The world has ended. Mutants and bandits abound. The weather is terrible, you’re not sure where your next meal will come from, but at least you have a gun. Probably. Your job is just to try and survive as best you can amidst the rubble of the past. Scavenging, eking out an existence and trying your best not to get shot by the locals, or eaten by the local wildlife… Welcome to Zero Sievert [Steam Link].
Inspired by the mechanics of such titles as Stalker and Escape From Tarkov, in Zero Sievert you’ll be doing your absolute best to try and survive in a harsh land plagued with enemies and hazards. You’ll kit up, head out into the wilderness, explore the land searching for resources and materials, and do your best to try and escape safely in order to do the same another day. The gameplay loop is very similar to Tarkov in that respect – instead of PvP however, it’s PvE that’s the ruler of the day, and the AI can often hit back just as hard as you can dish it out.
Instead of being a first-person shooter, however, Zero Sievert opts instead for a top-down perspective, with a fixed camera hovering above the player character and aiming done via moving the mouse. Movement is utilised via the usual WASD system now used in most games. Your inventory is accessed via tab and in this, you can drag any materials you find on your exploratory trips, ready to be brought back to the bunker and either sold or kept for your own purposes such as crafting. Finally, a PDA is accessed via J, which gives you the ability to check what objectives you have or see how your skills are progressing.
Starting From Scratch
In Zero Sievert, you start in a bunker with not much to your name – a few scraps of materials, a gun and some ammo, and a safe haven you can return to when you inevitably die. The bunker has NPC’s you can take jobs from, in order to improve your reputation and be able to buy better equipment and materials and get some rewards such as money & equipment. This equipment takes the various usual forms such as armour, weaponry and healthcare but also upgrades for your hideout – the missions are a nice way of tracking progress and can vary from finding various items or eliminating enemies, and are a good way to explore the game and learn the maps one by one.
Once you’ve got your quests ready, it’s time to suit up to prepare for what awaits. You’ll need to decide on what gun to use, what armour you want to protect you, what medicine and other supplies you want to take in, and finally make sure you stock up on plenty of ammo. Most things other than armour can be scavenged from the map, and anything you can’t scavenge you could just outright buy from the various traders in the bunker instead. It’s important to make decisions on what equipment you want to use, as weapons and armour all have trade-offs: for armour, some are great at dealing with physical damage but don’t help much against radiation.
Others offer more protection but are also more fragile and will need more repairs more frequently, taxing your monetary reserves somewhat. For weaponry, pistols and smg’s are generally cheaper and easy to find ammo for, have little recoil compared to the bigger alternatives, but come with the drawback of less stopping power. Conversely, sniper rifles are supremely powerful and can even 1 shot some enemies, but are expensive, hard to reliably find ammo for and have small magazine capacity. I personally went with the assault rifles mostly, with a sniper as a secondary – this loadout offered a good balance of lethality and versatility.
Into The Wilderness
When you’re ready, it’s time for you to take the train and head into one of the maps. The maps are part procedurally generated – there are some locations, such as the village in the forest, that always spawn but the areas between these are random and could contain a myriad of threats, or opportunities, to deal with. Once you’ve completed your objectives, found the loot you want or just feel like extracting, then its time to leave – the edges of the map contain extraction points, marked with a green circle on your PDA’s map, and you need to traverse your way over to one of these.
However, death awaits you in Zero Sievert. It’s quite a hard game, and the AI can be brutal at times, especially some of the later game threats. If you do die, you don’t lose any materials you brought into the raid, but equally you don’t keep anything you have looted whilst in the raid either. This means you need to assess your risk – do you push to gather as much as possible and risk the loot you’ve already gathered? Or do you instead bug out with what you have and content yourself with what you already have? This risk-reward facet to gameplay is extremely important and will have a major impact on how you play.
Moving back to the AI, it can be both very difficult and very easy to face, depending on your own equipment, skills, and what equipment they possess both in terms of the gun and the ammo they have. They have access to a full arsenal of weaponry, just like the player: this runs the gamut from pistols, to SMG’s, assault rifles, all the way up to sniper rifles. Generally, you don’t want to get hit by anything, but the bigger their gun, the more dangerous they are to you. Many a time I died to sniper rifles being shot at me, but shotguns were fairly easy to avoid and pistols and SMG’s would be stopped by even my low tier armour.
One of the more important mechanics in Zero Sievert are skills – these offer an RPG-lite aspect to the game, and allow you to specialise into certain facets of your gameplay. For example, your shooting skill is levelled up naturally by just shooting guns and hitting enemies, and once you reach a threshold you can choose to specialise – my choice was fast hands, which allowed me to reload guns much faster and added a small buff to reduce recoil. The bonuses on offer are nice additions but don’t break the balance of the game, and are a useful tool to utilise.
Similar to the games it’s inspired by, Zero Sievert has crafting and modification systems for the player to utilise. With crafting, you can produce food, medicine and ammunition amongst other things, and this can be very useful and makes things cheaper than outright purchasing from traders, if that is even an option as some equipment can only be found from scavenging. In addition, you’re allowed to modify your guns, just like Tarkov – stocks, grips, barrels, muzzle attachments, sights, accessories – all are able to be modified to the players wish. I had a lot of fun gathering attachments for my gun to make a silenced behemoth of a gun.
The player will also need to keep track of their hunger, thirst, fatigue and radiation in the game. The first 3 decay naturally and you’ll need to top off with plenty of food and liquids, as well as sleep, in order to combat them. Sleep can be had in the hideout, in your own bed once you’ve upgraded your own corner of the bunker, and food and drink can either be scavenged or purchased. Radiation on the other hand will be accrued when passing particularly dangerous areas, and you’ll hear your Geiger counter go off when in a location which has been heavily dosed. To remove radiation you’ll need to use anti rad pills you’ve found, or use the doctor back in the bunker although this costs money.
Loot Goblin, Reporting For Duty
There are various enemies that you’ll face during the course of Zero Sievert – these range from beasts such as boars and wolves, to more exotic enemies such as ghouls and blinks. These can drop meat and monster parts which are useful for quests and crafting. There are also other humanoid enemies such as bandits, soldiers, scientists and private military contractors to contend with – their danger level varies, but the more dangerous the opponent the better the loot they’ll have on offer.
The graphical design of the game is fun, and suits the game really well. Pixel’y graphics can often be a bit hit and miss with me, but I found them really well suited for the game and it didn’t detract from the mechanics in any way for me – I found myself getting just as immersed as any high fidelity, high budget game out there. Zero Sievert doesn’t rely on spell bounding graphics to generate atmosphere and immersion – instead, the core gameplay loop is excellent and the mechanics of the game help to immerse me into the universe. The sound design of the game is also excellent, and useful – if you hear shots going off, that’s not just mindless background noise – there are enemies afoot and you need to be mindful. Keeping an ear out for the surrounding at all times is an important facet of the game to factor into your gameplay.
Overall, Zero Sievert is an excellent game that you’ll be able to sink your teeth into for many hours. It’s a very impressive title as a whole, especially as an early access title – the game is polished, the gameplay loop feels tight, and overall is an excellent and immersive package. With more things to be added later, such as the ability to join factions, there is plenty of future content to be able to look forward to as well, and I for one can’t wait to dive right into it.
Zero Sievert is launching into Early Access on PC via Steam on November 15th, 2022.
Developer: CABO Studio
Publisher: Modern Wolf
Disclaimer: In order to complete this Early Access Preview, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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