First off, I'd like to congratulate the marketing department that was at SegaSoft in 1997. Despite knowing full well how awful this game is, it's stuck with me for 20 years now, thanks in large part to what I first saw in advertisements and the box art. In hindsight, I realize it wasn't so much the actual marketing, but rather my own mind taking this fantastic concept and making it into WAY more than it ever was.
My first exposure to Flesh Feast was around the time of its release in 1997. I didn't have a PC, so I had no way of actually playing the game, but I salivated at the (laughable) prospects of a console port every time I saw it in a magazine. Once it arrived in stores, I was enamored with the amazing horror movie-inspired box art. And then the reviews started to trickle in. The game was pretty much universally panned, but that didn't stop my mind from personally hyping this game up to incredible heights. But really, what could I have done to prevent this? I was a 15 year old kid who happened to be a HUGE fan of all things horror and with magazine spreads like this, the game looked incredible:
In 1998, I finally owned a PC and this was one of the many games I sought out immediately. I downloaded the demo and prepared for my mind to be blown. After dealing with some atrocious load times, the demo level was finally ready. My first impression was the absolutely horrid framerate, even on my rocket-fueled Pentium 233 Mhz with MMX Technology. But a choppy framerate wasn't going to stop me, I had waited far too long! Let's see, what should I do...wait, what? I'm already dead?
And therein lies the first major, non-technical issue with Flesh Feast. Basically as soon as you load up a level, you're being attacked. I don't mean you start walking a few steps and you run into an enemy. I mean if you don't move within about three seconds of loading the level, your face will be eaten off. And in some of the later levels, it was literally LESS THAN A SECOND TO CHOW TIME! Think I'm joking? Here's a video I recorded, check out how fast you see people being attacked:
The funny thing is, Flesh Feast isn't a difficult game by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it's actually quite easy and I nearly marked it as such when entering the difficulty score here on Completionator. I opted for "Just Right" since there's barely enough to keep you on your toes in terms of combat and some really obscure switch-pulling "puzzles" to deal with.
One for All? No, Just One...Three Times.
Okay, so what IS Flesh Feast, exactly? The game was pitched as an action / strategy hybrid where you try to survive the zombie apocalypse. Generally speaking, that's mostly correct...I guess. But the gameplay is so flawed that it really ends up being straight-up action and very little strategy.
When you start the game out, you're presented with a map of the region where zombies are running amok. You take control of three different groups of survivors. Each group starts with three playable characters, but only one of them is tied to the story in any capacity. For each group, you play through three "regular" levels, all of which end with you leaving the area by way of unlocking a gate, blowing something up that was blocking your way, etc. After those three are finished, you get the "climax" level for each group, which is essentially the same, except you fortify the level, rather than escape it. If you add them all up, you get 3 groups times 4 levels = 12 levels. Once you finish those, you get two more levels that must be played in a predetermined order to finish the game.
Overall, that's not a bad setup, really. You can play with any of the groups in any order. In terms of assets, the levels are actually fairly varied, but they all contain the exact same gameplay elements. The final level in the game is the only one with a time-limit, which I'm generally not a fan of, but I welcomed some sort of change by that point.
So within each level, you control a team of survivors. When you start the game, they have nothing in their inventory. You wander around the maps, avoiding enemies until you can find some decent gear. As far as I could tell, all weapons / items have predetermined locations, which kinda sucks in terms of replay value. It would've added a lot more tension if I didn't know where the chainsaw was every time I played the Graveyard level (my opening level of choice).
I'd say my biggest disappointment in this game is the strategy aspect of things. Even though you get a group of survivors to control in each level, I found it nearly impossible to keep them all alive. You can try controlling the characters directly, one at a time, with the keyboard or you can control them similar to a real-time strategy game with the mouse (and keyboard).
The RTS-style was borderline unplayable for me, so I ended up just directly controlling the main character and letting the other characters fend for themselves, which typically resulted in them dying a horrible, bloody death. You can also find new survivors as you play the game and you can add them to your team in between levels. This is another neat idea that I could get on board with, but I simply couldn't keep them alive for it to matter.
Weapons of Flesh Destruction
So let's talk about the combat since it comprises the bulk of the game. There are a bunch of weapons in the game, including melee ones like the aforementioned chainsaw, axe, sledgehammer, etc. There are also guns like a pistol, uzi, shotgun, etc. And then finally you have some dynamite, grenades, and other random explosives. The inventory system is a bit clunky, but over time I was able to manage it fairly well.
The combat overall is surprisingly fun in a B-movie kinda way. I used the chainsaw for probably 80% of the game and it was still so satisfying even at the very end. The main issue with combat is that you fight ONE enemy THE ENTIRE GAME: Zombies. They might have slight model variations, but they're all basically the same. There aren't any ranged enemies, no human enemies, no animals, nothing. It's you against a boatload of zombies. The ones you kill in the first level are the same ones you'll be killing at the end of the game. There are no bosses. It's seriously just simple zombies. Okay, I think I hammered that home enough!
The main challenge here is that enemies can respawn in certain locations and it becomes more common as you progress through the game. I'm normally against infinite respawning, but at least here it sort of makes sense since zombies rise from the dead, right? Fine, I can get on board with that. But should they be respawning through concrete!?! So it's a little silly, but I'll let it slide....I guess.
Key, Switch, Key, Switch
I'm not going to talk much about the puzzles because it's basically find a key(card), unlock a door, press a switch...repeat. They don't make any logical sense. I mean, why would a keycard be in the middle of a golf course (and no, it wasn't on a corpse or anything)? The game doesn't really point you in the right direction (no quest markers here!), so it's a lot of trial error in terms of using a door, finding out its locked, finding the key, etc. But hey, at least you have something to do other than kill the same zombie repeatedly!
But here's the real horror of this game. After playing for an hour or so, something...unexpected...happened. I actually started to enjoy the game (yikes!) Don't get me wrong, it's not a good game by any means and maybe it was just nostalgia and my own personal hype shining through, but the game was rather enjoyable for what it was. The levels were interesting enough as I scoured them for useful gear (even though I only used the chainsaw...) and they were just large enough that respawning zombies kept me alert without being too much of an annoyance.
It really felt like an incomplete game pretty much right from the get-go, but the concept is so great (especially for 1997) that I pushed on. I don't think another 6 months of development time would've made this a classic or anything, but it could've really polished off what they had and made it a mildly respectable budget game (note: it was a full-price release). The game also has a multiplayer mode, including Heat.net support back in the day, which probably chipped away at development time spent on the single player portion.
This one clocked in at just a bit over 4 hours and despite it being a bad game overall, I ended up enjoying it to some degree. I find it highly unlikely I will ever revisit the game, but I'm so glad I can finally put this one to rest after having it lodged at the back of my mind for 20 years.
It was published by SegaSoft (who had a lot of very interesting games in the '90s) and it's unlikely to ever see any sort of re-release. It wasn't popular on initial release, has no sort of cult following that I'm aware of, and is generally considered to be a terrible game. BUT, if you like horror stuff like me, happen to have Windows 98 sitting around, and can have a little patience with it.........you might get a few hours of chainsaw-wielding, zombie slicing, key fetching goodness.