Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead is a free zombie survival game, developed and maintained by volunteers. Yet it's become one of my all-time favorite games. Every year or so, I'll install the latest version and play it again. (See my previous posts here for the details.)
I've been playing it a lot in recent weeks, but I got to the point where my character didn't really need anything else to survive. By that point, he was highly skilled, with good weapons, tons of useful items, and several secure hideouts.
Note that the gameworld is procedurally generated and nearly infinite in size, and there are many, many dangerous locations, even for an advanced character. And the content is just incredibly varied. I had all of the equipment I needed, but not even close to everything the game has to offer. And after years of play, I've never even seen most of the special locations in the game.
But I had all I needed to survive, and from a role-playing perspective, I couldn't see putting myself at risk for no reason. I'm a role-player. Why would I do something like that, in a zombie apocalypse? Well, I always get this way. The early part of the game is always more fun for me.
You see, a zombie survival game is all about a desperate struggle for survival, and Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead does that perfectly. You start out with almost nothing and with few, if any, skills. With the default start, you're not immediately at risk, but you're forced to put yourself in harm's way in order to survive.
After all, you won't survive without food, clean water, warm clothing, shelter, weapons, tools, and other items. And the vast majority of those critical necessities are found in buildings, usually in towns, and that's where the zombies are. (There are other dangers elsewhere, but this is the main issue at the start of the game.)
Hunger and thirst will kill you just as surely as zombies will, if not as quickly. So you have to explore. You will not survive without taking risks. That's the brilliance of the game.
And nearly everything is useful. (I admit it, I love loot in role-playing games!) At the start of the game, in particular, you need everything. You may not be able to carry what you find - one critical necessity at the start of the game is to find items to increase your carrying capacity - but nearly everything can be used (often to craft other items).
But towns are very dangerous for a beginning character. You're a mouse in a roomful of cats. If you find a weapon, even an unskilled character can probably destroy a lone zombie (at least, if it's not one of the more dangerous types). But if you're injured, pain will slow you down. And a mouse that can't run away from cats may find himself in big trouble, especially since the house is full of cats, and if he hopes to survive at all, he can't stay away from the litter box.
Anyway, I reached the point where my survival seemed assured, unless I started exploring very dangerous places for no real reason. And that didn't sound appealing, because it didn't seem to make sense. Of course, I could build a cabin in the forest or along a river and spend my time hunting and fishing. I could even start farming.
All of those things, and more, are possible, but... just didn't appeal to me. I love the early part of the game, where survival is a desperate struggle against hunger, thirst, the elements, and pretty much everything that moves in the game. So I started over in a new world.
This time, I chose the Very Bad Day scenario, the most difficult beginning in the game. My character started out drunk "to the point of incapacitation," depressed, with an infected injury, and sick with the flu, wearing only a wet towel (the Shower Victim profession) in the middle of a city full of zombies.
Note that it's also freezing cold,... and the house is on fire.
|Note that I'm no longer drunk or sick here.|
I started in the living room of a house, and the fire was small. But I'd had previous experience with fires in Cataclysm! The nearest door - to the kitchen - was only two steps away. I made it through the door, but before I could even close the door behind me, the ceiling of the living room caved in. Yeah, you don't want to mess around in a house that's on fire!
At first glance, there was nothing in the kitchen, but I didn't even bother to check the cabinets. My wet towel didn't have any pockets, anyway. The door to the bedroom was nearby, so I went that way, and on my way to the north window, I found a robe.
Funny, but I don't ever remember seeing a robe in this game before that, but even after playing Cataclysm for years, I'm still finding new items. In this case, a robe was far better than a wet towel, both for warmth and because it had pockets. So I quickly slipped it on, although fire was already eating through the east wall of the room. No time for anything else, so I opened the north window and jumped out.
Most homes in this game have (open) curtains on the windows, but the curtains in this house had been closed. Thus, although I started in a town full of zombies, they couldn't see me until I left the house. They could hear the roof of the house collapsing, though, and noise will also attract them. So will scent, though I'd just taken a shower. Heh, heh. (Actually, my character had the Weak Scent trait, so I was harder to track that way.)
I needed to get to the edge of town, but being drunk, depressed, injured, cold, and sick all lowered my movement speed. Until I recovered, anything would be able to catch me. And that low movement speed - even more than my complete lack of a weapon - meant that I'd have no hope of fighting anything, either. I wasn't just a mouse in a roomful of cats, I was a slow, weak, sick mouse in a roomful of cats.
But luck was with me - remarkable luck, in fact. There weren't any zombies to the north, and only a couple of zombies even saw me before I made it to the nearest house in that direction. As slow as I was, I could smash a window and dive into the house before they got there, then close an interior door on the pursuit. (Zombies can smash through a window fairly quickly, but it takes longer to beat down a door.)
And there were useful things in that house - boots and clothing that actually fit me, for one thing. I moved through the house, looting what I could, then slipped away to a neighboring house, where I repeated my actions. Each time, when I spotted a zombie - one time, inside the very house I was looting - I was able to close a door on them and gain enough time to escape.
My luck was just unbelievably good. I made it to the north side of town without any zombies following me and with a remarkably good start on equipment - all of the clothing I needed to keep from freezing to death, plus a backpack full of food and drink. And a needle and thread, and a steak knife, and several magazines with sewing and cooking tips. (Let me tell you, sewing is a critical skill in the zombie apocalypse, and cooking is quite important, too.)
I was in a house with no zombies, on the edge of town, and I could finally relax. My infection had even healed up. Remarkable luck. Only,... I wasn't tired, so I couldn't sleep. Otherwise, I would have slept until I was sober again. And the weather had changed to thunderstorms, so it was too dark to read my magazines.
But there weren't any zombies around, that I could see, so I decided to try for the house to my east (also on the edge of town). Bad mistake! Halfway there, a moose killed me.
Moose aren't normally hostile unless you get too close to them. But this one had apparently been fighting zombies. They're big, they're strong, and they're fast. Even if I'd been healthy, I wouldn't have been able to run away from it. As it was, there was just no chance. And no chance to kill it, either, even if I'd had a better weapon. (I'd picked up a stick.) I was just dead. Game over.
Oh, well. Twice more, I tried that Very Bad Day start, with results more like what I expected. Both times, I was killed before I'd even made it to the next building. I was just too slow to get away from anything that saw me.
True, I didn't die immediately, in either start. There were wrecked cars nearby, and zombies aren't smart enough to go around obstacles, so I avoided them for awhile. But I was surrounded by zombies, and I couldn't get them all smashing into a vehicle. Not for long, at least. Not long enough to get to, and into, a house.
When I tried a fourth start, it seemed at first to be just as hopeless as the previous two. I did make it to a neighboring building, but there was just nothing there. In fact, even after the second house, I was still wearing my wet towel (and it was snowing). There was a business very close to my north, but the windows were barred, so I couldn't go that way.
I'd started right in the middle of the city, too. On the map, I could see the outskirts of town to the east and the west, but they were equidistant, with a lot of buildings in between. There were zombies on all sides of me, and no other building was even close. It really looked hopeless.
|A mansion, with my stash of loot. (Note that these three screenshots are from later in the game, since I keep forgetting to take screenshots as I play.)|
I wasn't willing to give up without a fight, though, so I tried to lure zombies into the house with me, then escape from a different room (closing the door behind me). That worked for a couple of the zombies, but not all of them. I was just too slow.
But I did make it to some vehicles in the street and, again, I tried to lose them that way. There were two vans (neither one drivable), but when I moved into the back of the first one, I discovered that it was a mobile meth lab - with some low-grade meth already prepared! Ah, aren't drugs great? :)
Yes, meth has dangers even when you're healthy, let alone when you're already drunk, sick, and infected. But zombies were going to eat my brain, so what did I have to lose? So I ate some and doubled my speed. (Admittedly, that was from an unusually low level, but I ended up half again as fast as I would have been fully healthy.)
Now I could run away from everything - at least, for a time. Certainly, I could make it to the next house, and then the one after that and the one after that. I didn't find much - I was still having quite poor luck in that respect - but I was alive. And I made it to the edge of town, then lost the zombies following me as I ran into the open field to the west.
I was still freezing. And as I started to come down from that meth high, I became completely exhausted. I went south to a house on the outskirts, hoping to be able to rest there. There was a zombie - a 'boomer' - inside, and I still had no weapon (or any ability to use one). But the meth hadn't completely worn off, so I was fast enough to stay away from it. I lured it outside, away from the town, and threw rocks at it until - finally - it died.
I was still drunk, still sick, and still injured (though I'd disinfected my wound), and with meth withdrawal on top of that, I thought I'd pass out before getting inside the house. Despite my exhaustion, I could only sleep for a short while before hunger woke me. I ate everything I had, tried to sleep again, woke hungry again, and explored the house for anything I could eat.
I was still exhausted when I woke the next time - again, because I was starving - but it was night. So I went across the street and looted a couple of houses for food (luckily, without encountering any monsters). I ate what I found, slept again, and the next time I woke, I was only 'very tired,' not exhausted. Of course, I was hungry again. (Mostly, that was because of meth withdrawal, I suspect. But my character also has the Heavy Eater trait, so he needs more food than most characters.)
It was still dark, and I was able to loot a grocery store this time. It was a very small grocery store - disappointingly small, in fact. But in addition to food, there was a shopping cart there, only slightly dented. So I could haul everything I looted.
I went back to bed after that - it was lucky nothing found me, especially since I'd smashed the window beside the bed in order to get inside - and slept until morning. I was sober. I was straight. I was healthy. Even my flu had gone away (and usually, flu hangs on like... well, the flu).
In effect, I was in the same situation as a normal starting character. OK, I did have a shopping cart. And a few other items, too. It wasn't that bad. But the only way I kept from freezing was by wrapping the blanket around me as I slept. And I couldn't use most of the stuff I'd looted from the grocery store, not yet. (Raw macaroni doesn't make a very good meal.)
I was still unskilled and poorly equipped. Yet, the difference was just incredible! I could move again. I could run away, if I had to. And I was on the edge of town - a very large town - so I had lots of options. Well, assuming that a moose didn't attack me, or a cougar, or wolves. But although the countryside isn't safe, it's usually a lot safer than cities.
Yesterday had been a very bad day, with zombies. Today? Well, today still had zombies, and it was still cold, and I wasn't at all prepared to take on the world,... but I was optimistic. I was sure I could survive the day, and that made it a heck of a lot better than the previous day. :)
I love this game!
PS. My other posts about Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, and other computer games, are here.