I’ve actually been playing Urban Dead a lot recently. Urban Dead is an awesome low-tech browser game by Kevan Davis (previously known for making an awesome low-tech website). The premise behind the game is that you’re in a quarantined city named Malton, either fighting for survival against zombies, or fighting for tasty brains. Urban Dead has proven itself to be pretty damn awesome over the past few months, and I feel like I wouldn’t be doing it justice if I didn’t make an attempt to advertise it. So here’s my top ten reasons why Urban Dead is the best browser game ever.
10) There are no NPCs.
Most games bog you down with stupid AI and immersion-breaking invincible townspeople. Urban Dead has none of that. Every single being in Malton has a player behind it, whether it be person, zombie, or corpse. This honestly isn’t much of an advantage over other browser games, but it’s certainly unique, or at least uncommon. Even games with no computer-controlled enemies will at least have a shop or something. Urban Dead has no NPCs whatsoever, and that’s pretty badass.
9) The game is highly customizable without much effort.
The term “without much effort” may need to be clarified: Urban Dead is highly customizable if you use Firefox. (I can already hear the Opera users groaning.) If you have Firefox, you can make the bland-looking default game look a hundred times better simply by installing the UD Toolbar, though the actual toolbar portion of it should be disabled immediately because it’s hideous. After the toolbar, however, this extension adds graphics to the game and makes the layout slightly better, which makes it much easier to keep track of what you’re doing. If that doesn’t satisfy you, there are dozens of Greasemonkey scripts that will make loads of small UI tweaks. The game is perfectly playable without any alteration, but it’s simple enough that it gives you the ability to easily modify it to suit your style, something that most games lack.
8) It’s about zombies.
Shallow maybe, but zombies are awesome! There’s no better fuel for one’s love of drama, plus one’s love of violence, plus one’s repressed misanthropy, than a horde of humanoid murderers trying to smash down the hastily-constructed barricades of every tormented soul that isn’t Rambo. For the people that are Rambo, they’ve already joined the horde as death cultists. There’s two things that I will always have a soft spot for: misanthropic cyberpunk protagonists, and unrelenting waves of zombies. Since there’s a depressing lack of the former, I’m going to have to say that Urban Dead is unbeatable in this category.
7) There’s no economy.
…And that means that there’s no broken economy either. Unlike most online games that suffer constant inflation and enough financial issues to make the real-world economy look stable in comparison, Urban Dead has no means of trading or buying items. There’s no money, either. All items are found by looting the abandoned buildings strewn across Malton. Different buildings give different items (e.g., hospitals give first-aid kits, junkyards give junk), which turns the game into a sort of resource war over those buildings that are most important to human survival. You need to fight to secure a hospital so that you can spend time searching it for first-aid kits, then move onto the nearest police station to load up on shotgun shells, then make shelter in a shack somewhere that won’t draw attention. Everything is balanced.
6) The developer is awesome.
This is an underrated quality. A lot of games wallow in their problems because the developers are recluses that never come out in public to hear what people want. Kevan actually pays attention to the game and updates it accordingly. He also actually listens to his players and sometimes incorporates suggestions that they vote up on the wiki. Which brings me to my next point…
5) They have a well-maintained wiki.
The Urban Dead Wiki is like a strategy guide, and it’s complete enough to help you get a feeling for the game without much hassle. It doesn’t get bogged down in useless details — it gets right to the point and explains the things you want explained. Once you’ve learned how the game works, you’ll still use the wiki every once in a while to check what the objectives of a group you meet are — you wouldn’t want to let a human into your hideout if he’s a member of a zombie group, after all. This wiki works in much the same way as the KoL Wiki does for Kingdom of Loathing, but with a much better URL.
4) There are practically no rules.
Yet the game isn’t broken. The only real rule is against multiple accounts, which would upset the fairness of the game. Outside of that, there isn’t much. Humans kill humans all the time and it doesn’t upset the game because it all makes sense: those humans are the death cultists, or the psychopaths from Dead Rising. Zombies kill zombies and it makes sense because the zombies in Malton are smarter than typical zombies. If they can form groups and attack certain buildings consciously, who’s to say that they can’t form an allegiance with humans? They’re called life cultists, the antithesis to the typical death cultists. You don’t see them in zombie movies, but they still work fine. Urban Dead is practically self-governing because anyone who’s being a dick can be killed by a horde of people that aren’t dicks.
3) You can play all day, kind of.
This is a huge thing in browser games. Almost all of them limit how much you can play in a day by assigning you some kind of “energy” that only refills at night. Urban Dead changes it up by giving you an energy that refills slowly over the course of the day. That might not sound like much, but it means that you can essentially play the game all day… as long as you play slowly. Some people might not care, but I think this feature is an important part of what makes Urban Dead so fun: you don’t fall into a routine with it. You really can play it anytime.
2) It has a good community.
This one is obviously important. A great game with a bad community just wouldn’t be worth it. Luckily Urban Dead has a great community, mostly thanks to the aforementioned lack of rules. People can’t really troll you, since getting killed is a normal part of the game and makes sense from all sides. The only people who ruin the game are the ones who cheat and use multiple accounts, but they don’t usually get in the way of your fun. Another great thing about the community is that…
1) People actually roleplay.
Urban Dead is the only online game I’ve ever played in which the players roleplay more often than not. Seriously, half the fun of the game is from organising into groups of fellow players to take out whatever group you disagree with. And if you get bored, switch sides and play as the opposite class for a while. It’s all okay. The way people communicate in-game will almost always heighten the experience rather than detract like in most games. People send messages by talking, graffiti, and radio broadcasting — all of these create an atmosphere that suits the game perfectly. Nothing is more immersive than sitting in a hospital with a bunch of survivors, huddling around your radio transmitter, to hear a broadcast from across town that another building held by your group has been taken down. You hear people calling for backup as zombies lay siege to their resources, and people from your building run to help them out. If things go sour, you get to hear the other building’s radio transmitter crash to the ground before the signal cuts off. You know that the people who left to help aren’t coming back for a while.
Immersion can make or break a game. Urban Dead actually has one major flaw that would ruin all of its positives: there are only 43 skills in the game to buy, and you won’t care about most of them. Once you buy those skills, your initial goal to “level up your character” is gone. In a normal online game, the loss of that goal would destroy your only incentive to play the game, causing you to give up — that’s why characters in World of Warcraft take ages to build. Urban Dead embraces this flaw and turns it to its advantage with its incredible immersion: by the time you buy the skills, you’re playing the game for the community and the roleplaying. I’ve never seen an online game built like that, and that’s the key reason I think Urban Dead is the best online game ever. There’s no grinding!