Last month Kotaku UK put together a huge list of British developed games releasing at some point in 2018, and one of the titles on that list is Welcome to Basingstoke. It's an isometric game about surviving the zombie apocalypse in a town that is best known, in the real world, for containing an unusually high number of roundabouts. I got to play it at the PC Gamer Weekender, and the first thing that shone through was the sheer Britishness of the thing.
In Welcome to Basingstoke your WASD keys move a cute cuboid character with rounded edges through the streets, while direction and looting / items are on the mouse. The loot will be familiar to anyone who's walked down a British high street on a Sunday morning. It might be some kebab shop food or a sausage roll, which can be thrown to distract the horde, a broken pool cue to swing at their heads, or even the comprehensive school classic – a lighter and deodorant combined into a short-lived flamethrower. Each level you search for some kind of progression item, the first few being the front door keys to a pub and a code for a police station door, before entering a bastion of temporary safety then moving on.
The game has a number of different characters to play with, which in the final version will be unlocked through play a la The Binding of Isaac. These include the much-maligned foreign tourist, who started runs with a GPS indicating their end locations, but are armed with only a camera which mildly annoys zombies. There's also a trusty British bobby who starts with a sturdy truncheon that knocks back enemies. There look to be a tonne of these, each with their own little perks and visual flavour.
Considering the game is ostensibly about trying to survive in a zombie-riddled English town, and one in the shandy-drinking south no less, the art direction is surprisingly cute. Hiding in bins will allow you to view the isometric game in first person briefly, and the character models for the zombies are frankly more adorable than terrifying. Even being torn apart by a pack of the undead and having your entrails feasted upon is a somewhat charming sight, with cartoonishly colourful chunks bopping around as the crowd groans happily.
That's probably a good thing, because you'll see that quite often. Basingstoke may look sweet but the action is serious, and trying to simply run past hordes often ends up going terribly wrong. Enemies take you down in one swipe so the faster they are the bigger a threat they are – and if you don't have the right tools to keep them off, you're in real trouble. I wouldn't call this a brutally hard game, so much as one that forces you to take it seriously; milling around on autopilot and wasting ammo gets you killed.
In terms of making use of its setting, there's clearly a lot of local love, attention, and humour put into the development of the game. Loading screens are English style traffic lights which go from red through to green as levels load, wheelie bins match the design I've come to recognise rather than the american style big metal drums of most games, you loot corpses for pounds and pence sterling, and even the design of the pub hub between the first two levels had the distinct feel of a large town local. It's kind of dark and dreary, full of touches of dated 80s design contrasted with more modern choices side by side, and it really does capture the sense that it is set in somewhere like Basingstoke.
Having been to Basingstoke a couple of times, I didn't recognise any real life locations in what I played of the demo – though the developers assure me there's the town hall, among several other local landmarks, to be found. Which is nice, though the game's real achievement is in capturing that more general sense of the loveably drab that permeates so many town centres.
Welcome to Basingstoke is due out on March 30th, so we'll be taking a look at the final version soon enough. This is a cute and surprisingly solid survival action game, and one that feels like it could only have come from a town like Basingstoke.