There are only a few zombie games that I can call original out there, and Contagion is one of them. I’ve heard the game described as a slow Left 4 Dead or a first-person Resident Evil 2, but neither of those descriptions are correct: this game is one of a kind and deserves to be recognized as such.
Contagion is a multiplayer zombie survival-action game that isn’t your run of the mill zombie shooter. The zombies are slow but can easily overpower you and ammo is usually scarce, depending on the game mode. The zombies are more like an obstacle than an enemy some of the time; I ended up running around them instead of shooting them in order to save my ammo for when I needed it.
Making the zombies hard to kill was a smart decision: it makes the player rely on as many headshots as possible, and while there are melee weapons, you have to get close to the zombies and take time to make sure you get a steady hit, which is harder than it sounds. In fact, I would say it’s worth risking life and limb to hold onto a couple guns, with little ammo, over a melee weapon because of how unusable they can be.
Each level has doors, gates, and buildings that will be locked and unlocked at random. With the exception of buildings, I really like this mechanic, as it keeps the player from relying on a specific path or route too much. Although, I found it unrealistic when buildings would be ‘locked’ because the windows also became inexplicably unbreakable when I shot at them. I think the point of locking out buildings was to prevent players from scavenging ammo too much, yet I can’t help but feel that leaving a place bare or lacking any useful supplies would add more to the game than locking the player out of a random building. It could make each scavenge a risk for the player, especially if they broke off from a group to do so.
When a player dies in any game mode they don’t respawn, but instead come back as a zombie. I personally love this mechanic because it gives everyone a reason to help out other players. The major downfall of having player zombies is that they seem to be poorly balanced with the rest of the game. While it’s hard for me to judge just the game or the devs on this (as player skill is also a factor here), I have had games where a whole team was wiped out by a sole zombie and others where player zombies couldn’t get near the human players. This is really a minor issue that I didn’t notice until about eight or nine hours into playing the game, but I noticed other players were bugged by it too.
The player can die in more ways than the typical zed’s lunch; it’s actually possible for a player to be infected if attacked by a zombie or two. This is probably my favorite aspect of the game because of how each player approaches it. Personally, I would run off out of sight, turn and try to sneak up on the nearby people I just left: The infection mechanic can really throw a monkey wrench into any plans of survival if the wrong person (like a person inside a barricade) turns.
Contagion has five different game modes within, with one of the more notable being Panic. Panic is basically Zombie Panic (which makes sense, considering it’s the same devs) without several of the more finite mechanics like the panic button. That’s really unfortunate, because it’s a watered down version of the game the devs seemed to want in Contagion. Panic isn’t bad by any means, but it can’t hold a torch to the actual Zombie Panic.
There’s also a Panic Objective mode, which is a mix of Panic and a third mode called Escape. They blend really well and offer an interesting combination of survival and a race to beat the level; the only downfall is that the mode has only one map and can get stale if you’ve beaten it a couple of times.
Escape takes just about every map and makes a linear path and list of objectives out of them. This is really the meat of the game in my opinion because these tend to last much longer than any other mode. Teamwork is vital in Escape, because player zombies are much more relentless and difficult than the A.I controlled ones: it’s one of my favorite modes in the game.
There’s also a PVP based game mode called Hunted in which the player who’s the last one standing is the victor. I honestly managed to kill only one guy in the few hours I had with the game, and it isn’t because I suck. Many of the players I encountered chose to be friendly instead of fight it out, because the zombies can also choose a winner in the end. I really like this mode, and my only problem is the fact that zombies will follow you across the map if they notice you. I don’t know why the developers chose to have the A.I track so well in this game mode, but they do; zombies I forgot about found me in hiding spots and sniper nests five to ten minutes after I thought I had lost them.
Then there’s the problematic game mode Extraction, where the players go rescue other A.I controlled people. It’s a fun game mode worth checking out, but the A.I controlled humans have unlimited ammo and are the best shot you could ask for. Whenever I was a zombie I couldn’t get near the players because the A.I would shoot me in the head. It really throws the balance of the game out the window at that point and it’s probably my biggest gripe with Contagion as a whole.
This game is worth getting, simple as that. It’s fun, original, and offers a nice twist to the stale FPS zombie shooter with the way it deals with death and infection.