Red Colony Review

Play Critically was provided with a review code for this videogame. This review contains images with blood, dismembered bodies, and sexual content.

Red Colony is a survival horror side-scroller about a scientist trying to find her family in the midst of a zombie virus outbreak. It is an unspecified time in the future and humanity has settled Mars with several color-coded colonies. Red Colony is home to a lab which has made breakthroughs in genetic engineering, granting its citizens long-lasting youth and beauty. The lab’s CEO is Maria, a workaholic whose accomplishments are offset by alienating her employees and neglecting her husband and daughter. Maria tries to ignore her personal problems by celebrating Red Colony’s 100th anniversary at a wild party, but she wakes up the next morning in a warehouse near the colony border with no memory of how she got there. To make things worse, the colony is now teeming with zombies. I assume control of Maria as she sets out to reunite with her family and escape from Red Colony before she becomes one of the ravenous undead.

I’ll talk about the character models later. Bear with me.

The primary goal in Red Colony is to escape the colony by solving puzzles blocking the way forward while utilizing scarce resources to kill zombies that get in the way. The game world is long and narrow, beginning on its left side and ending on its right. Along the way I pass through different environments, including houses, a school, a shopping mall, and an airport. These environments are simply designed to varying effect. The houses feel cookie-cutter and interchangeable, which works well for conveying a homogenized, corporatized future. I only recognize the school, mall, and airport as such because I am told that is what they are. They feel too small and empty to be believable. The way out of each area is blocked by a door which I must find the key to open before I may continue.

Finding these keys is complicated by the zombies that now infest Red Colony. Zombies are commonplace in the survival horror genre and they offer no surprises here. They shamble towards Maria and I must stop them by using the weapons in her inventory. If they reach Maria, they grab her and take a few bites before releasing her, giving me a moment to run away or open fire again. They are most dangerous at the beginning when Maria has few weapons and little ammunition for them, but as I progress through the environment and build up resources they become less and less of a threat. Zombies never grow more powerful or numerous as the scenario progresses. There are no boss-type super zombies to contend with. Once I replace Maria’s knife and handgun with a shotgun and submachine gun what little challenge Red Colony’s zombies offer vanishes.

Using a 3D Printer to craft illegal weapons.

One way Red Colony does stand out is in how I add weapons to Maria’s arsenal. Firearms are banned in Red Colony’s future utopia, but I can discover illicit blueprints I can use with the colony’s many 3D printers to craft illegal weapons and ammunition, a thoughtful addition of a contemporary issue with the burgeoning 3D printer market. Thus most items I find throughout the environment are material for the 3D printers rather than weapons themselves. Ammunition does appear randomly in some containers, but so little that I often have to fall back on my knife to fight off a zombie in the first half. This does little to increase the challenge.

If I want to find the blueprints to craft these weapons I will need to solve Red Colony’s puzzles. These puzzles tend to be hidden safe combinations. The opening moments are a good example. Maria wakes up in a warehouse, a helpfully zombie-free area so I may acclimate to the controls and setting. The door leading out is locked by a level 1 security card. I find a note explaining that the card has been locked in a safe whose combination is the same as the warehouse security guard’s badge number, who is posted on the roof. I make my way to the roof, find the guard’s body, and use his badge number to open the safe. This first puzzle, while perhaps the simplest in Red Colony, typifies the puzzles I solve throughout.

In Red Colony, even lockers are safes.

When I visit the colony’s houses and need to assemble a three part key to open a bunker? Each fragment is stored in a safe in each house, and the safe’s combination can be deduced by reading notes the residents left lying around. Visiting the school? There are multiple safes in offices throughout the building, though curiously I only open one locker. Visiting the mall? Safes. Passing through the subway that connects every area? Safes. The code to each safe is always written down nearby, even if it doesn’t make sense that something would be a code. I learn not to question the logic of the situation; if I see a four digit number in the environment near a safe, I can rest assured it is most likely the safe’s code. As absurd as it is that Red Colony has almost entirely safe-based puzzles, I find solving them the most enjoyable and thought-intensive part of my experience.

While I am killing zombies and opening safes, Maria is driven by her family drama occurring amidst the apocalypse. When Maria returns to her home early in the story, she discovers the nanny has completely supplanted her role in the family—even appearing in her place in her daughter’s drawings. It is this domestic conflict which is at the heart of Maria’s journey across Red Colony and the problem with that is it has nothing to do with the zombie outbreak that drives the action. The zombies already feel non-threatening enough but the plot makes no effort to centralize them in the conflict. Worse still, the script has many grammatical errors, eye-searing all-caps text explosions, and profanity used like a ten-year-old who has just discovered cursing and believes it makes him sound more adult. Red Colony doesn’t know what story it’s trying to tell and doesn’t know how to write it competently either.

Bending over to talk on the phone, as women do.

In reading this review you’ve probably noticed Red Colony’s distinct character models. Their appearance is explained to be a result of the lab’s genetic engineering programs—presumably they all chose to look this way—but is taken to such extremes that it might seem like a joke if not for how exploitative it looks. Maria’s comically large chest bounces with the slightest movement. The more health she loses, the skimpier her clothing becomes in some kind of lascivious parody of a risk-reward system—and yes, her clothing magically grows back when I heal. The cast dress and pose like strippers in dialog scenes. In Red Colony’s most tasteless image, the menu screen is accented by Maria standing against a fence, her face blank, while disembodied hands grope at her breasts and crotch. There’s nothing wrong with an attractive woman dressed provocatively when it serves the story but this sexualized imagery adds nothing to this premise. It feels included to titillate but is so blatant that it fails to be so. It left me embarrassed that someone would expect these images to entice me.

In its best moments, Red Colony plays like an inexpensive Resident Evil side-scroller.

As I play Red Colony I can tell its creators are huge fans of Capcom’s 1990s survival horror videogames. It plays like a low budget, side-scrolling Resident Evil that can be finished in two or three hours. On this basis I want to enjoy it, and when I’m in the midst of deducing a safe combination puzzle I am enjoying it. It’s everything else which holds it back. In a survival horror with zombies, the zombies feel incidental. A potentially interesting domestic drama is hamstrung by amateurish writing and a disconnection from what I’m actually doing in the world. Worst of all are the overly-sexualized character models which left me constantly bewildered and dismayed. There’s promise of an inexpensive Resident Evil homage here, but that promise is broken by Red Colony’s juvenile sensibilities.