Survivor Squad takes place in a world in which a zombie outbreak has happened. You start as a single survivor, quickly building a squad of four and having the ability to expand even further. Your squad makes it their mission to find a cure and stop the outbreak – par for the course, really. You are tipped off about a doctor who is working towards a cure and it becomes your mission to find him and aid him in driving off the infection.
Initially, you are taken through a short tutorial which teaches you all of the controls. It boils down to using 1-4 to select each member of your squad, 5 to select all, Q for ranged, E for melee, WASD to move the camera, TAB to show base resources, left-shift to show containers and space to pause.
While in a level, you will have one of many goals; destroying hearts, eradicating zombies, defusing bombs. All of which boil down to staying alive and clearing the area. Hearts are large biological manifestation which attract zombies until destroyed – these should be considered a main priority. There’s one problem. Zombies are also attracted to sound. This means you should initially go in quiet. Grab your best melee weapons and quickly work your way towards the heart, ensuring not to let yourself be overwhelmed by the unlimited zombie spawns it brings. Upon destroying the heart, or in situations where there is no heart, you are normally tasked with eliminating all of the zombies in an area. One would think to go in guns blazing, but often this can lead to you getting overwhelmed – especially in larger areas. It’s best to use a back-to-back approach, allowing survivors’ vision ranges – shown by their torch – to create a circle. There are also random events in levels such as a bomb which needs defusing or an alarm which needs turned off. Sometimes these can be pre-empted and avoided by searching outside the building for a switch. Other times, searching as you move inside buildings can mean you have less to search when it comes to finding the wire-cutters to defuse a bomb. This is one side to the game.
The other side of Survivor Squad is a turn-based game in which you select nodes to attack and defend, build and upgrade your survivors’ gear. As you play through the game, you will find materials in levels which allow you to expand your territory which in turn allows you to expand your squad. Each node is able to hold 4 members and your main squad. Your main squad is centred around your first character who can’t be changed out for other characters, but the other three members can be changed with anyone currently occupying the same node as them. These materials can also be used to build new gear which is found as blueprints in levels. Gear ranges from weapons to backpacks to gadgets. Weapons generally mean more bullets, more range and more damage. Backpacks allow you to carry more things into and out of missions. Gadgets are tools which allow you to more greatly control an area. This can be, for example, a vision-based gadget which clears up some of the fog of war, or an attack-based gadget which kills nearby zombies. As you clear nodes, they will turn white and can be built upon. But this isn’t the end of the danger. If you leave a cleared or captured node adjacent to a zombie-infested node for too long, the zombies will spread into said node and take over it. This is shown by a number in the bottom-left of every uninfected node. There is also a number in the bottom-left of infected nodes, which determines the severity of the outbreak there. Nodes come in three sizes, each size dictating the size of the map and the amount of zombies you’re likely to face. This in conjunction with how far your squad is from each infected tile will help you decide where to attack next, as you need fuel to get there and back – if you don’t you’ll be forced to skip a day.
Upon successfully completing a mission, your survivors will gain experience and possibly level up. The level up system in Survivor Squad is rather simple, but effective. The maximum level of the game is 5. Each survivor can gain one perk per level. Three perks are unlocked at level 2, 3 and 5. Perks range from increasing damage to damage resistance and improving scavenging skills – and even vision range. The simplicity means you can easily manage a large number of survivors in case you lose any – and you probably will.
Beyond the campaign, there are three game modes; Death Lab, Survival and Multiplayer.
Death Lab allows the player to play out the final scenario in the game without having to go through the preceding elements. Survival is by far the most interesting mode. In Survival, you are forced to continuously move forward – no stopping to grind out gear. This means you’re forced to be fast and safe as you won’t be as overpowered as you could be in the campaign. Sadly, multiplayer isn’t a co-op campaign, but instead a versus mode in which you play as either survivors or infected. Again, sadly, I did not get to play this mode and can’t comment too much on the intricacies of it.
For the most part, the audio is excellent and really sets the mood, both sound effects and music really pull you in to your zombie survival adventure. There are some instances in which either a survivor is being attacked and the pained grunt repeat ad infinitum. There is a similar situation in which you leave a survivor in a doorway and the creak of a door hinge plays repeatedly – luckily you can fix this one by moving them a step or two out of the doorway. Visually I’m torn. While the art does look like it was made in paint, it has as much detail as it needs and quickly grew on me – not every developer is an artist.
Survivor Squad has plenty of features I liked and disliked. When clearing out zombies, it would get annoying if there was only a handful of zombies left and you had no idea where they were and had to waste a lot of time scouring the map for them. Luckily, when a handful remain, they’re marked by red crosses which saves the user any annoyances in that respect. It also has its share of annoyances. When moving a unit, you are able to hold right-click and choose the direction they face. This allows for a pattern I like to call “the flower” in which each unit is back-to-back and creates a circle with their torches. The annoying part comes when a zombie appears. Every survivor will turn to shoot the nearest zombie, often resulting in one unit being attacked from behind. The biggest disappointment is the amount of content. Despite the game being rather small, I have spent an incredibly fun 12 hours in the campaign alone. As the game utilises random generation, it could have been a lot more with some small additions – here’s hoping for some expansions.
Survivor Squad could have been something much greater, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something great. Despite some minor issues, I had nothing but fun playing the game and would recommend it to anyone as – at just over a fiver – it’s cheap, long and fun.