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HumanitZ: Demo Thoughts
I'm always a sucker for punny titles.
HumanitZ drops into early access on September 18th, so I’ve been in and out of the demo to check out the game. I'd been looking forward to it for a while, intrigued by the top-down perspective I experienced with Project Zomboid and the demo of The Last Plague: Blight.
A zombie game by any other name…
I think comparisons to Project Zomboid are inevitable, so let's start there. There are obvious similarities - the perspective and the post-apocalyptic zombie-riddled setting. Beyond that, I think the similarities become much less stark. Both games offer a sort of job/specialization option at character creation though Zomboid's is much more in-depth, with a choice of many different perks and flaws that you can mix and match to your heart's content. HumanitZ offers a number of choices of starting jobs that grant specific bonuses, with no real customization offered beyond that.
Both also offer a sort of skill progression through play, but they do so very differently. In Zomboid you level up your skills by doing the things you want to improve (and can receive a bonus by reading books on the topic). If you want to level up cooking, then you have to cook. HumanitZ offers a skill tree-based system in which you earn XP doing... well, anything, really. You level up and then can pick skills and bonuses from the offered trees. Both have their intricacies - it boils down to preference.
Beyond those two points, I'll only compare the games in one more sense: the game feel. This one is hard to articulate in words- while playing Zomboid, I struggled with it feeling clunky. The movement and interaction with the world at times felt like I was actively fighting the game to get it to perform the action I wanted it to. HumanitZ feels smoother. The game moves and flows more naturally, and it responds better. I'm willing to admit this could be a matter of inexperience - I'm sure anyone who's played Zomboid for many more hours than me doesn't have the same struggles. But for what it's worth, as a newer player with only a handful of hours in both titles: HumanitZ feels better.
That said... It's not perfect. The controls feel awkward at first - especially if, like me, your preference and comfort lie in first-person perspectives. This extends to the combat, unfortunately. In melee, it can be hard to tell your hit range (and, therefore, the zombies' as well), and for range, the proper placement of your cursor can take some getting used to. Like anything, though, practice makes perfect. After playing for a while, you get used to it, so try not to be discouraged if it feels wrong for a while. Oh, and the driving? Well, that feels nice and fun from the start.
The character creation is fine. Aside from the previously mentioned professions, you also have some basic customization choices for your character's appearance. I've seen much worse, but I would love to see more depth added down the line- though I understand if it's not a massive priority for the devs. The rest of the game, though? Very nice. I love the look of the environment and the POIs - they match the tone nicely. It was absolutely a world I wanted to explore and see more of. At one point in my playtime, I found an abandoned, run-down church and I just stood in the middle and admired my surroundings for a while. Until a zombie came and tried to kill me. Rude.
The demo features a specific map (aptly named "Demo Map") and allows you a choice of two spawn locations: Starter and Camp. Starter puts you by a house fully stocked with helpful loot and workbenches. Camp drops you by a tent, with a single hunting knife nearby and zombies wandering about not far from you. So, two different starting experiences with your choice of how much you want to struggle. I tried both. If you want a taste of what you can build up to in the game, the Starter spawn is the choice for you. I'm pretty sure that even if you choose the Camp spawn, you can eventually make your way to the Starter house and all the goodies within, so you won't miss out on those things: you'll have to work for them.
The crafting is what you might expect. You start out being able to make simple structures, weapons, and tools and unlock more as you progress to using specialized workbenches. The building is much the same, with a handful of options to create your base from the ground up. I found the tile snapping to be a bit clunky - they would often not attach correctly, leaving me with a disjointed-looking shack. Considering my (and Jordan’s) track record with base building, I’m willing to chalk this up to user error, but I thought it necessary to mention it for all of our building lovers out there, just in case.
So I suppose I should talk about the survival mechanics. That's why we're here, right? The resources you need to track in HumanitZ are health, food, water, stamina, and temperature. Health is, of course, directly connected to any damage you take as well as from lack of proper attention to your food and water consumption. Stamina is affected by the weight you carry in your inventory and your actions. Temperature is... Well, self-explanatory, I suppose.
Food and water depleted at an okay rate, but I never noticed any negative effects from them getting low. This could be because I didn't struggle with them much. After all, they weren't challenging to find. Just from looting, I often found that I was never concerned about running out. The loot itself is varied and mostly useful- you’ll want to keep it all, which can become a problem quickly. To start, your character can only carry a certain amount of weight before it begins to affect their stamina, and if you're not careful, you will easily go over this limit. There are backpacks and gear slots separate from your weight limit. So you have to be mindful of and keep track of both. I hope you're better at making decisions about these things than I and my packrat self am.
If you're not, you'll have a bad time - because anything affecting your total stamina sucks. The zombies aren't too bad when they're on their own. If you come across just one or two or are able to fight them one at a time, then you'll probably be fine. When you get swarmed by them? You're gonna want, and need, that stamina pretty badly.
This seems like a good place to mention this: you can't even rely on the idea that you're in a "safe" area. I'm not positive on the exact way the mechanic functions, but it seems like every so often, no matter where you are and no matter how clear of zombies your surroundings were before, you will get a wave of them who beeline for you to try to devour your delicious brains. This could just be a thing that happens every so often, or it could be something that happens when you haven't left an area for a while in order to keep you on your toes. Either way: you're gonna want that stamina.
Managing your temperature seems to be all about clothing and weather conditions. According to the in-game Survival Guide, there are seasons, and you can become sick from allowing yourself to stay cold for too long. My character was cold at one point after being out in the rain at night. The temperature meter indicated so, and my character was shivering miserably, but my stamina seemed untouched, as did my health, food, and water, and I didn’t get sick. So it’s nice to see that coming down with a cold doesn’t happen every time you get stuck out in the rain. (LOOKIN’ AT YOU, DAYZ.)
Oh, and hey, your campfire will go out in the rain! Yay...?! Why am I happy about this? Jordan, what have you done to me?!
Overall? The HumanitZ demo does not disappoint. It gives a good taste of what the complete game offers - a fun journey of exploring, scrounging, building, and fighting while trying to survive the relentless undead scourge.
There are some things I’d love to see expanded and added - I’m always a fan of more complexity to cooking systems, and expanding the health system to include injuries along with the sickness and infection currently present would also be nice to see. Also, motorcycles! Because cool!
I'm intrigued to see where this game goes after some more time in development. To see how they introduce more complexity, features, and new areas. The demo is a solid showing, and I fully believe it can only get better from here.