Survivor-like games have become a popular genre since Vampire Survivors where many developers are trying to put their own spin on it. FatalZone is one twist on the formula by going for a zombie-themed slaying experience in Steam Early Access. While it sometimes falls short, it still introduces a few unique mechanics to the genre.
Before jumping into my FatalZone preview it’s worth mentioning that I’ve put a little over 20 hours into it so far. Also, I’ve gotten 44 of the 50 currently available unlocks. And I like to consider myself experienced with the genre as I’ve played a ton of mobile survivor-likes as well as many on PC too. Not to mention having created many guides for Vampire Survivors.
One of the toughest hurdles I find for survivor-likes to stand out is the weapon variety. I don’t blame a lack of creativity for this issue but rather because some of them are too good to pass up. Such as having an area around you that consistently deals damage. Fortunately, due to FatalZone’s zombie apocalypse theme, they’re able to come up with original takes on each weapon.
In this case, we have the Biodestructor which creates a forcefield around your character. But, I’m more fond of the Japanese-influenced weapons such as the Kusarigama which is essentially a flail. Or the Kunai instead of just throwing knives at zombies. However, the developer has more setting-appropriate weapons like a grenade launcher, a spear, a shotgun, and even a mortar to blow apart the area.
Outside of the weapons you get, I like the way FatalZone handles meta-progression. It’s more creative than simply picking another upgrade or buff without it feeling tied to the world in any way. Instead, you can bring resources back from each raid and contribute them to upgrading your camp. This includes buildings like the Infirmary, the Workshop, your Gate, and more.
Each one serves a purpose in strengthening your crew of mercenaries. First, you have the Workshop for upgrading your starter weapon and armor. Second, there’s the Gym that unlocks perks for each mercenary as they level up. And the more interesting one revolves around the Infirmary.
This is part of the evacuation mechanic that makes FatalZone unique for better or worse. Unlike most survivor-likes, you can escape early so you don’t risk the chance of losing your character. Which leads to the more controversial decision of adding difficulty by having permadeath. This creates an unfortunate situation where you can lose meta-progression if you’re not careful.
As a fan of roguelikes and roguelites, permadeath can work well but I think it takes more away from FatalZone than it adds. This is because you rarely get to a point where you feel overpowered and I think that’s a significant part of what makes survivor-like games enjoyable. Therefore, if you have to constantly escape early to prevent dying, it slows down your progress and prevents you from reaching that overpowered state.
The problem is it takes too long to level up your character and upgrade enough buildings to reach that fun chaos. If you don’t mind putting in 10 or 15 hours, you’ll get to that point more consistently as long as you don’t lose your character. Otherwise, you’re back to a fresh level 1 mercenary and only have a few benefits from your camp upgrades.
With that said, revives do exist in FatalZone but I haven’t seen many opportunities to get them aside from the Survivor class. It’d be nice for these to become more attainable because the game currently forces you to play the most optimal way and not take risks. This can make an already limited mob variety feel repetitive when you struggle to reach the late game.
Permanent death aside, FatalZone does have an interesting mechanic that plays more into character progression. Continuing with the zombie theme, your mercenary will become mutated the longer they spend in a raid. While you can cure mutations and debuffs at the Infirmary, some of them are actually positive.
Despite not providing any major changes, they’re instead stat modifiers like health regeneration, dealing less damage, armor, extra speed, etc. This continues to be part of why losing your mercenary can hurt. Especially if you want to try the harder zone difficulties.
One last thing bugging me in FatalZone is that the performance drops as you get into the late game. As you’d expect, there are more effects triggering and enemies on screen. This unfortunately hinders the performance and can lead to a steady fps below 30. I’m not one to mind a consistent 30 fps, but once it drops below that, it starts to get rough. Hopefully the developers can optimize it before the full release.
Overall, if you’re looking for another cheap survivor-like, FatalZone is an okay experience that’s likely to improve over time. I’m curious to see the finished product with more weapon evolutions and polish.
FatalZone was provided by the publisher via a Steam code.
Jeff is a journalist with over 10 years of experience writing, streaming, and making content about video games. With an associate degree in journalism, he’s a sucker for RPGs, survival games, roguelikes, and more.