At this point in the zombie genre’s life cycle, you’d think we would be putting it out to pasture. Letting it taste that fresh dewy grass for one last time, before we take it out back, and drive a pneumatic spike into its’ over-saturated brain… However! This damn undead bovine just keeps producing so much tasty zombie milk, that we can’t quite get our fill. It does seem that The Walking Dead has walked off a cliff, and movie audiences have grown tired of the shuffling flash eaters. Gamers, on the other hand, really do game on. What with remakes of classic zombie games, new Resi titles, and every other shooter apparently having a zombie mode these days. Compounded to that, we also get the occasional new zombie-themed IP. One such new entrant, is the delightful and entertaining indie game, The Caretaker.
Gaining a new perspective
I was immediately taken with the camera angle and character controls. The simplicity of moving “Dan” around the ruined city marries perfectly with the knee jerk reactions needed when engaging hostiles in close quarters. The Caretaker’s wide top-down view could quite easily lose the necessary claustrophobic feel for a zombie game, however, the developer did a great job of balancing this by limiting light sources available to the player. In some indoor sections, you will only have your meagre flashlight beam to shine in the dark. Here you will find the faster moving enemies a real threat, and the sound effects will play a great part in keeping you apprised of any nearby monsters.
Any Resident Evil fans will quite quickly recognise some classic series’ tropes. Players will go through the old knife/handgun/shotgun… progression of weapon pickups throughout the areas of the game. Further nods to that franchise include a lock and key system based on colours, and a healing system involving different medicine types for each wound/effect you will suffer. Also, expect a little backtracking now and then! I liked the enemy types and found the pace of their introduction quite effective. You will have enough time to learn new enemies patterns and attacks gradually, for the most part, though there are some surprises.
You can’t just be the good guy and expect to live…
The Caretaker takes place in the ruins of a small city, torn apart by an unknown cataclysmic event. The resulting chaos sees monsters roam the streets, and the remaining human population horrifically zombified. It was immediately reminiscent of Resident Evil 2’s Racoon City, and that’s not a bad thing. I found these nostalgia bursts quite warming, and never exhausting. The story will be unveiled to you through documents found along the way. The developer has done a good job of giving depth to what may have been a quite linear experience. Exploration will net you more ammo and healing items. However, enemies will respawn in already cleared areas, so there are never truly any safe zones.
A full playthrough of The Caretaker took me around 4 hours. Bear in mind that was exploring fully, and me being useless at puzzles. One feature I would have liked to see in The Caretaker was a New Game mode. I think the inclusion of more challenging playthroughs would have suited the game well. This may, or may not, have included playing as a bar of tofu. As it stands, there is a Survival Mode(Horde mode), which does add some replayability, though I can’t honestly say I would spend too much time with it. These are all important considerations prior to purchase of course, as I do like weighing a cost: duration ratio for games. Currently, The Caretaker is €8.19 on Steam, so it won’t break the bank either way.
When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth
On the downside, and this is a big concern, I did encounter one game-ending glitch. This highlighted a flaw in design with The Caretaker, as you are only allowed to have one save on the go at any one time. Unable to load back an earlier save, I was forced to start the game over again. That said, I did not encounter any other bugs or glitches during my playtime, and the circumstances for the game-ending glitch would be very difficult to replicate.
Most importantly, The Caretaker was a very positive experience overall. I loved the setting, the creature sounds, and the enemy variety. The story is unveiled cleverly, and the boss battles are challenging, without being frustrating. I can quite heartily recommend the game to any fans of the genre, which is basically everyone these days.