Zombie Cure Lab Preview: Cure For the Itchy Tasty

Considering there’s a monumental amount of doom and gloom in the realm of zombie apocalypses, it’s actually very refreshing to see something with a positive, optimistic spin on the subject. I have gotten many miles out of the tried and trusted template of ‘look how bleak the end of the world is, and by the way? Humans? We’re the real monsters’, yet to see the positives humanity can do in the face of crisis and disaster? That’s something we could do with being reminded of.

Zombie Cure Lab from Thera Bytes is pretty much doing what it says on the tin. A sim game about building a lab to cure zombies. It plays out a little more complex than that of course, but that’s the ultimate goal for this game. To that end, you can build a headquarters with living facilities, unliving facilities, defenses, and science areas for that all-important research into creating the cure. 

The curing even sees the zombies working for you. Not as some great undead army, but, thanks to the hybridization of dead and undead, as part of the team! It’s like the happier alternate timeline for Day of the Dead where Bub was just the start and zombies could have been serving John, McDermott & Sarah fancy drinks in that caravan retreat instead of munching on Rhodes.

As sims go, Zombie Cure Lab guides you through the ‘basics’ in much the same way as genre friend Surviving the Aftermath. You set up the place you want to build operations from, and gradually get instructions on how to make a full HQ, room by room. In its current Early Access form, that introductory period is a little dry and hands-off, but it also doesn’t push too much on you too soon while you fumble about getting things right. It doesn’t even start throwing undead at you until it has handed over the necessary tools and a running HQ.

Whereas most sims will highlight specific tabs as they run you through stuff at the start, Zombie Cure Lab reels off a bunch of text and hopes you’ve paid full attention to every word of it. Perhaps personal expectation blinded me somewhat to the reality, but it did leave me sifting through a bunch of sub-menus, trying to figure out why I wasn’t building or researching anything. Trial and error is a common theme in the sim space, so while it was something of a gripe, I appreciate it’s part of the furniture to some extent.

I suppose the real issue with that, at first anyway, is that Zombie Cure Lab moves at a pace befitting a shambling corpse. Even fast-forwarded, the game is never doing more than a light jog. The act of learning on the job and having to go through all that at the game’s casual pace initially feels like a bit of a slog. I write ‘initially’ because once again, when the faffing about is done, the pace actually feels right for the tone of Zombie Cure Lab. It would be a massive pain if things felt as relentless and bleak as they usually are in post-apocalyptic media. The focus is on cure not kill, and the speed of play should absolutely reflect that.

I know, I know. That’s basically the long way round of saying ‘slow start, gets better’, and yes, that’s it really. Once I got into the groove of what Zombie Cure Labs was laying down, it felt pleasingly therapeutic to start snapping together all the pieces, researching new gubbins to refresh the play cycle, and reinventing the idea of stopping undead and flipping them to your cause.

 As expected, the difficulty comes in handling an ever-growing colony and ensuring all runs smoothly as your focus drifts further from singular activities. The granular stuff helps organize a bit. You can assign specific staff to certain tasks, and set night and day shifts to keep things ticking over instead of screeching to a halt because everyone has got a bit tired. The hybrid zombies, or Humbies as they’re known, become increasingly essential to operations, and as a bonus, it helps them get closer to becoming un-undead.

Despite the sunny day optimism of Zombie Cure Lab, there’s always the threat of the undead knocking down the gates to paradise. As time and research progress, the attention of the rotting little beggars is increasingly drawn to the activity created by the growing laboratory. This is where pretty much all tension and peril lies because a breach of the gate means a serious impact on the hard work done in the labs. Coupled with the need to eliminate the threat in a non-lethal manner stripping the player of an easy option and growing to become a fascinating obstacle that staves off complacency. They tend to appear at night, so there’s always that knowledge they are coming, and the time to plan accordingly.

For a starting package, Zombie Cure Lab is in decent shape. There are definitely places for it to be tweaked and improved upon, but the unique premise does a great job of making this feel like the distinct sim game it is.

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