Shortly after taking the screenshot above, my character managed to slay the angry giant bees he had encountered in their forest hive. After waiting a while for the worst of their poison stings to wear off, he wandered deeper into the woods. He then found a strange mushroom, and ate it without successfully identifying it. My character began to hallucinate, and ended up being assailed by hallucinatory visions of his mother – attacking them caused morale damage. And then passed out and got eaten by ants. Yep, Cataclysm is a bit different.
You wait what feels like an eternity for a serious post-apocalyptic survival game, and what seems like a dozen come along all at once. Rogue Survivor, Project Zomboid, Neo Scavenger and others all spring to mind. The latest on the block is Cataclysm – a post-apocalyptic, semi-zombie-themed survival roguelike with a respectable level of depth and an impressive degree of modding support. Oddly enough, you might be best off skipping on the latest official release and go straight to the modding page on the official forums. The reason why? Despite being an ASCII-based game by default, there’s already an unofficial tiled graphics version.
As mentioned, while there are zombies, they’re more of an urban threat. Go off wandering into the deep woods in search of natural food and supplies and you’re far more likely to be accosted by giant mutant bugs or other such living abominations. Still, as a fresh character, the best thing to do is look for some nearby civilization as you stumble out of your poorly stocked fallout shelter. While it’ll take ages to bash through a door with your bare hands, a window can easily be passed through at the risk of some small injuries. From there, it’s just a matter of looting whatever you can, and getting the hell out of dodge once the zombies start stumbling into view.
In addition to the usual Roguelike open-world mode, there’s an ‘arcade’ survival mode where you have to fortify and defend a well-stocked structure from increasingly dangerous waves of enemies, which is a good introduction to the construction options offered. At higher levels (which I haven’t survived to see yet), the game apparently gets rather weird, with improvised bionic upgrades becoming an option, and self-mutations, vehicles, drugs and mental illness all playing their part. It’s not terribly gritty and realistic beyond needing food, water and sleep, but it’s good fun. Defence mode even offers the option to disable natural needs entirely and play it as a straightforward combat-oriented game.
My main gripe at this point in development is that the UI is quite unintuitive, and that I would much prefer something along the lines of Brogue, which is an utter masterclass in Roguelike UI design, managing to cram in a huge amount of information and allow precise mouse control despite the ASCII graphics. Still, Cataclysm is still fairly early in development, and while you’re undoubtedly going to encounter some bugs (of the software kind, not giant and mutated), there’s quite a lot to like here already. The game even has a handy tutorial built in for newbies to learn the ropes with. Can’t say fairer than that; The game does at least teach you how to walk before it tears your legs off.