Expedition Zero’s Mechanics Are Cold

A top-secret research mission has gone wrong, and there are more anomalies here than a French nu-wave film festival, Expedition Zero is out (24th March) and survival is key.

I’m a patient guy, but I’m not going through those spotlights again for this Expedition Zero review. That’s all mouth and no trousers though, as starting a new game, I had to repeat the same thing from the demo. Fortunately, I did it first go. A few more minutes later, I forgot about the cold, died, then realised all those hours I spent on the demo had been saved in my save game file.

Hooray!

Expedition Zero is a decent survival game from Enigmatic Machines and tinyBuild. A little barebones in its application, I wasn’t prepared to repeat the same things. Still, it was nice to explore the map without restriction. There are a few more fast travel points this time around, including a shop full of zombies. There was an abundance of ammo in the demo, but I soon found myself without, finding value in a good old-fashioned axe. But that highlighted the problem with the AI: the zombies seldom moved off the spot. The same can’t be said about the ‘bigger’ enemies.

With a lack of enemies, but a fair amount of menace, it’s nice to have an encounter here and there, but swinging an axe at a stationary character was boring. I relished in the tree swinging glitch monsters who would attack you from nowhere but hide under a roof, and you could casually pick them off like fish in a barrel. The axe doesn’t help here.

Expedition Zero Review - Something's not right
Something’s not… right. Source: Screen capture

Expedition Zero is a survival horror from a first-person perspective, locating anomalies and getting rid of them. There’s a fair amount to find, but with no immediate challenge other than the elements. That’s the real killer here, or is it the lack of save games? There are two entry points: a manual save and an autosave. The manual option comes from locating a bed to rest in will trigger a spawn point (allowing for your vehicle to fast travel outside – helps with charging your battery and fast travelling if required). The second is an automated save.

The problem with the autosave is the same as in the demo as it can respawn you in an almost impossible situation – in the line of fire, or perhaps with minimal health. Note that resting on a bed does not replenish your health – you need pills for that, and there aren’t that many. Once the main area opens up, there are no fast travel points, so you’ll find yourself wandering around for a firepit or bed, but when the cold kicks in, you’re chased by demons and have limited health, or if your batteries are out, you’re effed.

Take the battery situation. I’ve crafted everything in the game, including an exoskeleton similar to Solid Snake’s. This device allows you to run faster and carry more stuff, but as it’s battery-operated, it will continually drain your battery to the point that you can’t stop. Also, this game is dark, and a flashlight is imperative. Run out of batteries? You can barely see anything. Combined with the cold, your vision will be compromised – a bit like in Breathedge. It gets to the point where you’re walking in the cold, it’s dark, and you have no idea where the next save point is, can’t see a fire pit as it’s too dark, and there are no battery chargers.

This spoils the Expedition Zero experience. Yes, it’s a survival game and a potentially good one, but there’s almost no point in having enemies as the elements (and batteries) will kill you. You don’t know where you’re going to respawn from. Let me add that the autosave kicked in at one point where I had full health and thoroughly heated, but as I wandered without my flashlight in a new area full of glitchy demon orang-utans, it wasn’t long until the autosave kicked in again, this time capturing my status of zero battery power, on the point of freezing to death, and about a fifth of health. When I died, I respawned on this basis and had to repeat the section repeatedly. The only option was to lose all this progress and return to a manual save.

While I’m whinging, the device for locating anomalies is battery-powered. You have to extinguish a series of candles in one scene while being attacked. Getting halfway through, my batteries depleted, and unable to use the device, I had to leave the area to find a charger. It’s so frustrating as up until these points, I was enjoying Expedition Zero, but for me to give it a recommendation, the AI for enemies has to be fixed (i.e. they don’t stand still while I belt them with an axe); there are more battery points, but more importantly, the save game system needs an overhaul. The counterargument would be to git gud, but it isn’t solely dependent on skill.