Project Zomboid showed me that 11 years of The Walking Dead was useless
I’ve always entertained the idea of an apocalypse. I mean, zombies are definitely scary, but it’d be a cool fantasy to play out. Over the years, I’ve even formed my own little plan. Loot some local houses and then set up a base in the fire station on my street. They’ve got electric gates and metal fences to guard the perimeter, a renewable power source thanks to a wind turbine on the roof, and a really handy watchtower. I thought 11 years of The Walking Dead would’ve prepared me fairly well and I fancied my chances. So, I made myself in Project Zomboid. It turns out, everything I learned from The Walking Dead was useless.
My Zomboid character was modeled as close to me as possible, which ended up being a very bad character build. Zomboid asks you to pick from a list of positive and negative traits, and I got a lot of negatives. A sleepy, clumsy, disorganised guy with poor eyesight and hearing. Oh, and he’s scared of anything gory. This does not bode well. Still, I think he’s poised for greatness. Most classic heroes are defined by their flaws, after all. Achilles heel and all that. Maybe the great flaw that I’ll overcome is being completely unprepared for the apocalypse in every way possible.
It all kicks off in some kind of abandoned office. Maybe RPS crumbled and I’m the only one left. As I comb through the desks hoping for half-eaten apples and any other apocalyptic delights to munch on, I find a strange amount of nightsticks. Why does everyone in the RPS treehouse have nightsticks in their desks?
Oh wait, no. I’m in a police station.
I’m not sure what I did to be in there, but hey, I’m not in a jail cell so there’s that. I explore the station further, hoping to find an armoury stocked with guns and ammo like in the premiere of The Walking Dead. That show makes it pretty clear that guns are perfect in the apocalypse. You can mow down hordes of the undead and get nothing but a scratch if you’re the main character, and I’m definitely the main character in my Zomboid save, so I have plenty of plot armour. Unfortunately, I’m not lucky enough to find big cabinets filled with guns, but there are some sturdy clothes that should protect me from bites and other brain-eating nastiness. Despite my flawed character build, this is looking like a decent start.
After leaving the police station, I start looking around for a car. The Walking Dead makes it very clear that you should head straight to the nearest big city, so I wander over to some nearby vehicles, only to come face to face with my biggest foe: walkers, zeds, shamblers, or freaks. If I’ve learned anything from The Walking Dead and a lot of other zombie fiction, it’s to never actually say the word “zombie” when you’re in the apocalypse.
The fight was intense, but my plot armour (and all of those police batons I found) helped me survive. With corpses starting to litter the car park and the light starting to fade, I quickly loop around and check all of the cars. Locked, locked, and locked. Okay, so that plan didn’t work out. I could smash a window, but I don’t want to risk alerting the horde of undead lurking further down the street. So, like my favourite TV heroes, I hatch a cunning plan. If I manage to take down all of those walkers, I can take this car and make my way to Louisville, which is the biggest city in Zomboid.
With that, my stealth kill montage begins. You could (and should) picture me cutting throats and chopping heads, quickly gutting every zed in my path. In reality, it’s much more clumsy. I make a lot of noise and experience some very close calls that almost end Zomboid Hayden before his life really gets going. But, I make it out alive. Plot armour, baby. Maybe The Walking Dead is accurate and dealing with hordes of the ravenous undead is a piece of cake.
As I look up from the blood-covered battleground, I lay eyes on the golden goose. The holy grail. That thing that the protagonist searches for and always finds towards the end of the season. For some, it’s a lost relative, or a potential cure or a glimpse of their hometown on the horizon. A promise of new stories to come and new adventures to be had. For me, it’s the fire station that I’ve always dreamed of. A safe haven. A home. Somewhere to hide and hopefully not starve. I could live quietly, peacefully, and without drama, like all of those The Walking Dead time skips when nothing eventful happens.
Wait, did someone mention starving? People don’t starve in The Walking Dead, right? They find entire functional farms and magic up infrastructure between seasons. Maybe I should just log off and hope that Zomboid places heaps of food in my cupboards before the next session. Another lie from my favourite zombie show. Sigh. This apocalypse stuff is way harder than they make it look on TV.
After frantically searching the fire station for food and finding absolutely nothing (not even a cracker), I head back out. A short trek through the forest and a few close calls with the undead later, I stumble upon a small house that surely contains food. Tinned food is like gold in the apocalypse, so cupboards stocked with the stuff is like finding a dragon’s hoard at the end of a dungeon. Well, before I could even get inside and start munching, two more walkers shamble around the corner. I’m starving, carrying way too many nightsticks, and extremely tired. This is a fight to the death, my big action scene.
I beg that you just picture something really cool. Maybe I swung a katana around like a badass ninja, or crafted a spiked baseball bat and went to town like Negan. Anything is better than the flailing mess of a fight that ensued in which I was constantly dragged to the ground by a crawling, err… crawler. Still, after a few minutes of button-mashing and nightstick-swinging, I survived. This plot armour stuff sure is handy, but that’s enough trouble for one day. To the victor go the spoils or whatever they say, and I’m ready for some food and a night of healthy sleep.
I jimmy the lock on the window, but as it slides open, the unthinkable happens. A house alarm blares into the silent night, ringing a dinner bell for every brain-eating corpse in the neighbourhood. That could not have gone any worse. Okay, maybe this is my big finale moment. I spin around, desperately scanning for an escape path. With nowhere to go, I run down the road as the undead crowd around me. If this was The Walking Dead, it would have cut to black as the protagonist stared their own demise in the face, only to escape it in the opening moments of the next episode. I didn’t fare so well. As I shamble down the street, bloodied and bruised from my adventure, the living dead pile on and begin their feast.
So, 11 years of dedicated The Walking Dead viewing was useless. One big lie that’s going to get you killed. Zomboid does, in its defence, try to warn you right at the start, as every save begins with the phrase: “This is how you died.” Heed that warning, folks, and use the tips and tricks guide I wrote instead. There are plenty of good lessons to learn in there. Regardless, my real-life plan is still head to the fire station up the road. Those electric gates are just perfect, I reckon. Maybe I’ll do a big Lidl shop beforehand so that I can stock up on biscuits to sustain me during that time skip. I’d probably find a bunch of nightsticks there as well. You never know what you might find in the middle of Lidl.