DeathlyStillness certainly knows how to sell itself — or rather convince people to take a look at it, since it’s completely free to download and try. And, as longstanding Internet denizens will know, completely free projects can often throw up some thoroughly interesting things to explore.
“This is a boring third-person zombie game with no plot,” reads the official Steam store description. “Complete the quest to kill all the zombies. This game is a teaching case game of bilibili Chen Jiacheng, not an officially released game.”
While the former part almost had me clicking away from the game’s page — although its uncharacteristic honesty, rather rare to see in the games industry these days, intrigued me — the latter part was of particular interest. Was there more to this than met the eye? What exactly does it mean by it being a “teaching case game of bilibili Chen Jiacheng” and “not an officially released game”? I decided to find out.
DeathlyStillness is a simple third-person shooter game in which you take on the role of an anonymous male character (simply referred to as “the protagonist” by the game) and are tasked with blasting a particular quota of zombies in one of two different locations, making use of one of two different assault rifle weapons.
Zombies are hidden around the environment, but respond to noise and vision cues — and these are “modern-style” zombies who can run, climb and jump rather than your classic-style shambling hordes. You can dispatch them either by shooting them — ideally in the head, which is accompanied by a “badge” celebrating your solid marksmanship every time you pull it off — or by hitting them with melee attacks; successfully landing several of these in succession will defeat a zombie with a slight slow-motion effect.
Scattered around the two environments are ammo packs, and unless you’re very accurate with your shots, you’ll probably need to grab these in order to survive. Reloading takes quite a long time and you’re unable to do anything other than move while changing magazines, so you need to time this carefully. There’s also no regenerating health and no health packs, so every hit you take absolutely counts.
The first level is set on a small area of highway, so the zombies are mostly easy to spot. The second, meanwhile, is set in a run-down village, with zombies often hiding inside houses on both their ground and upper floors, forcing you into close-quarters combat unless you can lure them out of their hiding places.
As DeathlyStillness’ description states, there is no plot whatsoever; all you have to do is kill all of the zombies on the map, at which point you are helpfully informed that you “WIN”, and are presented with the opportunity to either try again or go back to the main menu.
Here’s the thing: it’s actually pretty fun. The sort of “hide and seek” nature of DeathlyStillness’ gameplay works very well, particularly on the village map, and it’s not hard to see how with a bit of extra fleshing out, this could actually turn into a thoroughly enjoyable and addictive arcade-style game.
It only needs a few additions, really. Perhaps a scoring system, rewarding you for accurate headshots and perhaps kills achieved in rapid succession of one another. Perhaps a “time attack” system, where your overall time to complete each stage is recorded on a leaderboard — or maybe a combination of both, where completing the stage more quickly results in a larger time bonus.
Drop in some more maps, a wider selection of playable characters — the visual options for the male character are nice to have, but it would be good to have some alternative character models such as, at the very least, a woman (or a cute anime girl, we love them around here) — and perhaps an online co-op mode, and creator Chen Jiacheng could potentially have a big hit on his hands.
DeathlyStillness originated as part of a video broadcast on Chen Jiacheng’s bilibili channel in which he attempted to make a zombie game in half an hour on stream. He is an officially certified instructor in Unreal Engine (see his website here), so figured that an informal “jam” like this would be a good means of demonstrating how to make good use of the engine as well as the resources which are available to creators.
During the creation process, he paid for character and scene models from the Unreal Engine’s marketplace, but coded the UI, interactivity, game logic, character movement, pickups, shooting mechanics, damage system, AI, atmosphere and performance optimisation himself.
He failed the overall challenge, but decided to give himself three days to improve the game and make it readily available for his followers to try for themselves and offer some feedback. After ten days of receiving and implementing feedback, he released the game for free and, after becoming frustrated with the slow download speeds his web host was providing, paid up to become a registered Steam developer and release DeathlyStillness to the general worldwide public.
In total DeathlyStillness cost 8,000 Chinese yuan (about £895) to create — that’s including server fees and the Steam developer deposit. Chen notes that he hopes to continue development of the game “if players’ expectations are high”, but notes that it is an “amateur production and the development will be slow”.
“I am aware of many shortcomings,” he notes on the game’s Steam page,” but these improvements need time and energy. I am happy to share my game, but please respect the results of my labour.”
Self-deprecating or not, DeathlyStillness is actually a surprisingly enjoyable, playable game even in its current limited state — and many of the 2,761 “Very Positive” reviews on Steam at the time of writing are encouraging Chen to continue development further, with many noting that with some additional content and mechanics, they’d be more than happy to actually pay money for the game.
Turns out that this “boring” zombie game actually has quite an interesting story behind it. Who’d have thought it? If you want to check it out for yourself, download it for free from Steam right here.
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