Ring Around the Rotter
HIGH Scoring a screen-clearing "contain" one second away from defeat.
LOW The controls can feel a little sticky under pressure.
WTF Zombie wizards? Or are they wizard zombies?
I know, I know... they're everywhere. While any number of "no longer fresh" quips can rightfully apply to the ubiquitous undead, there are still plenty of ways for the creatures to be used in games—it just takes a clever developer to come up with something besides another headshot-heavy first-person shooter.
Enter Bootsnake Games. Their first release, Containment: The Zombie Puzzler, manages to take yet another undead apocalypse and remix it into something that's totally original and fresh. Unbelievably, it looks like there was some tasty meat left on those broken, decayed bones, after all.
Containment is (surprise!) a puzzle game set in real-world environments. For example, the first chapter is in a ruined, overrun city, and each level within that chapter is a board set in a particular part of the city. There's one by a gas station, one just outside a movie theater, and so on.
Every round starts with a large group of people and zombies mixed together. The goal is to eliminate all zombies from the playfield, done by surrounding them on all sides with citizens of the same type, effectively "containing" them. There are Scientists, Policeman, Anarchists, and Military characters, each with respective colors.
When enough people of the same type make a circle around the undead, they unleash an attack and annihilate them with extreme prejudice. If zombies are left on the board too long, they'll attack nearby characters and turn them undead as well. With zombies constantly on the attack, trying to match correct characters in the heat of the moment is challenging. It lends Containment a level of intensity that sets it apart from the average puzzler—it's almost like combat.
The mechanics are completely solid, and I have to give kudos for the very smart decision to let characters move freely across the board. Containment doesn't work like the average match-three game, so there's no side-by-side "swapping" or "flipping" required. Need a police officer to complete a circle, and the only one left is all the way on the other side? No problem, just click on the space where he needs to go. It's as simple as that.
Further sweetening the experience are environmental interactions in each area, multiple pathways depending on what action the player takes, and how each group of characters awards a specific power-up item when used in a big combo. Kill zombies with the Police and a sniper can be called in to eliminate any one zombie. Using Anarchists earns Molotov Cocktails which explode into flame and burn randomly across the board. Each of these features provides an extra tweak to the strategy and ensures players are laser-focused on every moment of play; mindless clicking is the quickest route to failure.
The final masterstroke is that while Containment is definitely a puzzle game, Bootsnake has still managed to work in a story about human survivors. However, rather than interrupting the game's flow with paragraphs of text or distracting cut-scenes, Containment offers brief snatches of narrative placed in and around the environment. As the camera scrolls from one puzzle to another, players can see a sentence or two explaining the plight of the still-breathing. It's such a natural, innocuous thing, yet it adds much to the experience and shows the developer wanted to give this game its own, notable identity.
Although I'm sure most players these days would say they're getting a little tired of seeing the undead shamble across their television screens, I can't think of anything out there quite like Containment: The Zombie Puzzler, and that's pretty high praise in and of itself. Toss in a survival mode and the fact that it's just $5 on Steam, and this unique project's new spin on the walking dead is a can't-miss.
Disclosures: This game was obtained from the developer and reviewed on PC via Steam. Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: This game is not rated by the ESRB. Although it's not overly graphic, zombies do attack humans and there is a lot of blood. As a parent, I'd keep this one off-limits to the kiddies. There is no sexual content and minimal salty language.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You should have no problems. There are no auditory cues necessary for gameplay, and the story is delivered via onscreen text. Totally accessible.