'Zelter' PC impressions: The Stardew Valley zombie apocalypse I didn't know I wanted

Zelter Preview 2020
Zelter Preview 2020 (Image credit: Windows Central)

I'm a big fan of Undead Labs' State of Decay, and the whole idea of surviving in a zombie apocalypse in general. Whether it's movies or video games, there's just something fascinating about the formula, and no matter how many zombie games launch, we just can't seem to get enough of them.

Having grown a bit tired of State of Decay 2, I've been looking for something similar to scratch the itch while I wait for the recently-announced State of Decay 3. And I may have just found it in 'Zelter,' which recently hit early access on Steam. At least, perhaps, after several updates. It's pretty broken right now.

A promising idea

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Zelter is almost a no-brainer when you think about it. Stardew Valley is a relaxing, and relatively passive farming and community-building game, available now for Xbox One, PC, and other platforms. Many of those elements, from crafting, to crop farming, and community building, also make sense in any self-respecting zombie apocalypse simulator, and clearly Zelter agrees.

You start out in a small shack, in what appears to be an overgrown park area. You can chop down trees for wood and eat their fruit for sustenance.

Zelter Preview 2020 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Zelter Preview 2020 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Source: Windows Central

You can smash rocks and other objects to obtain more crafting materials, and cobble them together at a workbench to make all sorts of contraptions. Smash up a car and turn the metal shards into bullets, for example, no questions asked.

You can also make more zombie-apocalypse-themed items like barricades as you ascend through the diverse crafting blueprint map, and boy oh boy, you may bloody well need them.

Too rough to recommend, at least for now

Watching this back, it seems like diagonal shots seem to have hit registration issues as well.

As of writing, Zelter has a "mostly negative" review rating on Steam, and it's hard to disagree really. The game feels aggressively imbalanced, and the controls are frustrating at best.

The game starts out passively enough, but before long, zombies start infesting your base, smashing up your stuff, and draining your health. Rapidly. Crafting a pittance of bullets takes a long time, and each zombie absorbs four bullets at a time before it will go down with the basic weapon.

It feels like Zelter tries to have some form of stealth controls, with a shift key that makes your character move more slowly. There also seems to be a very vague hint of sound emittance from your character, but it's incredibly hard to see. I'm curious if Zelter plans to add more robust stealth to the game to avoid zombies completely, but so far, it just doesn't seem to work very well.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

I hope they do, because zombies can run faster than you if you're backpedaling to shoot them and kill you in three to four hits. Don't even bother trying to engage them in melee either, you will die faster than you can kill them.

Once you get a few zombies chasing you, more and more will join the fray. Your inventory won't physically be large enough to carry enough ammo to kill more than eight or so zombies at a time. You do seem to be able to get rid of zombies by breaking their line of sight. Rushing into a house, slamming the door, then exiting through a window seems to get zombies off your tail. If you can actually exit that is. The game's controls are very poor, insofar that if two interactable objects, like a door and something else are too close in proximity, there's no way to precision select which object you actually intend to use. It can leave you trapped and cornered, and by the third time this happened, I just decided I'd had enough. But hey, early access, right?

I didn't know I wanted Zelter

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Zelter has charming graphics, nice animations, and a good art style, but the game is too rough to recommend right now. That said, the concept alone is enough to make me hope and pray that Zelter emerges from early access in a more polished, playable form. Even beyond the balance and tuning issues, the game seems to have a high chance to crash when you sleep to remove fatigue, which is another annoyance.

If you want to give Zelter a try, it's available on Steam for a relatively low price, but I'd argue that waiting for a few more updates may be a smarter choice at this stage of the game.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!