The Expedition Zero demo shows a promising horror survival crafting game. The demo itself is pretty rough and buggy but the core gameplay loop reminded me of Green Hell, another horror survival crafting game I thoroughly enjoyed. The setting is the cold and hostile wilderness of Siberia. You are an engineer sent on an expedition gone wrong and now you are simply trying to survive long enough to return home.
Fans of survival crafting will feel right at home as you use basic tools to turn everything around you into scrap materials for crafting. The crafting system shown in the demo is pretty straight forward. You break down materials around you with the proper tools into crafting materials, feed the crafting materials into the 3D printer, and then print the components you need. You take the components and build tools at the crafting bench if you have the blueprint researched. To research new blueprints, investigating the world around you will earn you research points. Once you have enough research points, you will be able to unlock new blueprints.
As for managing meters, there is both a body temperature and hunger meter in the game. Managing those in the demo seemed trivial but maintaining those meters will probably be harder in the full release as I saw no other way to get food other than finding them at camp sites. There is a stamina meter, which affects when you can run. This is pretty important as there will be a monster chasing you in certain sections. There is also an inventory weight system. If you exceed the maximum weight, you will not be able to return to your home base so there is some slight inventory management necessary.
The horror element of the game was ok. They build up tension with dark scenes and anxiety inducing music. There are also some jump scares here and there. The main source of fear in the game is the constant and unseen presence of the monster that occasionally comes out to hunt you down. You have to go into cabinets and under tables to hide from the monster. You are also able to use the generator and some sirens to create distractions for the creature. It must be from Dead by Daylight because it cannot stand generators and will damage any electronic device turned on.
Overall, the Expedition Zero demo showed a promising game. The survival crafting elements were solid and the narrative piqued my curiosity. The horror elements worked decently well but in my personal opinion it is very hard to balance effectively. If there is a fail state, such as when the monster catches you, your brain starts dissecting the game mechanics apart to find a win state and it starts being a little less scary and more of just a game. That said, it definitely did a good job of creating an eerie atmosphere, although some parts were made more comical thanks to some minor animation and texture bugs.
P.S. If you are on Windows 7 like me and the demo is crashing on launch, you will need to go navigate to the install directory and rename the movie directory. The intro movie is causing the demo to crash. If you need help navigating to the directory, you can right click on the demo in steam, go to properties, local files, and then click the browse button. Once in the directory, navigate to TCB_03, Content, and then rename the Movies directory to anything. You should be able to launch the game after this.