Channelling the simple fun of playground favourite Tag comes Pandemic Express - Zombie Escape, a tinyBuild-published undead shooter with a twist that swarmed onto PC this week. We took it out for a little spin to see what it has to offer, and after a few rounds spent escaping the undead and, in turn, attacking the living, we're ready to share our first impressions of the new game by TallBoys.
Pandemic Express borrows a number of ideas that we've seen before, but it brings them together in a fairly unique way. This is a zombie shooter in one respect, an online survival game in another, and there's a little dash of co-op action in there for good measure. It's an interesting mix of ingredients that's for sure, but does it come together as well it sounds like it should?
The game opens with all 30 players locked in a room together. After a two-minute countdown, one player is randomly assigned the role of zombie-in-chief. At which point all hell breaks loose, and like that moment in the playground where the one who's "it" starts chasing people, everyone scatters and tries to stay away and avoid getting caught. Eventually, the doors open and everyone can escape, but not before one or two people have been turned.
The zombies - although they look more like demons or aliens if you ask us - must stop the humans from escaping on a train that moves through the level over the course of the match, and their only other concern is catching human players and - yep, you guessed it - turning them into zombies in order to grow their horde. The idea is that the remaining humans are trying to escape, and the zombies have to stop them before that objective is fulfilled.
The controls feel very floaty, and you can feel the influence of classic arena shooters in this regard. You spend a lot of time running at full speed, jumping onto launch pads, and trying to sidestep incoming danger. It's even more pronounced when you're playing as a zombie thanks to your lunging attacks, and because when an enemy lands a bullet you're pushed back and away from them, giving the human a bit of breathing room.
The zombies, as we mentioned earlier, don't look much like the undead as we've seen them before. This is because they have these strange yellow eyes, which not only look a bit weird but are is super useful for human players trying to pick out the undead in the dark. There are, however, different zombie classes and these come with some features to differentiate them from the rest of the horde, most notably via their abilities. We liked the one that let you turn invisible for a period of time, but there are other options such as one that lets you explode when you die.
At the time of writing things feel a bit unbalanced towards the zombies. All of the games we played ended up with the zombies winning, and while that's obviously our anecdotal experience of the game, a cursory inspection of the reviews on Steam suggests that a lot of players agree with us. That's certainly something that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Elsewhere the game looks rather barebones. It's a solitary mode so there's not much in the way of variety, and the level design isn't particularly strong, and the visuals aren't great either. We've seen a lot of muddy textures and a fair amount of clipping. Pandemic Express is in Early Access so we're not trying to judge it too harshly, but it's worth noting that this one has a long way to go before it's finished.
However, the concept itself has a lot of merit and we can easily envisage this one picking up steam in the months ahead. It needs more maps, more weapons, more features, more polish - more everything, basically. If we get that, however, the simplicity of the concept and the sheer thrill of being chased by a pack of flesh-chomping zombies might be enough to keep this train rolling long into the night. There's a long way to go and Pandemic Express needs a lot of work, but as a proof of concept, it certainly has us convinced of its potential.