Going into ZED I had extremely high hopes. We did an exclusive interview with Seth and Chuck from Eagre Games, and followed closely with the hands-on preview at RobAndDan’s Twitch channel. After my play-through, I can say the game is very well done.
ZED is a game that focuses on a man who is dying and has dementia, but wants to complete a book for his grand-daughter Charlotte. While there is a possibility he’ll never meet her, it’s important to him to do this. With this goal, it causes him to sort of battle himself to take control and remember his memories. His own doctor referred to it as a ‘game’ and he takes that to heart and works to find himself.
ZED Opening Scene
Some great aspects of ZED are the interactable objects that appear throughout the game. While they aren’t completely environment changing, the animals make squeaks, and the nesting dolls move. It adds a bit more reality to the game, and makes it more enjoyable. Aside from this, there are relaxed puzzles at the end of every level that focuses on an image you can trace back to. The puzzles are clearly not meant to hinder your gameplay, but just add a little extra process to this first-person narrative.
The puzzles are not extremely complicated, using 9 squares that make up an image.
The objects on the other hand were very fun to spot throughout each level.
Since a major part of the game is retracing to memories and connecting the dots, the environments created vary depending on the level. When playing this, I noted that there’s a ‘hub’ that connects between major events. There are two versions, one is outside with gears and the other is inside with filing cabinets. During this, there is a ton of dialogue that fills in the gaps and makes more sense to the memories being remembered.
I found the ZED gameplay to not be overwhelming. It was an enjoyable game that provided a thorough story and environment. The puzzles again, didn’t hinder my progression and by using ‘investigative’ skills you could find the image in the environment to aid you. This just enhanced why when playing ZED you need to pay attention to what you’re hearing and seeing.
A notable part of this game that provides in-depth knowledge of the character and the story is the journal entry function. When picking up a special item in a level it also gives a few sentences of knowledge. Not only was this function extremely useful when playing the game, it was also smooth. Pressing ‘J’ would bring up the journal, and you would left-click on pages to move it back and forth. When done reading, you could right-click out of it to go back to the game. I really liked having this function available because it gives story details without it having to be dialogue driven.
ZED is completely story and narrative driven. This is honestly some of my favorite game types because it means you’re there for the journey and you don’t have to worry about fighting or strategy. In ZED’s case, you’re being lead through a journey that shows the struggles of dementia and the challenges that people face. The main character is coming to terms with his mortality while also battling dementia, in hopes of making a gift for his grand-daughter.
Without spoiling details of the story and the character, it feels like a redemption story. He is trying to make up for the mistakes he made in life that lead him to where he is by reconciling with his daughter, and making this picture book for his grand-daughter.
The graphics for ZED are beautiful. There are distinct differences in items that are for the story progression, but the environmental details are astounding. Books on piles and the floor have titles, as they do in shelves, and there are stuffed animals in every level. The game is bright and colorful in places where it is necessary, and dark and gloomy in certain locations where it’s fitting. There is also an abundant of comic ZED sketches throughout the game.
Sounds & Voice Acting
The voice acting for ZED is also spot on. Stephen Russell known for his character Nick Valentine in Fallout 4 is the main character, and narrates the game. There are also voice actors for his mother, his daughter, and his grand-daughter. As for the soundtrack, it was composed by Terry Williams and Alex Parish and is amazing. It takes real talent to make tracks that can be cycled through levels repeating and not become daunting.
For the soundtrack, it can be bought on Materia Collective for $5 or on Amazon for $8.99 if you are interested. You can listen to previews on Materia if you are so inclined, but it is definitely great background music for when you’re working on a puzzle and need some noise.
The ambiance is another aspect I want to touch upon because it was very well done. There are sound effects for respective levels and interactable objects. The nesting dolls click, the stuffed animals squeak, and the world has it’s own sounds. This is all piled onto the soundtrack to make such a wonderful and engulfing play-through.
While playing this game, it was impossible to not assume there would be Easter eggs. Chuck Carter himself worked on Myst and has also done NASA drawings. Also knowing that Cyan Ventures published ZED, I figured there would be secrets to find. While these are all speculation, it was fun looking for secret Cyan and NASA Easter eggs while playing such a vividly colorful and decorated game.
Things We Didn’t Love
The only part about ZED that I didn’t really love was the length. Though the game was expected to be short, if it could have gone on longer it would have been great. I clocked around 103 minutes when playing through my first play-through of ZED and that was taking screenshots, reading the journal, and investigating the game for Easter eggs and secrets. I bet that there are certainly things I have missed when playing it, and I hope a replay would give me more time and relaxation when looking for them. When it comes to the length of the game, cost, and narrative it’s up to the player’s discretion on their view for value.
I would say that going into a game like ZED there isn’t an infinite amount of time to spend. Because it is narrative driven and not completely open world, you’re just on the game’s journey. That being said, there is replay-ability for ZED because of the level design. The secrets and the world you can explore it and see things you may have missed before.
ZED is a wonderful game to pick up, but know it is short. The replay-ability is there, but you have to be the type of gamer to investigate for missing pieces and secrets to take full advantage of it. The game tells a very different and sometimes somber type of story that ends feeling like you’ve accomplished something.
It’s a very heart-felt story, in a wonderfully crafted world and I do plan on playing it again.
You can get your copy of ZED on Steam for $17.99 and it works in VR!