There was something about March Of The Living that appealed to me the moment I saw it. Whilst I’ve always been a fan of zombie games (I’m a Resident Evil veteran, you know), this looked like more of an experience that was based around survival as opposed to just popping the skulls of the lurching undead. After spending plenty of time with the game I can confirm that is the case, though survival certainly doesn’t come easy…
I feel I need to mention that March Of The Living was partially inspired by popular space simulation FTL. I’ve heard the game plays just like it too, though I can’t confirm that for sure seeing as I’ve never actually played FTL. Despite this, it’s worth knowing – especially if you’re a fan of FTL and want to sink your teeth into some zombie survival action.
March Of The Living tasks you with moving around a randomly generated map, all whilst completing objectives and ensuring your character has the resources to survive. Oh, and there’s the small problem of an onslaught of zombies and bandits out for your blood. What a time to be alive, right?
You begin the game by picking your character, though there’s only one available at the start. As you progress through the game and meet certain requirements you’ll slowly unlock more characters, though it doesn’t really vary up gameplay too much – everything plays exactly the same, you’ll just start with a few different items and have a different back story.
The game’s writing is pretty good though, with each character featuring a narrative that’ll hook you in with their varying dilemmas. Take opening character Greg for example – his goal is to find his ex-wife and son, hoping to somehow be able to look after them and take them to a safe place. Greg initially heads to his ex-wife’s apartment, but upon arrival finds it inhabited by a shotgun wielding man and what remains of his ex-wife’s body. More events eventually transpire that leads to Greg desperately searching for his son. It’s grim, but the writing certainly captures the dire state that the world finds itself in. It’s a good job that the writing is well written though, because you’ll see a lot of it over and over again – you’ll die a lot in March Of The Living and the resulting permadeath means you’ll be re-visiting a few scenes over and over.
Navigation takes place across a randomly generated map that’s made up of three sectors. Each sector is full of nodes, each node interconnected with another set of nodes. You can travel between them however you please – there’s usually a specific node you need to get to that has an objective marker, though how exactly you get there is up to you. You can take the shortest (and typically the safest) route to get there as soon as possible, or alternatively you can take the long road and try to gather resources along the way. The choice is yours, but be aware that that the longer you travel the more at risk you are to zombie attacks.
Each node represents a different location, which each location featuring their own specific event. Some are pretty safe, such as the lake where you’re able to fish (provided you have a fishing rod) or the merchant outposts that allow you to trade with fellow survivors. Alternatively, you might come across an event that could cause you harm depending on what choice you make. When you encounter an abandoned RV do you risk exploring it to try and gather resources? Or when you find a truck full of mannequins, do you take the risk of checking them out when a zombie could be hiding among them?
There are other choices to be made too that factor into gameplay. You’ll often encounter other survivors and depending how you treat them can change up how certain events will unfold later in the game. Will you help the man with his leg caught in a bear trap or will you leave him to die? You’ve got to be wary of the consequences of your actions, though admittedly you won’t always live long enough to see how events unfold anyway…
March Of The Living is designed to have you play over and over again with its permadeath system, but fortunately there are plenty of different events to uncover. Each of my playthroughs saw me doing something different, so it always offered something fresh even if the gameplay itself didn’t really vary up. You will come across the same events at times too, but with so many on offer it makes each playthrough feel at least a little unique.
Besides standard events, you’ll also come across locations that you’re able to loot. The cities for example come with a variety of building that include all different kinds of supplies. There’s a risk and reward system in place though, as the longer you search through each location the more likely you are to get attacked by zombies. Do you spend twenty minutes searching for supplies with a 20% chance of being attacked by zombies, or do you risk it and search for 60 minutes with a 60% chance? The choice is yours, though you’ll slowly learn that survival in March Of The Living depends on taking minimal risks and playing it safe.
Of course you’re going to encounter enemies in the game anyway, whether it be during your travels or because of a disagreement with a fellow survivor – it’s not just the zombies you have to worry about, but also other humans who are resorting to desperate measures in order to survive.
Combat takes place across the games standard maps, with your character (or characters depending on if you’ve got other survivors helping you) positioned at one point of the map with the enemies on another. Depending who you’re up against will vary your tactics – zombies will slowly approach you to take you out up close, whilst you can expect a gunfight with the other humans in the game.
There’s a grid on the ground with percentages that decides how successful each of your attacks will be – the closer you are to the enemy, the more likely you are to find success with each attack. There are other factors to consider too, like your weapon choice and what part of the body you aim for. Each action you make takes time too with tasks like shooting at an enemy taking a few seconds, whilst reloading takes even longer.
Battles certainly aren’t a walk in the park, with enemies sometimes attacking you from all angles. Sometimes you’ll be up against six zombies at once and if you’re fighting on your own it doesn’t usually end well. There’s always the option to flee from an encounter, though this comes with consequences. Whilst you won’t be able to re-visit that node without facing the same encounter all over again, you’re also at risk of losing some of your items. There’s no guarantee your fellow party members will survive either, so fleeing should always be a last resort.
Proper resource management is vital if you’re going to survive throughout March Of The Living. Your character has a health meter, a fatigue meter and a hunger meter – if you don’t carefully manage them you’ll meet you’ll meet your end through malnourishment as opposed to a zombie’s bite. You’ll want to eat a lot, sleep a lot and heal any wounds you suffer, but with limited resources you may have to make some sacrifices along the way.
The graphic style of the game is great, with a retro-stylized pixel art aesthetic used for characters and the surroundings. However, March Of The Living is certainly no graphical powerhouse, with visuals that looked straight from the early 90s. Somehow they seem to fit the theme of the game perfectly though, especially when there are these bloody, pixely bodies littering the environments. I love the style myself, but it really does come down to taste.
I’m a fan of March Of The Living, but it’s a pretty tough game. Whilst a tricky difficulty is by no means a bad thing, the random nature of the game means that death can come at any moment. You’re never fully prepared for anything the game throws at you, and boy does the game put you into some nasty situations. You’ll die a lot, and when you consider that the game is designed to be repetitive some gamers may not have the patience to do the same things over and over – it’s certainly an acquired taste.
I enjoyed it though and keep coming back for more – I’m actually ashamed to say that I haven’t had a successful playthrough yet. Awful, right? I keep playing though, hoping that this time my ‘march’ will result in me actually living, as opposed to lying in a heap on the ground getting eaten by yet another zombie – no matter the result, there’s always fun to be had in March Of The Living.
– Well written events that offer something new each playthrough
– Enjoyable gameplay that certainly offers great rewards for your risks
– A zombie game that’s more focused on survival
– I really like the retro art style
– Permadeath can be frustrating, especially with the game’s difficulty
– Gameplay can feel a little repetitive at times