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For me, nostalgia in gaming is one of the most enjoyable feelings. In spite of the prevalent negativity within the gaming community, nostalgia has the power to take us back to a time when gaming was less cynical. The flash game genre has always been a fantastic time capsule into a period when free flash games offered hours of entertainment for no charge. No other game series solidifies the excitement and ingenuity of the genre for me better than Con Artist Games‘ The Last Stand franchise. With the recent launch of The Last Stand Legacy Collection on Steam, I thought it would be fun to look back on these flash game classics and express why I think they’re so important.

My introduction to this series goes back to around 2008 where I was browsing either Kongregate or Newgrounds and stumbled upon a new flash zombie game. I was amazed at the impressive visuals – which appear to be meticulously hand-drawn – and while it actually caused my ageing laptop to lag horribly, I was still enamoured by the game’s foreboding atmosphere and grotesque gore.

Humble Beginnings

The Last Stand 1 & 2 are essentially 2D horde shooters where players need to defend a ramshackle barricade against ever-increasing hordes. They also need to use the hours in between each night to delegate tasks such as scavenging for weapons, survivors, or repairing the barricade. The risk/reward of time management is one of the more engaging elements of the game, as sending search parties out can cost you rescued survivors.

Choose your scavenge locations wisely. – Source: Screen capture – Christopher Clawson

These mechanics are expanded significantly in The Last Stand 2 where the goal is to move from town to town until you reach Union City and finish the game. The search process then becomes about choosing the right buildings to search, which takes time but will get you weapons, survivors, or vital supplies needed to travel.

There is high tension in both games, as there is an element of strategy in picking your targets as the horde approaches. Learning things like the different walking animations can help you determine which zombie will reach your defences first, or noticing a zombie covered in body armour will help you make more effective shots. The games have fun weapons and impressive animations for the time, with incredibly satisfying and gory headshots being a highlight.

Ravenous hordes and chunky headshots abound. – Source: Screen Capture – Christopher Clawson

Union City

Where this franchise truly impressed me, and why I believe Con Artist Games were a titan of the flash game period, is their incredibly ambitious 2011 magnum opus The Last Stand: Union City. Clearly exhibiting what flash games were capable of, and also the passion present in Con Artist Games, this game was a two-year project complete with everything you would expect from a large-scope endeavour with plenty of community engagement, feedback, and playtesting.

The Last Stand: Union City took the series from a horde shooter with management mechanics to a fully-fledged side-scrolling RPG with Fallout-style skill points and character creation. Just like the previous entries, it was completely free to experience. The game tasked players with travelling through the titular Union City to find their spouse and be evacuated. Along the way, you’ll scavenge for supplies, face hordes of zombies, and complete quests. The game even offered players the choice for a “run & gun” mode and a more hardcore survival mode with hunger and energy needs. Unlike the previous entries in the franchise, which could be completed in less than an hour, this game offered at minimum 4-5 hours of enjoyable content with an ending that fans of the original games will appreciate.

From Horde defence to fully-fledged RPG. – Source: Screen capture – Christopher Clawson

Why These Games Matter

At times like these when the industry is rife with controversy and horror stories its nice to go back to games like this that remind you of why you love the industry, these games were clearly passion projects by someone who wanted to bring their zombie survival fantasy to life and make available to anyone with a computer. They should be recognised for how much was achieved with flash technology in the hands of an independent developer and they are at least for me, the closing chapter in the long and exciting history of flash games.

But don’t take just my word for it right now the collection sits at an impressive “very positive” rating on steam with just shy of 500 reviews, with gamers relishing in fond memories of sneakily playing the game at school or spending whole nights binging Union City. It’s wonderful to see so many gamers come together to share their experiences with these hidden gems.

Where are Con Artist Games now?

Con Artist Games have gone from strength to strength, creating the successful and beloved social game follow-up, The Last Stand: Dead Zone, and now having their latest entry in the franchise set to be an evolution of everything that’s come before it. With The Last Stand: Aftermath releasing sometime next year, and the recent release of the Legacy Collection, it seems only right to give these classic games and their developer the praise they deserve, and the thanks for giving me some of my fondest childhood gaming memories.

The Last Stand: Aftermath is available to wishlist on Steam right now and has a demo to try out.  Meanwhile, the Last Stand Legacy Collection is available on Steam for the low price of £7.19/€8.19 and, for a window into the golden years of flash gaming, it’s well worth it. If you’re a returning player like me, it’s a great way to support a developer who gave us so many fond memories.

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