PLATFORM: PC, PS4/5, SWITCH, XBOX ONE/SERIES (REVIEWED) | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
For young Reid, trying to get by in a zombie-ridden post-apocalyptic wasteland is even more tricky than you might imagine. Half human and half zombie, he finds himself held hostage by Nebron, an evil scientist who wants to turn Reid's abilities to his own advantage. After escaping from Nebron's lab, Reid finds himself having to start all over again, making friends (and enemies) until an earth-shattering revelation takes him all the way back to a showdown with Nebron...
Coming across like a top-down Borderlands with the loot replaced by survival mechanics like those seen in Harvest Moon (made by the very same developer) and Don't Starve, Deadcraft's gameplay loop tasks players with exploring a handful of very small locations and taking on seemingly endless fetch quests to unlock new skills while collecting all kinds of junk to craft items with, managing hunger and thirst meters, and growing food - and zombies - to stay alive. The balance between Reid's human and zombie form changes depending on your actions, with his durability being higher in human form but his strength increasing when the scale nudges further towards the zombie side. There are a couple of drawbacks to both forms, such as NPCs running away when you're in zombie form, but there are several ways to balance things out whichever way you need. There's a lot to keep track of, but it never feels overwhelming - one of Deadcraft's major strengths lies in the way that it constantly keeps your brain occupied while also feeling calm and relaxing, making it a stress-free yet extremely addictive proposition for those who like to keep busy.
There's plenty of fighting to be done, although combat is limited to a single attack button along with a handful of special zombie powers. To make things more interesting, various gruesome and grisly traps can be placed around the environment (after crafting them, of course) - undead arms reach from the ground to hold enemies in place, gigantic balls made of corpses ricochet across the screen wiping out everything in their path, and metal contraptions suck unwitting foes in before grinding them into meaty chunks and spewing them out the other end. Zombies (or “frankies” as they're known here) that Reid has grown can be summoned to help out as well, and with each of the home-made horrors possessing different abilities depending on the items used to create them, there's some scope for experimenting to see what you can come up with.
It takes a while for Deadcraft's potential to become clear - its opening hours can feel like a bit of a slog, making you run backwards and forwards to perform repetitive errands as you build up the necessary skills and resources to craft enough tools to see you through the first boss fight. By the time you reach this point, though, fast travel and shortcuts have become available, the story really starts to pick up (there are some really fun characters to meet), the crafting options start to increase dramatically and you will have unlocked enough skills to negate the effects of the pesky thirst and hunger meters that can become a little overbearing in the first part of the game. At the same time though, this is also the point where it becomes difficult to keep track of the which items you want to build (and the materials you need to build said items). A few extra options in the inventory screens and perhaps a slightly more streamlined approach to crafting (and moving) multiple items at the same time would go a long way to making the later game feel a little more manageable.
Keep in mind that Deadcraft is a budget title, adjust your expectations accordingly (to somewhere around the early days of Xbox Live Arcade, in the politest way possible) and take it for what it is - a sweary and sassy yet chilled and enjoyable timesink. It isn't the longest game in the world - you may well see the credits after 15 or so hours - but a few extra tasks are handed out after the story has ended so you can keep grinding away for as long as you want. If you're keen on crafting / farming games and don't mind a bit of blood and guts and flowery language, you'll get along with Deadcraft just fine. A free demo is available on all platforms if you want to check it out!