Urban Dead is a free online Zombie apocalypse game. It's been online for five years and counting, despite being less fun than algebra.
What do Space Marines, medpacks, jumping puzzles, magic swords, temporary speed boosts, and zombies all have in common? They've all been staples of video games for years. Zombies have been a part of the world of video games since the early 80's, but not until the zombie fad of the last decade has the industry finally caught on to what gamers really want. From the first time they watched Dawn of the Dead, every gamer has wanted to spend hour after hour killing zombies with every weapon they can find.
A few companies have tried to fill this need with games that no one ever played or even heard of, like Dead Rising, Resident Evil, and Left 4 Dead. But these games just never caught on. And only one website knew why.
Urbandead.com is the home of Urban Dead, "A Massively Multi-Player Web-Based Zombie Apocalypse" Which Can Never Be Described Without Capitalizing The First Letter Of Every Word. If you're over 30 in age and over level 6 in your Nerd class, you might remember MUDs. Long since rendered useless by things like cool graphics and having something better to do, MUDs were text-based role-playing games, typically styled after Dungeons & Dragons, but with even less social interaction, as each player was sitting at home on his own computer and ignoring the next guy. Please note that the "his" in the previous sentence was not an oversight. There were simply no girls playing MUDs.
Urban Dead takes the MUD concept and builds on it, because they know that while all of those graphics in those other zombie games might look cool, we're all really frustrated by the lack of boring shit to read in the average video game.
Dude, this game totally bites ass. You wanna go study British Literature or something?
Urban Dead isn't exactly like the old MUDs. Technically, it does have graphics, but not all that boring blood and guts stuff that no one wants to see in a zombie apocalypse game. Urban Dead's graphics don't move. They also don't realistically represent anything. In fact, they look an awful lot like those link buttons you made for the Smashing Pumpkins fansite you kept on Geocities in 1996. You remember - the one with the flashing "UNDER CONSTRUCTION" gif.
In spite of my age, I am still just a brat in a rage.
The graphics in Urban Dead don't show any zombies. Or people. Or weapons. Or vehicles. There are only two things shown. The first thing shown is buildings, which can be recognized as looking like this:
The architecture is astounding!
and the second thing shown is the streets, which look nothing like buildings at all.
Curiously, Knapton Drive doesn't go anywhere near Knapton.
So basically, what you wind up with is a big map, but in no way an interesting one. Instead, it's a giant grid of identically sized and identically layed out neighborhoods with the same random buildings over and over again. Sure, this one is called Teek Boulevard Police Department, while that one is Sires Boulevard Police Department, but it doesn't really matter. They're all exactly the same. Clicking on an adjacent building or street to the one you're currently on will reload the screen, putting your new location in the center.
In effect, this means that in 2005, a video game was released whose graphics made Zaxxon look like Final Fantasy XIII. Granted, it's web-based and completely free, but still, could we at least have some 2-D zombies or something?
To be fair, Urban Dead wasn't intended to be a graphics masterpiece. It's supposed to be more like a tabletop roleplaying game, where the player's imagination is the key ingredient. But it isn't really that either.
Gameplay starts with the creation of a character. There are nine different types of characters, but only two or three worth playing. The game does allow you to play as a zombie, in addition to the expected zombie-flick standards like Military, Police, and Scientist.
Pop Quiz Time:
Which of these has the best chance for survival in Urban Dead? If you chose consumer, just go ahead and shoot yourself right now. Consumers get nothing but a cell phone and a random improvised weapon. You think you're going to kill zombies with a pool cue? Or maybe you plan to annoy them into leaving with your Nickelback ringtone?
If you chose one of the people with some sort of training and access to weapons, congratulations. You're smart enough to play Urban Dead.
To be successful in Urban Dead, it is recommended that you don't do anything rash, like killing zombies or exploring your surroundings. By no means should you attempt to do anything as absurd as enjoying the game. Your first game session, and probably your second, third, and fourth as well, should instead be spent performing the exciting task of clicking the "search" button over and over. And over. And over. Again. Regardless of which class you choose, you will not be given enough equipment to survive. With any luck - OK, with LOTS of luck, your repeated clickings on the "search the area" button will turn up enough weapons and ammo to take on a zombie.
"But wait," you're saying now, "It says on the character creation screen that some classes start with basic firearms training, a pistol, and Military Privates even get spare ammo! Twelve bullets is enough to kill twelve zombies if you're a trained marksman, right?"
Wrong. You've watched too many movies, kid. In the real world, or at least in the 2-dimensional street map world of Urban Dead, a single shot to the head does not kill a zombie. Instead, they have hit points, and so, like a Dungeons & Dragons fighter, you've got to stand there and repeatedly bash the zombie with whatever weapon you have until you have depleted all of its hit points.
Thus, ignoring the rules that even the cheapest "Night of the Living Dead" ripoffs have faithfully followed for almost half a century, in Urban Dead, HEADSHOTS DO NOT WORK.
You think that hurt, asshole? Then imagine how much this must hurt!
So your six bullets aren't nearly enough to kill the average zombie unless you manage to find a wounded one. Add to this a 70% chance of missing every time you fire your gun at 1st level (and that's with basic firearms training) and you're pretty much guaranteed not to kill the first zombie you attack.
Standing in the middle of a hode of flesh-eating undead with only six bullets isn't nearly as dangerous as it sounds, however. Unfortunately, hiding in a barricaded building full of ex-cops and military personnel armed to the teeth isn't nearly as safe as it sounds either.
The answer to the "why" that popped into your head after both of those statements is ACTION POINTS. Action points are the number of moves your character can make in a single playing session.
Imagine you're playing your favorite video game. It could be on a console, your desktop, or even at the arcade. It doesn't matter what game it is, either. Pong, Modern Warfare; really, it doesn't matter a bit. Now imagine that every time you start the game, you see the number 50 displayed in the corner. As your character begins to walk forward, that number drops to 49. Keep moving and it goes to 48, 47... you get the picture.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a ninja, a ghost, a terrorist, a demon, or a duck in a turtle shell attacks you. Your skillful hands punch in the correct sequence of movements, and your character punches/stomps/shoots/eats his opponent. That number in the corner has now dropped to 46. You took some damage in the fight, so you get out your medpak/healing potion/food/whatever. The number is now 45. You drink the potion. It's 44. You loot the corpse. It's 43.
How long do you think it will take you to reach zero? What do you think will happen when you reach zero?
When you reach zero, you are returned to the login screen and shown a message informing you that you are out of action points and cannot move anymore.
9 out of 10 physicists agree: not being able to move can suck in certain situations.
In Urban Dead, if a person does 50 things in a day, he or she passes out. You're allowed at that point to play other characters, but even then there is a limit on your IP address, and after so many moves, even if you're in the middle of a fight, your character cannot move anymore. He or she doesn't disappear from the game world, either, but stands stupidly comatose in the middle of the street, surrounded by zombies who are now just staring at you hungrily as they wait for their creators to log on.
What this means is that once you've finally gotten two or three hits on your first zombie, it's time to find a place to hide, regardless of whether or not you've killed it. The upside is that once you are in hiding, there is absolutely zero chance of an actual zombie horde busting in. Even if there are thirty of them outside, when the barricades fall, only those who are logged in will get in.
Back to the downside, though, it means that those who do get in have easy pickings. Even if there are thirty people hiding out in an elementary school, only those who are logged in can fight off the zombies. So you can create a character, waste 50 action points looking for spare ammo (you'll probably find two clips for every 50 points spent), never move from that spot, and log back in the next day to find that you are now a zombie who cannot use that extra ammo.
Finding a place to hide when you're not logged in is pretty important, which is why they've made it absolutely fucking impossible. There are buildings everywhere, and many of them are filled with people, but those people aren't you and never will be. You are on the outside, with 4 action points left, only to find that "The building has been very heavily barricaded - you can see no way to enter."
If you're lucky, you can find a place with its doors wide open, and if you're even luckier, there won't be any zombies inside. However, your first level character does not possess the elementary grasp of physics required to stack a few pieces of furniture against a door. This is a skill that must be purchased at higher levels. In other words, you're pretty much fucked.
Boy, am I glad I spent 100 points learning how to put furniture in front of a door!
The perfect balance is a building that is barricaded just strongly enough to give the zombies a hell of a time getting in, but not too strong to allow the living to find an entrance point. This, of course, relies on the intelligence and courtesy of other players. And we all know how famous online gaming is for the politeness and comaradarie of its players.
The zombies in Urban Dead are player-controlled, and one of the very few cool things about this game is that these actually are the same people you used to fight alongside. They are slow moving, in the sense that they spend twice as many action points to walk from point A to point B as a "living" player, meaning that they can be outrun. It also means that the game sucks even worse for them.
Zombies, however, still have the ability to buy skills, including speed and something called "Vigor Mortis," which we're pretty sure is an oxymoron.
Surely you knew some band on myspace would already have that name?
As you may have guessed, having the zombies controlled by players makes them even less zombie-like than the headshot immunity. Players aren't going to simply wander until they see someone to eat and then attack without regard to their own safety. They're going to go where they know there are people and they're going to move when they are wounded. Or they're going to try to find someone who can cure them.
Guys? Seriously, stop kidding around. Let me back in! I told you, I was cured!
That's right. In Urban Dead, there is a cure. Only scientists can administer it, but a simple injection will restore your zombie to his or her rightful place as a useless consumer, a useless cop, a useless firefighter, or a useless soldier. Then you can go back to hiding in the over-barricaded police station and searching for ammo until you run out of action points and the game makes you quit. Doesn't that sound awesome?