Set in an abandoned anomaly zone in Siberia, Expedition Zero lets you face off against the cold, the dark, and the horrors that stalk you. You’ve been left alone. There are no clues as to what exactly happened which is why you need to scavenge for resources, piece together the clues, and go from the hunted to the hunter! Expedition Zero is a survival-horror experience that kept me on edge for long periods, which was glorious, and the spooks were genuinely scary, making me jump more often than not – more on that in today’s review!
Developer: Enigmatic Machines Publisher: tinyBuild Genre: First-Person, Survival, Horror, Indie, Adventure Release Date: March 24th, 2022 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC Copy was provided by the publisher.
As mentioned before, you’re a lone survivor in an abandoned anomaly zone. It gets dark quick and hence you need to make haste and find a way into your shelter. Right there, I already noticed that it just doesn’t feel great to be the person you’re controlling. The controls feel a bit janky at times and I couldn’t quite find the right sensitivity to move my mouse comfortably. Similarly, Expedition Zero manages to teach you its controls quite well but doesn’t really let you know that you can scroll the mouse wheel to select a different option. The sliding door to your shelter needs power, the generator needs fuel, and for a long time, I thought I had neither. But leaving doesn’t seem to be an option here and hence it took me a while until I realised that you can scroll down to fuel the generator. Yup, you’re welcome. But the controls aren’t just janky when it comes to selecting actions or moving the mouse. Near the beginning, there is an area that frustrated me a little bit. A man has called you to this 50m high wall surrounding the zone you’re in. He has a way for you to get out but you first need to talk to him in person. As you go through this area up to the wall though, searchlights might spot you and kill you on the spot. Hence, this area is a lot of trial and error with you crouching behind objects and just praying that the game doesn’t weirdly make it so that you’re seen even though you’re not. The way you die in that area is confusing and frustrating – and paired with the slow movement speed of your character as well as the relatively low stamina, it got tilting, to say the least.
But once you make it past that, you’ll talk to the man in question who offers you a way out – but he needs you to do something for him. A bunch of soldiers have been dispatched to this zone and all of them have been killed by something, which is where you come in. Find out what exactly is in the forest by finding samples that you deliver to the man. Explore the area and find a cure for the “plague” haunting this place. Then get out of there. Easy enough, right? Well, the game equips you with a locator for your search for samples but it’s a bit hard to use with it just shows you how close you are to a sample. Hence, you’ll activate it, move in a specific direction and activate it again to see if you moved away from it or if you got closer, then you rinse and repeat as you travel along paths, forests, and snowy hills while trying not to die.
This is where the game’s core gameplay loop kind of unravels itself. You search for the samples, scavenge the area for finite resources, and craft items and gear to survive better. You may find a backpack or a gas mask, for instance, which will help you out greatly in the long run. Revisiting areas is seldom worth it as resources don’t respawn. Meanwhile, as you go and explore the areas, you’ll encounter enemies that follow you, stalking and lurking, waiting for the right moment to strike you. In these cases, it’s where you as a player will have to decide whether you want to challenge your hunters or whether you want to make them your prey.
The atmosphere of Expedition Zero is amazing btw. I love the way that silence is often utilized to keep you on edge. No music, no special sounds, just you, your footsteps, other footsteps, and the rain. Wait, other footsteps? Oh no. A lot of the time, I had to wait and hide because I thought I heard something… but then I wasn’t sure if I truly did. At times, I may have seen something jump around in the trees – but again, it could have been my mind playing tricks. Shortly, the rain turned into a snowstorm and the snowstorm made it hard to see anything at all. It became harder and harder to get through the areas, so it was either push forward in search of shelter… or go back and warm up at a fire. The little bits between forest exploration and lore-reading at a camp worked quite well for the pacing but by the end of it, I was left confused. Is this it? Have I played through the game? What?
Expedition Zero is only about four to five hours long and hence incredibly short. I figured there’d be more content to it. The bits that I saw, played and experienced were great if you can look past the controls but I would have wanted to see more of a fleshed-out story instead of the cryptic notes I got and the letters I found. It felt a bit hard to piece it altogether unless, of course, I missed something while I was terrified. Similarly, at times I felt as if the game was a bit too buggy. Between the time where I received my key and the time I played, the game got patched a bunch of times with hotfixes for bugs that affected the game quite a lot. Enemies at first would just stand still in front of you, not doing anything – which got fixed. Meanwhile, I had some issues with the saves at one point, and inventory management felt a bit fiddly at times with items jumping back into my inventory after I put them into storage.
Atmospherically, Expedition Zero is top-notch. Polish-wise, however, I feel like the controls need some work, gamepad controls didn’t work for me, and combat feels sluggish and frustrating, especially when you get screeched at by those enemies in the trees with no real way to hit them good. You can aim with a rifle but ammunition is limited and those enemies are quick, so… running almost always seems the most viable although outrunning them felt impossible at times. In the end, I would have loved to like this game but especially with how short it was in the end and with how frustrating some parts were, I can’t recommend Expedition Zero in its current state. Make sure to wishlist it though and keep an eye out for updates! If some of these issues get fixed in the future, I’d love to take another look at it again.