Zombie Master is a multiplayer Half-Life 2 modification, centred around a zombie-apocalypse, which throws all but one player in the shoes of human survivors. Pitched against a relentless tide of rotting flesh, they must scavenge for weaponry and equipment just to stay alive. But that one player, chosen randomly at the beginning of the round, is not bound by mortal restraints.
To speak his name is to invite the wrath of hell - but most call him the 'Zombie Master'. He is nigh omnipotent. His invisible hand controls the legions of undead like puppets on strings; slowly closing the net on the humans while they run to and fro like rats in a maze.
The common concept behind your average zombie horror game is, if you’ll excuse the pun, used to death. There are hundreds of games and modifications founded on this most simple idea; an undead zombie horde that spreads like a cancer, feasting on a few disorganised survivors who try and defend themselves. Zombie Master isn’t trying to break away from this core gameplay element, and neither does it try to "redefine the genre", or fulfil any other fabricated promise. No, what Zombie Master tries to do is challenge the players.
Zombie games are, for the most part, incredibly brainless. You’re usually thrown against an army of rotting computer-controlled corpses, that have the simple task of walking towards a player and then attempting to bite their neck off. Most of the time they get shot a fair bit in the process. Of course, then you have the games on the other end of the scales, mostly multiplayer, that allow players to take control of a zombie. The trouble is, the gameplay is either incredibly tedious and slow for the zombie, or the player zombie seems too intelligent, moving and fighting like a pro gamer rather than a mindless wretch.
Zombie Master is a unique multiplayer modification in that it maintains the tense, frightening atmosphere of a zombie horror game whilst truly challenging the player to think tactically and never underestimate their enemy. It manages to do this because humans only have one enemy- not an army of computer controlled corpses, or group of experienced players- but one single foe. The Zombie Master. He controls everything; his power is absolute. He can create zombies at will; and he leads them. Orders them. Rules them. He can hide a minion in a place that no computer would think of; flank players in a manoeuvre that is least expected, and plan strategies that player zombies are too impatient to execute. He is omnipotent. He is god. He is the Zombie Master.
So, how do a group of rag-tag civilians, weak from exhaustion and ill-equipped for survival, go about defeating the player who holds the all-powerful title of “Zombie Master”? Well, it’s simple. They don’t. Depending on the scenario, humans will be forced to team up in order to tackle a variation of objectives- such as repairing a crashed van to escape with, gaining entry to a military bunker, or simply getting out of the area alive. The Zombie Master; being the general git that he (or she) is, will do everything possible to stop them.
It would be wise to keep in mind that humans usually survive longer against their callous foe if they make use of the environment around them. Tables, chairs and crates can all be stuffed in doorways and corridors to slow the undead advance (although “slow” is the best it will do, as the Zombie Master has many a trick up his sleeve / her bra). If, however, a more offensive strategy is needed- guns, sharp pointy things and objects that explode are generally effective if you feel like spilling some blood. Problems can arise, however, if the zombies manage to surround you- or your ammunition depletes faster than you'd have hoped!
The solution to all your unholy problems, thankfully, is teaming up. While a lone straggler will be devoured by zombies before you can say “holy shit a zombie is eating me”, a well organised cluster of humans, each looking out for the other and keeping one finger on the trigger, are more likely to smite most of the undead in their path and cause the Zombie Master to stomp up and down on his hat / her dainty parasol in anger. In fact, most of the objectives will be incredibly hard to do without some friends watching your back or helping you out.
At the beginning of each new round, a player is selected at random to become the Zombie Master. It’s a tough job, commanding a legion of unholy damned to crush any pathetic mortals that get in your way, but someone’s got to do it. As time goes on the Master constantly gathers a pool of “resources”, which he can use to animate more dead to join his cause. Killing a human player (preferably in a very gruesome and terrifying way) will bag the Zombie Master a substantial amount of bonus resources, which can prove essential for building those huge armies.
While human players would be forgiven for not stopping to inspect every shuffling horror they encounter, a keen eye might spot that the Zombie Master can actually summon a number of different zombie types to do his bidding. Other than the standard shambling corpses (the bare bones of your horde, slow but hard-hitting), there’s also rumours of faster units; running dead that can pounce on humans from a distance... and even hulking brutes that seem to have developed immortal strength. There’ve even been sightings of bizarre creatures that spit blood and command flames to disorientate the humans. Combining these various units allows for unique and efficient tactics. For instance; a skilled Zombie Master could attack with some expendable shamblies to distract the humans, while secretly concealing heavy brutes within a small house. Once the trap is set, faster units could be ordered into the fray, forcing the humans to retreat for cover- right into your zombie-infested building.
If you think the fun stops there, however- you’re sorely mistaken. At certain points in a map there are environmental actions or events that the Zombie Master can 'trigger'. These useful exploits, the so-called 'manipulates', can range from setting explosives alight, causing immediate danger for anyone nearby- to sending a bolt of deadly lighting down from the heavens. Whether manipulates are used as spooky scare-tactics or to actually deal damage, is all up to the Zombie Master. It’s essential to keep in mind, however, that these “manipulates” cost valuable resources to activate... and shouldn’t be used frivolously.
Zombie Master's initial concept was devised by Angry Lawyer, allegedly while engaged in lavatorial activities. When he saw what needed to be done, he set out to gather a team of retired superheroes to fulfil his dream. After the obligatory persuasion scenes, they agreed to help him if supplied with sufficient chocolate cookies. And so, they say, Zombie Master development was started.