Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Wild Hare
Developer: Digital Spray Studios
Release Date: August 22, 2007
I still have one or two stubborn lingering goose bumps from the last zombie attack. Frantically pumping away with my shotgun, I dropped two walking dead before wheeling around to quickly dispatch the axe-wielding undead that was making a beeline for my skull. Despite my best efforts to remain cool about the encounter, Digital Spray Studios' new FPS, Instinct, had inspired the sort of bone-chilling primal fear I haven't felt since the last Celine Dion album.
Instinct starts off innocuously enough with your fairly standard FPS monkeyshines, as you blast your way into a military base. You'll find plenty of low-hanging cannon fodder as someone higher up the chain of command seems to have forgotten to warn his soldiers to not stand near highly combustible barrels during gunfights. There are some interesting set pieces as you ride on the back of a truck and briefly pilot a train, but it's not until you hit the second underground level that stuff hits the fan, and the real action fires up.
The first sign that all is not right is the low, guttural, hair-raising groan of a hungry zombie, and throughout the game you'll often hear the flesh-eaters way before you see them. These are classic zombies too, with that slow, unsteady, loping gait and the empty gaze shared by all those who just can't stay dead.
Gameplay consists mostly of making your way from A to B via hordes of Z. Much of the zombie slaying takes place in dimly lit underground corridors where the atmosphere is tightly claustrophobic and highly conducive to survival horror. The levels are drawn well, with grim industrial corridors borrowed straight from the top-secret hospital of bizarre and painful medical experiments. The often narrow, blood-flecked passageways wind and twist, with a lot of blind corners providing perfect ambush points for the cunning zombie.
When not leaping for your throat from behind sharp corners, the undead will crawl out without warning from nearby vents, and the designers have seen fit to have them come up from behind you when you least expect it. More often than not, you'll end up guest of honor at a zombie dinner reunion, surrounded on all sides by shuffling hungry corpses, and the overall effect is chilling, keeping you on edge and in a semi-permanent state of paranoia.
Instinct has a wide variety of music and audio which keeps things fresh. Sometimes you'll be tearing through levels to frenetic thumping techno tracks, at other times you'll find yourself inching forward while the suspense is nurtured through creepy mood music. Overall, the mix of music is pitch-perfect for setting up the next attack of the living dead.
There are also touches of horror throughout the levels, such as body parts dropping out of the sky from a spiral staircase, which you must ascend in order to progress. Elsewhere, you'll see zombies clawing at glass doors in a futile effort to have you for dinner. A whole variety of unsettling noises from distant banging, to electrical static, and various industrial effects completes the sinister symphony.
There is a standard array of weapons including the M4, AK-47, pistol and the punch-packing track-stopping shotgun — when you absolutely, positively have to own every last zombie in the room, accept no substitutes. You'll also get to use a scoped sniper rifle on an expansive outdoor level which features proximity minefields and a short segment where you need to dodge incoming mortar rounds or else become the next smoldering crater.
The gunfights are largely satisfying, and you also get to fight living, breathing targets. In these instances, the AI is fairly brainy — ducking, weaving and using cover where available, but there are some times when it's more artificial than it is intelligent and even ends up making the zombies look clever. An unobtrusive quick save feature helps for moments when you are outsmarted.
The visuals in Instinct, while decent enough, aren't quite as sophisticated as those you might have seen in other, less recent FPS games. Distance blur helps to lend a sense of depth, especially on some of the larger levels, but textures and lighting are somewhat simple. What it lacks in graphical prowess, it makes up for it with truckloads of atmosphere and action sequences as thrilling as any white-knuckle ride. The developers have done a great job of varying the pace of action, which swings between cautious creeping and headless chicken fleeing. In one part of the game, a deadly gas is released throughout the level, and as you make your way through it, it leeches your health, forcing you to stay moving and inevitably running face first into a zombie. There are plenty of health packs and armor scattered somewhat conspicuously throughout the levels, meaning the challenge is somewhat diminished, although three different difficulty levels should be enough to satisfy everyone.
The developers appear to have invested a large amount of time and effort in the storyline, which is fairly central to the game. Set largely in North Korea, it is told in a highly stylized, and often quite lengthy animated graphic novel fashion similar to the Max Payne games. The preview build was voiced in Russian with English subtitles and involves a series of episodes leading up to an explosion, and this countdown effect creates an ever-present sense of foreboding. The story also liberally jumps around in the timeline, and you get to fill the shoes of a number of game characters. While fairly baffling at first, those with patience to stick with it will be rewarded with several cool twists and a-ha moments.
Instinct looks like it will provide plenty of adrenaline-laced thrills for those willing to forgive a slightly less-than-shiny graphics engine. It features plenty of solid FPS action, a substantial storyline and plenty of successful attempts to inject some originality into what might otherwise have been a routine endeavor. Fans of survival horror are definitely encouraged to come share their lead with the living dead.
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