From veteran indie developers Con Artist Games, The Last Stand: Aftermath has finally got its full release and, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, has hit our screens. From their humble beginnings with 2D survival games, Aftermath is their first fully fledged 3D isometric shooter. It takes all the fantastic elements of their classic flash games and combines them to make a more modern instalment. Will this game be worth the money backers pumped into it? Or should Con Artist Games have stuck to what they know?
The Last Stand isn’t a survival game as such, but you are expected to die. Luckily, death isn’t the end here. When you die for the first time, which happens very quickly, you awake as a new volunteer inside a cell. You are already infected and you have been chosen to make your way beyond the walls of the compound, to make your last stand and to help find supplies and information on the outside world. This knowledge you gain is then passed on to other survivors, with each playthrough helping the colonists learn more of the truth behind the renewed zombie threat.
Collecting knowledge also helps you upgrade yourself to, once again, better your chances of survival. Different upgrades cost varying amounts of knowledge, covering body, combat, survival and engineering. So, for example, if you want to decrease the cost of stamina or add crafting chests at safe houses, then you need to collect that knowledge. This ensures you’ll want to search every nook and cranny, not just to help yourself, but everyone back at home too. As well as knowledge you also find supply bags and whilst these don’t help with knowledge, they can be used for future volunteers to purchase unlocks and special items back at camp. They are another reason to search literally everywhere.
When you start your journey beyond the camp again, you’ll need to pick a new character. Depending on your character’s background, you will start with different gear to help you get as far as possible. You always start with three items, split across a mix of weapon types and health aids. Each has their benefits and it’s up to you to decide which will help the most; you’ll then need to find anything else to help you survive. It’s a fun premise and one that kept the game fresh, however, I do like getting attached to characters, learning and growing with them, so I’ll admit to not being as sad as I possibly should have been when I watched character after character get torn to shreds by brain-eating zombies. Is that a bad thing though? I guess not, but I would have liked one main character to focus on.
The Last Stand: Aftermath is a zombie fighting roguelike and this shines through fantastically. As mentioned before, you’re expected to die, and in fact you only really need to stay alive as long as possible to help the other survivors. Rather than having one large map, the game is split off into smaller segments that are connected through car journeys; the beauty of this is that you get to choose which path to take. Once you’ve killed zombies, collected specific items needed to progress and raided everything in sight, you’ll be presented with different routes. Do you want to move to a safe house which has no zombies or is a trickier, harder, riskier path with an ammo and health store, worth the trip? These choices allow for such a fantastic way to make every playthrough different. It’ll certainly keep you coming back for another round.
These map segments and the way you get from A to B to C are randomly generated every single time and that means Aftermath never feels stale. They are also rated with threat levels as well, as different fuel costs mean you’ll need to plan how much the risk is worth it. You’ll need to meticulously plan every journey, taking in the whole sprawling tree of directions.
Aesthetically, The Last Stand isn’t the prettiest game. If I’m honest, it looks like something from the late-Xbox 360 era in terms of the visuals; maybe very early Xbox One at a push. This is most obvious with the level textures and the garishly low fps on things like stray tarps flapping in the wind. The game looks very grainy too. I initially thought this may be used to cause some kind of old school feel, but I think it just looks pretty bad. It doesn’t take you out of the game at all but it’s very noticeable how old The Last Stand feels.
Another element I wish was different is the lack of voice acting. Every moment of conversation is written on the screen and the dialogue isn’t exactly engaging. It’s the usual “I’m a doctor, you need to find a serum to survive” or “I’m not gonna lose another settler”. I just felt like I’d seen it before and genuinely nothing new had been done. The music doesn’t really help either. At least, the lack of it. There’s a constant sort of orchestral undertone of “slightly creepy music” in place, but it is so faint and repetitive that I completely forgot it was there. I love to be fully engaged in a horror but this is the first horror game I’ve played in a long time that at no point did I feel scared. A little pressured by the more speedy and explosive swarms of zombies sure, but scared, definitely not.
But there are other things to consider in Aftermath too. You see, as you progress through the game you need to keep topping your health up with antigen, which is found around the maps; if you don’t you will reach the pearly gates a lot sooner than you like. The infection slowly decreases your max health and whenever a chunk of your health bar (which is split into small sections) fills up, it will trigger a mutation. These mutations are beneficial to an extent, they can improve your strength by 50% or make your character give off the same odour as the infected, making them less likely to infect you. They can help you, but each mutation replaces a section of your health, so it’s a constant balancing act of do you want to be stronger/better or potentially live longer? As with every other aspect of The Last Stand: Aftermath it constantly makes you need to plan and weigh up each side, for not only in that moment but for each vital minute going forward.
The Last Stand: Aftermath is a fantastic roguelike zombie shooter. It’ll make you think, in detail, about every decision, if only as planning is such a key part of the experience. Some games in this genre focus on the need to ‘act now, think later’, but having experienced it this way, going back to old habits is going to be hard. Aesthetically it’s a little rough around the edges, the music is sub par and it’s not scary, but everything else is such a joy that you’ll genuinely forget about the bits that don’t work.
The Last Stand: Aftermath is available from the Xbox Store for Xbox Series X|S