gameplay: Very Tedious, Almost as Rewarding

The core loop of the game is very similar to that of Warframe: embark on a mission, complete your objectives, go back to your base, and use whatever rewards you managed to get to improve your arsenal and get stronger. As has been proven by Warframe, this can be a pretty engaging system. However, ZCREW“s implementation of the loop left much to be desired.

Missions and Combat

Scorpions bad!

Scorpions bad!

The mission structure is pretty basic. Some missions will have players escorting an NPC to a marked location, others give the task of taking and holding a point, and some will have you kill a certain amount of enemies. Inevitably, though, they all have a countdown timer for evacuation, presumably to give a rushed and intense feeling. However, all it really manages to do is be an annoying source of failure. To make things more tedious, there is no designated “retry mission” option; if I failed a mission and wanted to try again, I was forced to go back to the primary hub and re-select it. Combat-wise, ZCREW employs basic point and click shooting with a few abilities thrown in depending on what specialist class you are playing as (more on this later). As such, this mechanic leaves nothing to complain about and nothing to praise.

The enemy variety is the best part of the game.

The enemy variety is the best part of the game.

What really brings excitement is the nice variety of enemies, which brings you into combat with basic zombies, swarming… spider things, and infected dogs, from the early stages of the game. It was pretty monotonous in the beginning, but it got better as I took on new missions. Thus, progressing to the next stage was always something I looked forward to. A problem with this arrived early on, however. To take on new and harder missions, you need to get more powerful, and to do that, you need to play. However, the rate of acquisition of currency, experience, and weapon blueprints feels too slow. To progress, you have to replay old missions. The slow pace of gameplay and the predictability of already-completed missions make this a real chore.

Progression and Gear

ZCREW allows players to use one of four separate “professions”: assault, warrior, supply, and medic, all of which play differently and seem to complement each other. The assault class is immediately available, and the others can be unlocked early in the game. Each “professional,” for lack of a better term, has four basic abilities that set them apart from the others. These can be enhanced and customized with “talents,” which are unlocked over time. Overall, this is a pretty solid mechanic. It lets players choose their preferred playstyle. Of course, unlocking all of the abilities and talents requires some experience grinding. In terms of visual customization, there are four armor colors to choose from for each professional.

Here, you can see the abilities and weapons available for the warrior class.

Here, you can see the abilities and weapons available for the warrior class.

Like in any shooter, guns are the most important tool in the game. These are linked to the profession, assault specialists use assault rifles, warriors use shotguns, supply specialists use sniper rifles, and medics use SMGs. There are two ways to improve these: improvement with attachments, or replacing them with new ones. Both weapon attachments and new guns must be crafted with materials picked up in missions. Like everything else in the game, this process is slow and grindy, especially the acquisition of weapon blueprints. Nonetheless, getting a shiny new rifle was always exciting. Changes made to weaponry are visible while on the ship but not in-mission.

Audio and Visuals: Calm During the Storm

ZCREW has a satisfactory soundtrack for the most part. Two negatives did stand out, however. First, there was no audible shift in music when engaging in combat. Consequently, the atmospheric music, which fits really well while exploring the barren wasteland alone, also plays during intense moments where zombies are swarming the screen. Personally, I found this immersion-breaking. The other minor problem was with the “heavy breathing” sound effect. When the stamina bar is running out, every agent has the same one. Notably, the game received an update that added intense-sounding music during the evacuation countdown within the first week that I had it. It managed to make it significantly less annoying.

Calming music made hordes like this much less exciting.

Calming music made hordes like this much less exciting.

The game has solid visuals. Environments are simple, though easily recognizable from one another. One thing that I really appreciated was the enemy designs. Each different enemy has a unique appearance; there is no such thing as a slightly-bigger, slightly-stronger version of an enemy in the game. Additionally, the developers took the time to make the primary base’s insides explorable from a third-person perspective. This entire thing could have been a menu, so the detail is appreciated. Notably, the game is graphically rough around the edges, though this doesn’t really hurt the gameplay. Unless you’re someone looking to flex the power of your new Nvidia GeForce RTX 3080, graphics shouldn’t be a problem.

ZCREW was previewed on PC with a key provided by Novy PR.

ZCREW is a little rough around the edges. Nonetheless, it is definitely a competent game, only brought down by its grindy nature. I enjoyed the enemy variety, gloomy atmosphere, and moment-to-moment gameplay, but was annoyed at how tedious progression could be. The game seems to be tailored toward cooperative gameplay, and feels punishing to solo players for it. Ultimately, Emotion Studio's new game has a lot of almost-realized potential.
  • Huge enemy variety
  • Tactical gameplay
  • Weapon Customization
  • Very grindy
  • Awkward audio
  • Tough on solo players

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