You’re trapped in a train yard with 29 other people, all of you are dressed in prisoner’s clothes and white masks with pointed noses. Large metal prison bars block your every escape before a timer begins to count down. When it reaches zero, the lights will shut down. You will see either one of two things: HIDE or EAT. Someone will grow a glowing hole in his face and begin to consume the masses, while you attempt to scratch and claw to get away from them. Then the gates open, and you have only one objective. Get to the train.
This is Pandemic Express, a zombie escape game from developers TALLBOYS and tinyBuild. We were given a key for the Alpha stage of the game to try out, and frankly, it is fantastic. For a game with the unique but animated looking art style, it is so unexpected to find so much versatility and width of maneuvers put into a multiplayer indie game like this. Players are tasked with making their way to the train, which begins to move when any human player is standing on top of it (and begins to stop if no human is on top.) The objective of the zombies is to infect everyone until there are no humans left, and to keep them away from the train. There are many ways for each side to do their objective.
First and foremost is running (though there are vans that are difficult but rewarding to drive), but it is not smart to run to the train immediately because if you have no way to defend yourself you will be pulled off the train very quickly (and both sides only have three health, so you can’t take too much). The vast open map the game is set in has a variety of houses and structures to find healing vending machines (yes, you punch the vending machine to heal) as well as weapons of varying strength and ability ranging from shotguns, rifles, assault rifles, handguns, and SMGs. All this while zombies scour the map looking for humans, and if they keep their reticle on them long enough, a little objective marker sits over their head to track them for a limited amount of time. This is a tense but also hilarious and exciting experience, which is only dialed up to eleven when you reach the train. The game does not end here, as the train must advance to the end of the tracks to allow the humans to escape, thus mounting a defense atop the train as zombies jump and sprint from every angle to make their way on. This is the most exciting part of the game, adding a sense of adrenaline as you work with your fellow humans to try and survive, watching as others get thrown off or infected right in front of you.
The zombies are given their own capabilities to achieve this. First off they have the ability to double jump, covering vertical ground a lot faster than humans trying to climb a hill or structure. They are also technically just a bit faster. When they catch a human they are given the ability to either bite at them or grab them and thrown them, which can be useful if your ravenous friends are behind you to descend upon the human or if you are trying to remove them from the train. The zombies contain a bounciness to them, as when shot by weak weapons instead of receiving damage they are shot backward a good distance, adding to the tension for a human sprinting to always keeping their gaze back over their shoulder. After so much damage done a meter fills for the zombies, making their next spawn a zombie with special abilities. These can be an invisible (for ten seconds) zombie or one that explodes as it is dying or after the player presses R to pull their “fuse” so to speak.
The developers clearly have put a lot of work into this and there are many tips and tricks to the movement I wasn’t able to discover with my two hours playing the game. They also are putting a lot more work into the game and plan to support it at least somewhat after release, as they are already asking alpha players to vote on things they would like to see added, to which I say hell yes to a sky tram. I can’t wait to see what this game becomes, and I hope they are able to add plenty more to it in the future.