Note: The below might be more of a reflection of my general burnout on zombie survival than Project Zomboid (PZ) itself, but I don’t think so. Also, yea, I’m not sure why I started playing yet another zombie game, but I did… Anyway, on to the post.
As the title states, to me Project Zomboid feels like a box without sand, in that you are in a large ‘world’ (map), there are buildings and items and zombies and skills to improve, but there isn’t any sand to actually build something you might care about. The world just feels empty, and not in the good ‘zombie apocalypse’ empty, but in a truly lonely and pointlessly way.
I won’t break down the gameplay, but just say it plays mostly like you would expect. You loot houses, gain items, food, and weapons, and try to avoid, kill, or run away from zombies. Skills you have and can improve make you do more damage, sneak better, or make more stuff. You can even build a base, so you have that option along with using one of the many pre-existing houses and fortifying it.
There are a ton of sub-systems as well, which add depth or complexity. Stuff like hearing/sound, vision range and obscuring it (curtains on windows for instance), hunger, thirst, injuries, infections, etc. The bullet list of features here is long.
The major problem however is that PZ feels empty. There are no NPCs, so the world is only populated by your character and zombies. And as the only goal is to survive as long as you can, you know that ultimately you are going to die (either in-game or from boredom as you established a sustainable base and the game turns into Farming Simulator).
Dead State, a somewhat similar game, had other NPCs and their goals you assisted with, along with enemies beyond just zombies. State of Decay also had other NPCs, along with a general path to victory. And it’s bases felt very much alive, while your base in PZ is always just you and your stuff.
PZ is also an example of what happens when devs aren’t given an end-date, and instead release in Early Access or a similar method and just keep adding and adding. Development started in 2011, and 5 years later, PZ still isn’t complete. Even more importantly, the one system that basically everyone wants and expects, NPCs, isn’t coming anytime soon. One of the devs even wrote a pretty rage-filled post about it back in 2015, which to me came off sounding like a massive case of burnout. Which is too bad, because with more focus and some additions, PZ could have been a solid offering in what is a very crowded genre.