3/23/2022 0 Comments
Expedition Zero Review
Something wicked this way comes. Deep in the frozen Siberian wilderness, far away from prying eyes and where the temperature alone can kill you, sits a dark forest with a disturbing secret. As an engineer left behind by the previous expedition, you need to find a way out of the anomaly zone where nothing lives: nothing human, anyway. Unfortunately for you, they erected a massive wall to contain the problem. What comes next is six hours of beeping, booping, and the occasional skeet-shooting.
Expedition Zero had the makings of an interesting plot but gives it up after the first twenty minutes or so in favor of running through a very dark forest scanning for oddities and trying not to die, but I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Starting a new game places you in the Shelter area, which serves as a short tutorial while dishing out a bit of exposition. After receiving a mysterious radio call from a stranger promising to get you out of the zone in exchange for your help, you pop off to the Wall to meet your mysterious benefactor. The stranger gives you a short explanation and sends you back to your shelter so you can gear up and create a flashlight. Once you’re geared up it’s off to the forest, where you will spend most of the game following your scanner to the next anomaly.
Your shelter contains a bed to rest and a 3D printer that can be used to craft important gear, assuming you have the materials. Each printer you come across will have one or two crafting recipes saved to them. If you don’t have what you need to create them on the spot, don’t worry because you can always come back later or find them on another machine. Metal, polymer, and electrocomponents are the three resources required for item creation. To acquire them you will need to scavenge the various machines in the surrounding areas for junk that can then be broken down to their base components in the 3D printer menu. Your inventory space is limited by both the number of slots your bag has and your total carrying capacity weight, so there will be plenty of inventory management on your end. Luckily for you, your sled has a storage trunk on it if you have some items you want to hang on to. I didn’t end up needing it during my playthrough since 3D printers are plentiful and your sled is usually too far away to bother returning to. The sled is going to be your best friend on your own little expedition since it comes with a terminal for fast traveling between the areas and a battery charger for your suit. You can summon it to your current position by finding a bed and resting in it. I was annoyed that resting doesn’t restore health, though I guess it didn’t end up being much of an issue for me since I found plenty of healing pills.
Surviving the frigid Siberian environments is only possible thanks to your advanced suit. The suit doesn’t have any functions right off the bat aside from helping you stay warm, but it can be modified by crafting pieces from the 3D printers. The best of these upgrades is an exoskeleton that speeds up your movement and a heat module that vastly improves the heat regulation of your suit so you can stay out longer without freezing to death. It isn’t entirely enough to stave off the cold, however. To recover the warmth you’ve lost you will need to use wood scavenged from the area to light the stoves, barrels, and campfires dotting the forest. Another thing to worry about is your suit’s battery level. It drains steadily and the process is expedited by the extra strain some of the better modifications put on the system. Chances are incredibly high that you won’t be near your sled’s charger when your battery is near depletion but there are many charging stations to be found elsewhere, almost always by a 3D printer. You can also come across portable batteries that can charge your system on the move but they take up a good chunk of inventory space. Trust me; you don’t want to be in the middle of the pitch-black forest when you’re battery dies, cutting off your flashlight and equipment. One thing that got old fast was needing to recharge my battery every time I entered an area via fast travel. I’m not sure if this is simply a glitch or by intentional design, however. One of the worst game design choices in Expedition Zero is the way they force you to choose between either having a flashlight equipped or a gas mask. The woods can be extremely dark and hard to navigate without a light but if you should happen upon one of the many pockets of poisonous gas, you’ll be in for a good chunk of damage because going into the menu to change your equipment doesn’t pause the game. Of course: there is much more to worry about than keeping warm and charged up.
Survival horror isn’t quite the same without unspeakable monsters lurking in the dark, and Expedition Zero has some tenacious ones. There isn’t much combat, not in the traditional sense. Your doomed explorer has three weapons at his disposal; the pry bar, axe, and bolt-action rifle. The pry bar and axe are fine for melee but their real use is for chopping wood and prying open machines to scavenge parts. The most common enemy that you will come up against are the shambling, axe-wielding former expedition members lumbering around the forest and its surrounding areas. These zombie-like enemies are slow and easily taken out with a handful of melee attacks with either weapon; they both deal the same damage. They aren’t much of a threat but the hitboxes seem to be a little off and you need to be right up in their business to hit them. Even using the rifle can be wonky when the enemy is too close or you’re trying to aim down the sights.
The second enemy (and the one you’ll be dealing with most of the time) is something akin to a scrawny ghoul wearing a black cloak. These suckers are highly aggravating and seemingly un-killable. They flit from tree to tree and are incredibly fast. The worst part is that they have an attack for every occasion. They can dive in on you, grab you with their incredibly long tongues and launch you ten feet in the air and slam you back down again, or they can bombard you with clouds of poisonous gas. All while staying at tree-level. It is also worth mentioning that if your life is low enough they can swoop in for an instant kill. This is where all your bolt-action rifle ammo is going to be spent because on most occasions you’ll be running through the dark woods, screaming and firing into the trees like a crazy person. At least I was haha. If you’re lucky, a few well-placed shots will cause them to disappear in a puff of smoke and they’ll leave you alone for a bit. At some point in the game though I feel like they were a nonstop threat and I couldn’t shake them. Their presence is definitely heavier the further north you journey into the woods. The bolt-action rifle only holds five rounds and reloads incredibly slow, so don’t expect to be running and gunning through the trees like Arnold in Predator.
Almost the entire playthrough (took me around six hours) is spent in the forest looking for samples to collect in order to destroy the plague but there are a few different areas that you can access through fast travel as you collect more samples. I love the level design of these areas but there isn’t any real reason to go there and explore unless you want to collect materials without being hassled by the tree-ghouls. Sure, the other areas are full of expedition zombies but they’re easy to handle. One area in particular, the Farmhouse, is a cool collection of small abandoned houses with multiple levels and a basement. As you explore the abandoned houses you come across these inaccessible metal doors in each basement. With no way to get through, you move on until you come to an open set of doors leading into a hall full of corpses and a pathway downwards. In what looks like a secret underground facility you come across a giant monster that can be found nowhere else. You can’t kill him but you can scare him away by shooting him so you can explore, but there is nothing of interest besides a 3D printer and access to the metal doors that lead back to the townfolk’s basements. It is incredibly interesting to think about what may have happened here but there is no story or objectives to back it up. You could complete the entire game without ever setting foot there. Makes it feel like a product with wasted potential, to be honest. The same can be said about the Shop and the School areas. I should also warn you that at the time of this writing, fast-traveling back to the Shelter area from the game’s beginning has a chance of glitching and locking you in the house as if the story restarted. Always save before traveling there, though there is no real reason to ever return there.
Expedition Zero managed to give me a few unexpected surprises (and frustrations) but in all, it was a nice little indie horror title that occasionally stressed me the hell out. The survival mechanics and navigation can be irritating at times but there is a sense of accomplishment once you finally roll the credits. In my opinion, you should probably wait a week or two to give the developers the chance to iron out some of the quirks before you pick this one up, just to avoid some aggravation but if you were to grab in now I’m sure you’ll enjoy it just fine.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 6.5/10
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