In all honesty, crafting survival games that take place during a zombie apocalypse are a dime a dozen these days. While a few of them, like 7 Days to Die or Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead manage to rise to the top and stay relevant, many others litter the bottom of the metaphorical bargain bin and are forgotten. Zelter, developed by the Korean studio G1 Playground and published by Super.com, is one of the newest entries in the genre. Having just released into Early Access, it has some promise, but this zombie game could use a bit more time hibernating in the hospital morgue before it rises and brings about chaos.
Being a zombie survival game, Zelter doesn't really need much of a plot. Zombies everywhere. Society collapsed. You have to survive. Boom, storytime over. After choosing your name, gender, skin color, and hairstyle (with pre-determined hair colors you can't change,) you're dropped in a field near your starting home.
From there, you use your tools to collect resources like wood and stone to build workbenches, upgrade and replace tools, and make incursions into the town for rarer resources like metals and cloth. All the while you have to watch your hunger, thirst, and fatigue, which are measured by a green bar near your health with exact details on each need displayed on your tablet. You know a reliance on technology has become serious if someone needs a tablet app to tell if they're hungry, thirsty, or just tired.
As well as crafting new equipment, progression in the game mainly comes from unlocking new crafting recipes by building things. On the tablet, there's a draggable menu with a winding tree of things that can be crafted. To unlock something, you have to craft what comes before it, so building a regular bed requires you to build a table, which first requires you to build a chair. Building up the base is pretty freeform and lets players put stuff wherever they want with some limits, so it's possible to stuff useless decorative things away from those that'll actually see usage.
Unfortunately, there's no option to search for a specific item on there, and the recipes menu is pretty big with no way to zoom out, so it can be tough to find your latest unlocked recipes to see what needs unlocking. It doesn't help that other than the Escape key menu for saving and quitting, none of the menus pause the game, meaning there's always a concern about wasting time while you mess around with your tablet. Just like in real life!
Appearance-wise, the world of Zelter is a fairly nice one to look at. It has a graphical style that brings to mind SNES-era games, with some people making comparisons to the aesthetic style of Stardew Valley. While that comparison might be taking it too far, the ruined city of Zelter does have its charm. In particular, it gets a few points of originality for having a zombie apocalypse that takes place in a Korean-style city. So many pieces of zombie media take place in more Western-style locations that it's a bit refreshing to see a different kind of city.
Being a zombie survival game, one of the biggest threats is, of course, the zombies. They mostly hang out in the city, although sometimes a few of them will raid your house when it gets dark. There are six different types of zombies, all of which fall under the classic types from Left 4 Dead. As well as generic zombies that can run as fast as the player, there are small zombies that run off to attract more zombies, zombies that spit acid, zombies that explode, beefy zombies, and extra-beefy zombies. If you're looking for more unique zombies, like ones that can use their formerly-living body's bionics to yank metallic weapons right out of your hands or shoot lighting, you won't find them in Zelter. The combat as well is pretty bog-standard, where you run around and shoot at zombies.
Other than collecting resources by smashing things up, another big reason to explore the city is to find new companions. Having more people with you can help you with your resource-gathering and zombie-killing. However, I didn't get much of a chance to explore this system. The one companion I did manage to find seemed buggy (at one point he ran up some stairs and cowered near a window so hard he clipped through) and there was no real tutorial on how to manage your companions. Worse, when I got back to base and slept, the game got stuck on the loading/saving screen, forcing me to close the game. I'm not saying my new companion was the cause of this problem, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was behind such foul play.
Being an Early Access game, there are naturally some bugs and other bits that could use fixing. As the above picture shows, there are bits of untranslated Korean text in the English version of the game. There are also issues that affect the gameplay proper. Sometimes when collecting resources, they don't stack properly in the inventory and a second stack will form despite the first stack not being at the maximum of 10 items for resources, forcing you to mess with your inventory more than most people would like. There's also a noticeable delay with certain features like switching to another hotbar item after swinging a tool or reloading a weapon after firing. Features like efficient and automatic inventory stacking are ones that many players don't think about until it doesn't work properly, at which point they pine for it hard.
Speaking of inventory space, it never feels like you have enough. Not counting equipment slots and the hotbar, players start with 12 spaces of inventory, and the storage drawers they can build have ten. Given how small the maximum stack size is in this game with most items (with the exception of ammo) and how few spaces players and drawers have, players can quickly run out of room for more items, yet still run out of a resource pretty fast. While it's possible to upgrade the character's carrying capacity via bag upgrades, the cloth it requires is surprisingly rare.
As an Early Acces title, Zelter has some things going for it, but also some problems that need fixing as well. The city players explore is charming and colorful, with a more Eastern vibe than most zombie survival games. However, the inevitable Early Access bugs need squishing and it would be great to get some of those classic crafting game quality of life features in there. It's surprising how much better a game can get when you can craft using items in nearby chests. Zelter has some good ideas, but it's going to take some time to see if it manages to achieve that potential.