Wot I Think: Contagion

By Craig Pearson on May 2nd, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

What happens when you accidentally dial the number of the beast.

Contagion’s a multiplayer zombie shooter game. Yes, it’s a co-op game where players are the survivors and the undead, and yes it’s even in the Source Engine. But it’s good. It’s not great, and it has problems, but for the 9 hours I sunk into it in the past week, I’ve had lot of fun, and I’ve even had something happen to me that I’ve never had happen in a game before. Here’s Wot I Think.

I will tell you the story. I was wandering the corridors of an abAANDoNnNned police stATIon ooohooh, tracking the cardboardy crump of bullets being fired. There were only two survivors left: your handsome narrator and a guy I’ll call SFU (it was something like that). It was his panicked shooting that I was zeroing in on. The confusing layout of the station had turned me around and around in previous playthroughs, and when I loaded into this game I knew it would be a struggle to find anyone. I think that’s the point, but it’s a bit of design that I’ll complain about later on.

Thump went the bullets, and I could tell that the person clicking the trigger wasn’t doing very well. It sounded like most were hitting the walls, but at least that thump was pulling me closer. It popped through oppressive groan of the undead, leading me on. I only met a couple of zombies on my way there, through the corridors and up the stairs, and each died to a single bullet to the head. A strobing light helped me to narrow down where SFU was, and I walked through the door and into a room full of zombies.

“Don’t shoot so much,” I typed. “A headshot should suffice.”

Yeah, I used the word “suffice” in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. He thanked me and we moved off. We were on the first floor, and I knew the way. Unlike Left 4 Dead , it’s tougher to find your way about, and the levels are built for exploration and examination, not to be dragged through. This was Escape mode, so we were to find out way out, and in this level it would be up the stairs and across the wet roof. I pointed out a few clips and SFU and I were off.

He spoke little English–did he even know what suffice meant?– so we communicated with actions. He’d duck and I’d shoot over his head. We weren’t just against NPC zombies: there were players out there, and I was calmer and a better shot, so it was a good bit of teamwork to allow me to stand and fire and watch. This police station level has a few flaws, but the biggest is it sends you to the roof from the ground floor and then tells you to go to the basement. Even after a few plays I was still getting lost, and leading SFU was only making it tougher. We were surviving, but I’d shot at least two zombies who were within inches of clawing his face off. As I was doing that, a player zombie grabbed me and sunk his undead gnashers into my shoulders. SFU took a few seconds to spot it, and finally managed to pop his skull. I was weakened, but still alive. We clamoured into a lift shaft and followed the game’s text message instructions down. The phones still work.

It was back inside the station that I realised something was wrong. The colour was draining from the screen, and a swimmy effect was swooshing my camera around. I looked to SFU, who had looked to me for guidance for the past ten minutes, and realised that I’d been infected, and my health was slowly sloughing off because I was becoming a zombie. I didn’t want him to see it, and I didn’t want him to have to kill me. I ran away when he wasn’t looking, and took off through the confusing police station. As I changed, I ended up strolling around the station. Undead, alone. I wasn’t going to be one of those bad zombies. Not this round at any rate. I could still hear the pop of his gun, but this time it was telling me where to avoid. Then it stopped and the game was over.

I’m not really getting at anything with that story, but I like that the game gave it to me. I’ve never had that moment in a game before, where a small team dynamic shifted as one was turned evil. I could’ve role-played a bit more, but in my mind I still had that human connection with the other player. I couldn’t turn on him.

Besides, there’s a game mode for that. The police station largely seems stuck on the Escape scenario on the servers I’ve found, and it’s annoying because it’s an interesting space that could be used to better effect, but you mostly join others and try to escape. The route through it is confusing. You’re informed of where to go via pseudo phone messages from the rest of the team, telling you what tasks have been performed (bolt cutters found, door unlocked), but thanks to the nature of the game you could be arriving after others have covered a lot of ground, so those messages could be about an event towards the end of the mode. It doesn’t help that in this particular level, you escape by climbing to the roof and then heading to the basement AND that the objectives are randomly generated.

Even though my favourite story is from the Escape game mode, I’ve had most fun in Hunt. Hunt is a PvPvPvZ mode. As each player dies, they join the undead, so survivors have to worry about humans, human controlled zombies, and the undead cruft that shuffle around. There’s a park level that allow people to float in and out of hedgerows, listening–always listening–and I’ve died more than once from an act of shrubbery, but it’s the city map–Barlowe Square– that’s kept me coming back.

Contagion is a slow game, kept even slower by a stamina bar. It’s pitch black in Barlowe Square, hammering with rain and barely lit. All your senses are sucked in like a deep breath, so you move slower still. There, in the wet dark, any shelter is welcomed. The square map isn’t huge, but the density is impressive. There are alleys and fire escapes. There’s a working cinema, a gun shop, a multi-story town hall, and a huge subway space for players to hide in. It feels more like a first-person multiplayer Resident Evil 2 than Left 4 Dead. Each person begins with a pistol, and everyone wants better guns, so you’re fighting for the little ammo and weaponry spread around the level and to see who’ll survive until the end. That’s where the tension comes from. A survival of the baddest, but where the people you kill will return as the undead. I don’t have stories from it, but one moment stuck out: I was watching a player controlled zombie through the a sniper scope. They move differently from regular undead–though you can press B and lumber around like an NPC– and as I tracked him he grabbed another player from behind and started gnashing. I counted down a few seconds and shot the zombie before he fully killed the player. He was rescued, but he’d soon turn into one of those things.

In Hunt, it’s necessary to keep everyone in a state of confusion because it’s a mano-a-mano-a-zombo. I am fine with the humans being a bit lost, but when you end up dead you’ll often be placed far away. In this mode you need to know the layout of the level as there’s nothing but gunfire to lead you. In Escape your alternate vision mode will light the way with glowing footsteps, but I’m surprised that something similar isn’t employed when you’re life-challenged in Hunt.

Extraction is a happy medium, and it’s probably the smartest mode in terms of gaminess. It works because it directs you from scene to scene, though the open maps will allow you to move as you choose, and then lets you get on with the event. The survivors move between houses, hunting for NPC survivors to rescue. You find them by following a map on your phone, then hole up in their house as the zombie numbers increase, before leading them to safety. It’s a classic scenario of the zombie oeuvre, and people dash about the house boarding up windows and closing doors. Then the hands start scrambling through windows and doors.

I haven’t really touched on the undead. When you die, you’ll return as a zombie. Human controlled zombies have swipes and bites they can inflict, a vision mode that lights everything up, and a roar that gathers more. They also have twice as much stamina as the humans. That last part is a good compromise, but I think more needs to be done. In Escape the alt vision mode will show footsteps leading to the players, though it sometimes delivers you to the floor below. Fix it and stick it in every mode. Hunt in particular needs it, because there is no structure. I can understand the human players being left to fight, but if the role of the undead is to make life tough for the players, a way of finding them on Hunt is necessary. It’s too much guess work for now. But it’s generally not a punishment to die. I quite like being a zombie. Play it tactically, use your bite to separate people from the group as well as adding that unease about potential infection, and it’s as much fun as the survivors.

It’s not a game that will trouble the Steam Stats, and it’s in a genre that’s already well represented on the PC, but Contagion does have a small role to play in the great gaming zombie apocalypse. I quite like it.

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41 Comments »

  1. sabasNL says:

    I’ll wait for Left 4 Dead 3

    • armchaircowboys says:

      It’s really nothing like L4D. The escape mode is one of the best, if not THE best, zombie survival game modes I have ever had the pleasure of playing. The game lacks content though, but it is also cheap. If you can get some friends in on it, escape mode is well worth the price of admission alone. Add to that the Hunter mode and the over the top insane Extraction mode and you have a game I can not recommend enough to fans of the genre.

    • TheRealHankHill says:

      This game feels like what L4D was supposed to be imo

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  2. jonfitt says:

    Seems like L4D but with more of a leaning towards traditional Zombie-movie values. I can get behind that.

  3. Pulstar says:

    I didn’t enjoy it. Seemed clunky. There’s also a free mod with zombie kids that I think plays a bit better.

  4. w0bbl3r says:

    I found the devs total babies.
    I found them in a thread I had created (I was early access, and the game had JUST gone live that day) saying the game seemed to be more fun whilst it was still in beta, and one of them (the devs that is) was totally bashing on this guy who innocently said he thought the loading screens were better in the beta version. “That’s you’re opinion, you’re wrong, you’re stupid, they are totally better now don’t be stupid” was pretty much the first response.
    Someone then said they were like this a lot, and had banned people for the slightest criticism, closed threads for the slightest criticism if it gained any momentum at all, and were just real tantrum-throwing kids in general.
    I stood up for them at first, saying I hadn’t seen any of that kind of thing, but said that their response to the post about loading screens was a bit silly. But, I said, if they were like that and I saw that kind of thing, I wouldn’t be supporting them or buying from them in the future.
    I was banned immediately, and the reason was around 100 words long, saying I had ignored warnings (I had none), the devs were allowed to have opinions (which they had totally jumped on me and this other guy for having), and I had been abusive and broken numerous forum rules. Banned for life from a forum I had only used that one time for the most part, except the occasional bug and player report in early access.
    The game is a bit crap, but shows a lot of promise. They went out of their way to make it as confusing and difficult as possible, mostly while being totally unfair to new players. I like many of the mechanics, but since it is an online game which will require updates from the devs, I can’t recommend it unless they grow up

    Here is the full reason for my ban:

    “You have been permanently banned from all Contagion discussions.
    You were banned by a Contagion developer.
    Reason: “Developers are allowed to have opinions and state that they’re opinions. You’re not allowed to break a majority of the forum rules, insult developers, act like a rotten child, get warned instead of banned, and then ignore that only to up the ante and prove yourself nothing but a troll who is not interested in the least about the game but instigating conflict. You’ll need to find another forum/blog/group/whatever to act out and have your tantrums.”"

    Insane, right? i did none of those things, I was just trying to make a point about IF they were childish and pissy they wouldn’t get my custom again, and stating my opinion (that’s what forums are for, right?) that I thought the game seemed better in beta than after release.

    • silentdan says:

      Man, that’s nuts. I’ve withdrawn from participating in one or two Steam forums because of developers closing threads prematurely for specious reasons, but that takes the cake. Pity I’ve already bought Contagion, so I can’t deprive them of a sale, but I’ll certainly make a note of those involved and avoid their projects in the future.

    • Tiax says:

      Thanks for sharing, they just lost a sale.

    • HadToLogin says:

      In their “defense”, I’m guessing that’s the same “ban-message” they send to everyone they ban.

      Not that it is any defense.

    • Frank says:

      Wow, even if you *had* done those things, the response you quoted them as giving would be incredibly unprofessional.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      That kind of dev abuse is becoming more and more common at the Steam forums. Why the fuck don’t Valve step up and do something about it?

      As far as Contagion itself goes, my experience with the game was sub-par. Not enough players, not nearly enough maps to keep me invested for long and some really poor map design to boot. I played it during the holiday though, so maybe things have changed since then.

    • treat says:

      I was banned from the Zombie Panic forums back in the ZP:S days for similar reasons; merely disagreeing with Tatsur0 (the dev lead of ZP:S and now Contagion) on how he was treating fans and handling the input from the community. What’s worse is that the rest of his dev teams and even the community playtesters seem to follow his lead, acting with calloused arrogance and disregard toward the most passionate players. While it’s nice to see that this is finally coming back to bite him in the ass with Contagion, it’s a bit disappointing considering this is a truly excellent game that’s trying (and succeeding at) a lot of neat things that have been absent in the genera for a long time, especially with the Hunted mode. I can’t stand the people involved in the games development either but I can’t let that fault lay with the game itself.

      • Derpa says:

        Seems what you saw on the ZPS forums with the rest of the community is different then what I saw.

        • DarkSaber2k says:

          Sounds almost exactly how it was between Zombie Panic and Zombie Panic:Source to me as well. Gave up even waiting on ZP;S because of Tatsur0s attitude.

      • w0bbl3r says:

        The name Tatsur0 seems very very familiar.
        He was either the guy who banned me, or one of the guys who was being a total ass to the other users and myself in the comments in the thread I mentioned before.
        The previous post where I quoted their reason for my ban is copy-pasted from their forum page, where I see a huge red banner with all that writing in it now any time I go there
        It’s nice to see the community in general knows what these guys are like
        Hopefully they will lose a lot of sales due to people reading the comments here and learning what kind of developer they would be supporting

      • sophof says:

        This seems to be a problem that’ll solve itself. Like you said, they are mistreating their most loyal fans, that is not a very solid business plan…

        • Tatsur0 says:

          If that were even remotely true we would be concerned. Unfortunately not everyone is willing to follow your basic forum rules and find warnings to be challenges and not advice then vent elsewhere often making out those protecting users into mindless, immature, and destructive entities. Our community both those who like or dislike myself would imho argue these people had what was coming and have already thanked us for keeping the forums free of the spam, trolling, hate, hijacking, profanity, etc.

    • CandyMan says:

      The developers on this game are exactly this… Don’t support them!

    • danijami23 says:

      What a load of douchebags, really hate people who behave that way. However, I think not buying their game based on that is a little silly, since we are forever supporting products that have far worse people behind them (Like the laptop/desktop these comments have been typed on). We also wouldn’t be buying a WHOLE load of rock albums for this reason.

    • hatseflats says:

      Thank you, they had my attention, but now they can forget about selling anything to me.

    • RiptoR says:

      I’ve had a similar experience.

      I had been following the development of the game for quite a while, and when their Kickstarter campaign started, I immediately pledged for the 4-pack to support them. I usually wait a bit to see if the Kickstarter campaign gains any momentum and see what updates the devs bring, but this time I didn’t wait because I was genuinely interested in the game and the devs seemed like nice guys. To thank their early adopters, they also stated that the Kickstarter “prices” would be the lowest price the game would see for at least a couple of months. And this is where the “problems” began.

      Not even a month after the game had been released on Steam, there was a huge sale. I was suprised to see that Contagion was also in the sale at an astonishing 75% off. A lot of Kickstarter supporters started complaining on the Steam forums, pointing out that the devs had lied to their early adopters. It didn’t take long for the devs to jump in and start deleting these posts, even handing out (temporary) bans at random. I was among the people that got banned for expressing their disappointment in how the devs handled the sale and subsequent complaints.

      I had written a reply to one of the complaint threads in which I tried to stay as respectful as possible. I checked the forums when I came home from work the following day, only to notice that every negative thread had been deleted, and I was banned for “constantly lying, bullying/harrasment, and trying to undermine the authority of the developers”. I was quite surprised with the reason, especially since I only wrote about things I knew for sure were true. I had even linked to page where they had commented on the Kickstarter prices, and ofcourse that page was nowhere to be found anymore (I had bookmarked it, and it lead to a non-existing page).

      I immediately uninstalled the game and haven’t looked back since. I even have 2 keys left from the Kickstarter pledge somewhere, but I can’t be bothered to find out where exactly. My interest in and respect for the game and its developers is practically non-existant after this whole debacle.

      • plugmonkey says:

        Thanks for the heads up, peeps. I think I’ll pass too.

      • Tatsur0 says:

        We can all claim we’re nothing but respectful and polite. But saying it and it being the truth are two different things. I tried to help but you took it as a challenge. I’m honestly not sure how I could have handled you better as I was nothing be respectful and polite while also direct and clear.

        • nonbreaker says:

          “We can all claim we’re nothing but respectful and polite. But saying it and it being the truth are two different things.”

          “I was nothing be respectful and polite…”

          LOL

  5. King_Rocket says:

    It a pretty fun little game, although I think I preferred the emphasis on the player controlled zombies in Zombie Panic.

  6. bangalores says:

    A very fair WIT for a game that’s still very early in its life I hope. One thing that might have deserved mentioning is that this is pretty much a direct and more fleshed out (hehe) sequel to the Zombie Panic mod, which might spark some interest in anyone who played and enjoyed that back in its heyday.

    For what it’s worth, I quite like this game and easily lost 10+ hours to it back in the first couple weeks of early access. To me it almost seemed like a much more realistic and varied L4D with a little Killing Floor sprinkled on top. Don’t really know what people are talking about with it being “clunky”, I found the shooting mechanics to be pretty tight if you were able to get a good connection. Looking forward to reinstalling today and playing the full release version.

  7. TheRealHankHill says:

    I disagree, this game is awesome. It is great even.

  8. CandyMan says:

    Tatsur0 the fat bald guy in charge of this whole game is a total douchebag… He covers up all the hate on the game just so he can sucker in a few more sales on his already boring zombie game. Don’t buy this game it’s just plain boring and extremely repetitive! The games dead in players because it’s got no lasting appeal to it, and he wants to throw DLC in the mix soon to the already limited 4 maps of content. Just play NMRIH it’s free and has better developers….

    • wazanator says:

      You do know that the DLC is going to be free right? As in it states right there on the Steam store page that it will be free later this year along with Linux, OSX and Oculus Rift support.

    • Tatsur0 says:

      I’m not yet bald. Balding! Only my children get to call me fat :(

      NMRiH had a lot of hard work put into it and I’ve always been an avid supporter since day 1 announcement back when it was Coleman and a few developers. Have done all we can to help :)

  9. Premium User Badge

    cpt_freakout says:

    I’m a KS backer of this game, and while I’m relatively pleased with the results, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the extremely slow pace. A single session might take you an hour or more if there’s people who don’t know the maps by heart. When you turn into a zombie, for example, you could spent a good while just finding your way through the whole thing if the survivors aren’t praying n’ spraying for you to follow the audio queues. Not only that, but the game’s maps, while excellent, are still too few to give players like me a good sense of variety.

    However, I do think that this is an advancement of the L4D model, and it does coop in a much more interesting way, at least in the Escape scenario. Still, L4D, with its arcade feel, was much more fun to play in terms of gunplay in general, and the servers were usually much more stable and less laggy. Contagion is good, but it’s still missing a few tweaks here and there to make it truly great.

  10. Logi93 says:

    I bought this game when it was on steam sale for 75%, considering that I’m not bothered at all by the fact that Contagion is a great game right up to the point where it no longer is.
    By which I mean, the games repetition of its limited maps yield very little to no interest for me after 116 hours of logged steam hours. (I might add I’ve felt like this since before I logged 100+ hours)

    I guess player made maps will even it out a bit eventually but I’m not sure how excited I should be for a bunch of half-assed maps with the occasional ‘nearly-done-well-map’
    And then there’s the oh so many complaints I read on many a forums about the dev team, or the lead dev to be specific even. I personally have no clue and don’t really care much for judging a product by it’s maker instead of the products content and features – but to have anybody in charge of the production of any product whatsoever turn down, and away their consumers for various low-blow reasons isn’t exactly inspiring confidence on the other hand.

    In conclusion; I’ve enjoyed at least (maybe a bit less than) 100 hours of the game, and for 5 bucks that’s satisfying to me. However I would not have bought this game with my current knowledge of it for it’s current price.

  11. babbler says:

    Reading this I couldn’t figure out why the game seemed so familiar. I remember being lost in some building as a survivor that sounded just like what was written about here. I didn’t realize that this was made by the same people as Zombie Panic.

    • wazanator says:

      Actually the ZPS team is completely separate from the contagion team the only thing we have in common with one another is Tatsur0

  12. bl4ckrider says:

    I personally don’t like the team switching mechanic in these games.

    If you play a coop game trying to achieve an objective with a group, going against the people you protected and who have proteced you because you have been defeated doesn’t make sense to me. You still root for the team and by going against your former team you sabotage your own achievements.

    • Tatsur0 says:

      Server hosts can disable player zombies all together. It’s in the advanced settings for those that personally prefer to avoid this feature. Hope that helps.

  13. Clarkopus says:

    I wish I checked the steam forums before I gave the developers my money and support… The developers act as if they’re 13 year old and the next best thing since sliced bread. They honestly have no respect for their paying customers and fans from what I have seen. You challenge them with your opinions on the game, no matter how nice and respectful you are to them, they will fly at you and either attempt to fly their fan boy army at you, ban you or just remove the thread if you win a debate.

    I like the game, which hurts a lot since I have so much hate for their current development team… I’m not going to be supporting these kids again with any future project… They honestly don’t deserve the sales or any sort of credibility .

  14. The_Hunter says:

    Play “No More Room in Hell” instead. It’s a better game, albeit one with less toys, and the devs are friendly and respectful.

    The Contagion team act a bunch of childish assholes.

  15. PegasusOrgans says:

    The owner is an extremely rude guy. Stay away, and wait for LFD 3. This game is junk.

  16. Tatsur0 says:

    After many requests I’ve finally stepped in and to say something about our game Contagion and the truth after I finally gave in and read some of the comments here.

    Contagion is an Indie Game that is quite unlike the free, Indie, and AAA titles available. It has achieved significant breakthroughs with the Source Engine and has received a incredible amount of praise that pulls at the heart strings. It is out now on Full Release but we’ve put a great deal more money than we’ve made back into the game so that this year would be even more memorable and that we could pull off the Fix that so many Zombie Enthusiasts and gamers alike could appreciate.

    With 16 Visually Stunning main characters (updates a coming), Well over 10 Official Maps, Already releasing 2 new game-modes, Steam Workshop, and our Authoring Tools to get the community involved! 2 full days of Motion Capture work yet to go in as we rebuild the layered animation/blending system that really adds to the game. Plenty of new weapons, another 2 game-modes in the works, and free content. We’ve made it clear since 2010 that anything added to the game including “DLC” would be free and we’ve stuck to it. We will not charge users extra for new weapons, maps, dlc, OVR, Steam Machine, Linux & Mac platform support. Major updates every month!

    As for the false accusations that we’ve bullied or treated users inappropriately we can only apologize if you’re willing to believe users who were banned for breaking numerous forum rules, ignoring written warnings, temp ban warnings, then permabans after they made it clear if they can’t act out and treat others like scum this was unacceptable and they would not tolerate the moderators further breaking rules and inventing stories like those we can read above. We do have a thread for users to criticize how we’ve handled ourselves and we listen. I’m not at all surprised that the trolls are trolling whenever our name comes up we just hope that more people are a bit more skeptical that someone banned may be banned more for their inappropriate actions and less the EVIL INDIES. A brief look at our Steam Group should show that we allow both positive and negative ‘contstructive criticism’ and comparisons for the benefit of those thinking of paying for the game.

    I apologize for the wall of text and hope my voice is worth just as much time as those who would post fabrications cause they can’t post in the group discussions anymore. Thank you :)