Expedition Zero Review: If The Monsters Don’t Get You, The Cold Will
Set in an abandoned anomaly zone in Siberia, Expedition Zero puts you in the shoes of a lone survivor trying to find their way out. It sounds like a strong setup for a horror game, and to its credit, the game is atmospheric. There were times when lost and alone deep in the forest, late at night, slowly freezing to death, where the game made me practically jump out of my seat. The problem, though, is that between those scares, I actually had to play it, and that’s rarely a fun time.
An Uncomfortable Escape
Going back to near the start of the survival horror genre, it’s been fairly common for horror games to not control very well. Think of games like Resident Evil and its tank controls. While this can, for some, make them less fun, it makes the player feel less powerful and increases the fear factor. Expedition Zero, however, takes this too far. Your survivor feels terrible to control. He moves slowly, it takes too long for him to explore things, I was never able to find a mouse sensitivity that felt good. Everything about controlling this character is awkward. It’s one thing to not be super responsive and another to feel like I’m playing as an eighty-year-old with a walker.
Right from the start these controls become an issue because Expedition Zero loves to put you in situations where you’ll die almost immediately. Right near the start, there’s a sequence where you need to slip past some searchlights, where being spotted means instant death. Your slow movement speed means the only real way past this is trial and error, leading to a number of deaths. The game isn’t even scary yet at this point, so it just leads to frustration. At least later, when enemies jump out of trees and kill me in one quick sequence, it made me jump.
Find Your Way
After finding a potential way out of the anomaly zone, you’ll be dumped into the game’s forest, where you can start piecing together what happened here. It’s when the game’s loop starts to take shape, and you get a feel for what’s going on. Enemies lurk in the dark, but so do resources you’ll need to gather. Containers, garbage bins, old electronics, all contain the resources you’ll need to improve your equipment and gradually go deeper and deeper into the forest. Throughout Expedition Zero, you’ll find 3D Printers, each of which makes unique equipment. As you gather resources, you can start to improve your inventory, but there’s a constant push and pull over whether you should spend them on the item you just found or go deeper, hoping to find a printer that can make something better. Your resources are finite, so leaving an area and coming back won’t replenish them.
While you’re doing all of this, you’ll be slowly freezing to death. Siberia isn’t exactly a welcoming place after all. You can warm up at fires, but these require you to find wood that felt a bit too rare for my taste. I was already concerned enough about the enemies around every corner trying to murder me, and while I’m not opposed to environmental factors as well in a survival game, I wish I wasn’t almost always on the verge of freezing to death. It didn’t help that as I froze, the game felt more and more awkward to play. When it was already far too slow, that just ended up being frustrating.
I hope you like using a mouse and keyboard for the game as well. While I know most PC players are okay with that, I often prefer single-player titles on a controller, but Expedition Zero’s controller support is downright broken. The movement simply doesn’t work correctly on an Xbox controller. Hopefully, the developers fix this soon. Improvements in performance would be nice, too, lag isn’t a constant issue, but it definitely doesn’t help the already uncomfortable feel of the game.
That was actually my general experience with the entirety of Expedition Zero. It does a solid enough job of creating atmosphere and making the player nervous, but playing it just isn’t fun. The seed of a solid idea is here in the game’s various printers, but they don’t do enough to help overcome the slow and awkward movement. Horror fans may find a few hours of scares, but anyone else should steer well clear of this expedition.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: tinyBuild; Developer: Enigmatic Machines; Players: 1; Released: March 24th, 2021; ESRB: N/A; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Expedition Zero provided by the publisher.