Or, Ode to a Zombie Apocalypse Morning
I appreciate the following rant is futile. It is akin to giving an eohippus fossil a good beating. This ship has not only sailed, it has circumnavigated the globe, returned, sunk, been raised and put in a museum. On other forums, this would merely gain funny looks as if to say, what's up with you, Grandpa? Weather too loud? Colostomy bag full? But this is amongst friends.
So, many years ago in the dawn of civilised time, there was a surprising little app called Zombie Gunship. It placed you in the gunner's seat of an AC-130 watching through infra-red as terrified survivors ran for refuge in a bunker, ahead of the room-temperature hordes of the zombie apocalypse. The bunker entrance would inevitably be overrun, but your task was simply to delay the end as long as possible, holding open a corridor for the humans to flee. The world became your gunsights, the flash and flare of explosions and the eternal drone of the plane.
Yes, I rather liked it. There was just one map at the start, and a progression system that let you add more killing power to your aircraft. More maps arrived, and a no-humans mode, and at some point the option to pay real-world money and progress faster was added. I thought nothing of it.
Because people like money, a sequel was inevitable. To be fair, after the first few hundred plays or so, ZG got a bit same-y, flying over the same four maps trying to protect idiot survivors who were happy to run with zombies that were going in the same direction, or fling themselves into the line of fire.
Zombie Gunship: Survival added a lot of good stuff to fix this. A base you can expand and reinforce, and periodically defend against attacks. A multitude of maps, different zombie types, and you are covering survivors who are actually armed, if still a bit dim, and trying to loot buildings on the map before a helicopter flies in to evacuate them.
Alas, ZG:S commits the two sins of FTP games;
1) obliging you to stop playing unless you spend a purchasable resource, and
2) having no fail state.
There are also some annoyances, like a badly signalled progression system and the resource economy and weapon upgrade system being not well-tuned, but these are tolerable, incidental and a missed opportunity respectively.
The first sin is achieved in a new way. You get new weapons from crates. Crates are received from successful missions. Crates take 5 minutes, 3 hours or 8 hours to unlock and you can only unlock one at a time. You have room for 4 crates... you can see where this is going. Full up with crates? Either play and forego the reward, pay, or piss off for 3 hours.
The second sin; what happens when your base is overrun, or all your soldiers are killled? Is your ability to resist destroyed, your forces scattered or demoralised, the end of humanity upon us? No, of course not. Failure has no consequence other than not getting the resources for that mission. Your base is magically restored, and next mission you draw on your endless supply of survivors, something apocalypses are known for. Ludo-narrative dissonance ftw.
I understand the second sin: if people have paid real world money for something, they're going to complain when you take it away from them. The forum does have enough complaints on the lines of "I spent $20 on premium crates and only got crap weapons". People who spent $20 on base materials only to have the base trashed by zombies are going to whine even louder. Still avoiding this but having no consequences at all means that the player has no particular stake in what happens.
Spymaster (remember that?) had more or less the same flaws ruining a perfectly enjoyable game, with the ludicrous gameplay result that the Gestapo were willing release captured agents for a reasonable fee, apparently no questions asked.
One final confession; I've practically finished the game. I've all-starred the first four campaigns and have 54/78 stars on the final campaign. I have not bought anything though. What? you ask. Spice, you say, you seem like a reasonable chap, don't you think you should pay for the hours of entertainment? Fair point, my imaginary interlocutor, and I do feel moderately guilty for taking the Free part of FTP at face value. It shows that there is a good and compelling gameplay loop in the design, beyond a mere Skinner box. However, my resentment at being prevented from playing and the design compromises forced on the game by the commercial model mean that I'm not keen to reward the developers.
But as usual these days, I'm resigned to being in a sane minority while the world goes wrong around me. I think it's time for a nice cup of tea and a walk, kids these days, etc.