I played the demo for Expedition Zero and let me tell you, this is a whole different game. In my opinion, the full release is a better game but it’s definitely a different experience from the demo.
The demo had one basic level, a decrepit, run down, eerie town. You explored the level, trying to turn on generators and explore the village while evading a gigantic, naked monster. The demo was slightly buggy so I still remember the humorous moments of the monster bugging out. The monster also only had one lone clothing item and it would clip past his body, revealing his buttocks. It turned the game into an unintentional comedy and left a memorable impression.
The full release does a better job of creating a sense of foreboding. Instead of just one village to explore, you have an entire wilderness. Spread around sporadically is the occasional zombie. They do a great job of keeping a sense of heightened tension because they are hard to spot sometimes and take a couple of shots to kill. And instead of a gigantic, naked monster with broken AI, you have a much smaller and stealthier apparition chasing you from time to time.
This new monster is harder to spot, can’t be killed, and stalks you at moments you least expect it. The new monster, combined with the new direction in the level design does a way better job of keeping you on your toes and always looking behind your back to make sure nothing is chasing you.
Playing the game also feels more methodical and slower paced. You are searching a pretty large map. The main way of upgrading your gear is to collect items to scrap at printers placed in key locations. Each printer can break down your scrap into three main components which are then used to craft new items. Each printer can create only a specific item so blueprints are not needed as in the demo. This makes it much more challenging to get gear as you have to find the printer that prints the desired item in order to craft it.
The items do help quite a bit as they do things such as make it easier to retain body heat, provide lighting, recharge your battery when you move, and etc. As you move around the map, your body temperature is constantly falling and the places where you can make a fire are far apart and few in number. If you aren’t careful, your body temperature will fall to a state where your health will start draining rather quickly.
The game is pretty enjoyable. You need upgrades so you have to explore each area carefully. But exploring takes time and time means your body temperature is constantly dropping. This means you need to have a fire going but staying in one location for too long means the monster will start chasing you again. It creates a nice sense of pressure of having to scavenge for materials while also having to be on the move.
The game’s narrative has changed significantly from the demo as well. You are still left behind by your expedition team and now your only way out is to help a mysterious figure find out what happened in the area by locating and scanning anomalies. It gives the player a more concrete objective and a goal to chase after in the game.
Overall, Expedition Zero is a pretty solid survival crafting game. It’s light on both elements but makes up for it with the overall ambience and sense of tension. Much of the game mechanics are streamlined so you can focus on exploring and surviving.