Inspired by Alien: Isolation, Level Zero vows to be a high-stakes, multiplayer horror game - preview

2 months ago 75

Pairing asymmetrical horror with extraction shooter mechanics, Level Zero looks to be a refreshing take on the genre, and it’s arriving in March.

Level Zero header image; a man stares, scared, out of a spacer's helmet. Alien creatures, fangs bared, flank him. Image credit: tinyBuild

After experiments cross-breeding human and alien DNA go awry, the nightmare of DogHowl Games’ Level Zero begins. Unruly, alien monsters have taken over long-abandoned facilities, and now, competing corporations are sending mercenaries to retrieve any and all missing data on the experiments-gone-wrong.

And that’s where you come in.

Published by tinyBuild and developed by Ukrainian indie studio, DogHowl Games, Level Zero is preparing to be an intense, immersive asymmetrical horror experience built in Unreal Engine 5. And during a hands-off preview of the game led by art director, Alex Golenishchev, and producer, Mykhailo Moisiienko, VG247 was shown exactly what this upcoming horror game has to offer to its players.

First things first; how exactly does Level Zero play out? Well, as a high-stakes asymmetrical PvPvPvE horror game, you have the choice of playing as a mercenary or as one of the alien experiments that has managed to break free of its facility. And, of course, gameplay looks to differ dramatically depending on which role you undertake.

The players hide behind crates in a corridor while aiming their guns in Level Zero Image credit: DogHowl Games

Mercenaries' main friends will light sources – anything you can get your hands on – but there are melee and ptions and guns galore to add to your arsenal, too. Much like Alan Wake, the gimmick here is that light will overcome the darkness that’s stalking you through decrepit laboratories. Alien on your trail? Whip out a flare and banish them for the time being, or use overhead lights and torches to protect yourself while your mercenary companions continue acquiring loot and seeking a safe extraction.

Alien players, on the other hand, will want to focus all of their might on putting a stop to the mercs. This means quite literally prowling around facilities and finding Energy Eggs - which power up an alien’s abilities - and then using those abilities to kill mercenaries where they stand or sabotage their extraction. You’ll be able to turn the power off to catch mercenaries off guard, while also placing egg traps or directly attempting to attack them before they manage to attack you. You’ll also want to seek out darkness where you can, avoiding the light sources of mercenary players on the hunt for long-lost data…

Matches will consist of three mercenary groups (made of up to three players), and two aliens that are pursuing them. DogHowl has also advised that Level Zero will feature two maps when it launches on Steam’s Early Access on March 15, with plans for regular updates over the course of Level Zero’s life.

There’s no denying that the game looks visually impressive, with a little bit of a goofy feeling that feels akin to The Forest and Sons of the Forest, and plenty of spine-tingling moments that feel more like they’ve been inspired by some of the all-time best horror games out there, Dead Space and Alien Isolation. From messages smeared in blood across the walls of the facility to power blackouts – underscored by an increasingly desperate need to extract – there’s one thing that I’m sure of about Level Zero, and it’s that it’ll cause some extreme, albeit hilarious, jumpscares among its players.

The player - an alien - stalks a mercenary player inside a facility in Level Zero Image credit: DogHowl Games

Another thing I liked the look of during our hands-off preview are the myriad playstyles supported in Level Zero; whether you want to go in all guns blazing, take a more stealthy, slow approach, or consistently flank players, it looks as though you’ll be able to do dictate how each game plays out on your own terms.

With a range of tools on offer for both mercenaries and aliens - some of them being craftable during a match - players will be able to take different approaches to each match depending on what they have available to them. Ultimately, pairing the asymmetrical horror subgenre with an extraction shooter is what gives Level Zero an edge over asymmetrical games before it, giving players the opportunity to make meaningful progress as they find and unlock more valuable loot each match.

My only qualm with Level Zero, so far, is how it’ll actually make itself stand out amongst other asymmetrical horror titles. Dead by Daylight undoubtedly has a monopoly of the subgenre given its consistent updates and endless list of licenses for iconic horror franchises, and there’s an abundance of other, middling games in the genre such as VHS, Evil Dead: The Game, Friday the 13th: The Game, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and so forth, that have seen some success. Alas, a lot of these games have been destined to short lifespans given a lack of updates and just how quickly the asymmetrical format can become dull for players without anything significant to be working towards.

A group of players use guns and flares to subdue an alien enemy in Level Zero Image credit: DogHowl Games

While it does remind me a little of the disappointment that was Rainbow Six Extraction, Level Zero is one of the few solely sci-fi takes on the subgenre that I’ve seen, and it’ll greatly benefit from being an extraction shooter, too; after all, we’re all loot goblins, one way or another. If it can encapsulate the same horror and immersion that games such as Alien Isolation and Dead Space provide, then I think it could be great.

Whether or not Level Zero will be a game that players tire off after a few weeks, I’m not completely convinced, but if DogHowl is up to the challenge of doing everything it takes to keep the game fresh and replayable at large, then I think this indie developer could be onto something very fun and refreshing — and of course, terrifying — for the asymmetrical genre.

Level Zero will be available on PC and consoles (specific consoles TBA). Those eager to try the game can play when it launches into Early Access via Steam on March 15.

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