Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone should be the perfect game for me. I absolutely love twin-stick shooters and zombies, even while saturating the gamescape, are still ridiculously enjoyable to mow down. This sequel to Zombie Apocalypse from Backbone and Konami even features a Left 4 Dead style group dynamic blended with traditional action-RPG standards. The ingredients are all there, but the recipe needs some more time in the test kitchen.
It’s to the game’s credit that the first thing that happened when I loaded the game was a chuckle. The deranged zombie voice instructing me to “Push Start” was quite humorous. Unfortunately, once I started the game, the laughs were few and far between, reserved only for one characters special “zombie bait” attack. As I mentioned, Zombie Apocalypse: NDA has four different characters on screen at all times, similar to Left 4 Dead. Even when playing solo, you’ll have three bot allies. Unfortunately, rather than implement any sort of strategy, the bots follow the player-controlled characters like sheep.
Most of the time, this prevents anyone from getting too far away and overrun. However, starting in the second level, you’ll encounter large zombies that have area of effect attacks. Clumping up gives the big bad an easy way to pick off every member of the group at once. Each and every death I suffered in the game was exactly in this situation and each time I managed to survive in single-player, it was with only my controlled character remaining.
There is a cooperative mode that supports local and online play. The story campaigns are segregated, though, such that you can’t take your progress from the single player into the multiplayer. Your characters only level up within the campaign rather than having over-arching stats. Thankfully, the co-op modes are the way to enjoy this game. The less of the game’s AI present, the more fun you will have with Zombie Apocalypse.
Each character’s default attack is a unique ranged weapon: dual pistols, sub-machine gun, high-powered rifle and shotgun. In addition, you can pick up mash-up weapons in the level. These are similar to Dead Rising 2’s created gear, only less creative. A flamethrower made of hairspray and a lighter and a paintball grenade launcher might pack a punch, but they aren’t as wacky as the characters make them seem.
The four each have their own zombie bait from the Molotov to the boom box that plays licensed 80s music (Do you really want to hurt me? Yes. Yes I do.) to the teddy bear strapped with C4 that works suspiciously like Left 4 Dead’s Pipe Bomb. Each also builds up their “pwnage” meter, these all have useful effects, except for Def Money’s (yes, that is his name) cricket bad attack.
You’ll pick up cash along the way that can be used in between the game’s 10 levels to purchase upgrades for your ranged weapon, speed, zombie bait carrying capacity and pwnage ability. You can only purchase the upgrade when you’ve earned enough experience in that area, though. There are also bonus objectives in each level that will earn you cash for completion. Bizarrely, you cannot actually check the list mid-level to refresh your memory or check your progress.
Unfortunately, that isn’t the only odd design choice. There are some odd gait problems that inexplicably had me slowing down to a walk randomly. In addition, there is a huge lag between laying off the firing stick and being able to run at full speed.
Throughout the game, there are points where it decides to pretend to be a classic beat ’em up. No, you don’t have to use your fists, although each character has a next-to-useless melee attack. I mean that you get stuck and simply can’t press forward, though the game neglects to share that fact with you until you (and all your sheep) are up against an invisible wall and surrounded. There are also survivors scattered throughout the game. You’ll escort them for a while until you reach a nonsensically placed drop-off point, at which point they will run off on their own. My biggest problem with the survivors is that in order to get them to follow you, you have to shake and slap them.
For some reason, I had a hard time with this. Even knee-deep in zombie guts, I just found it wrong to shake and slap a hysterically crying woman in order to get her to see reason and follow me. Of course, if the playable characters were more likeable maybe I wouldn’t have felt like such a tool hitting a scared woman. No- I still would have felt crappy about it.
The characters in the game feature an ensemble that is only slightly tweaked from the one in the original Left 4 Dead. There’s the old guy (a priest), the black guy (a British rapper who enjoys the f-bomb), an Asian girl that is a whiz with weapons and, one of the worst characters to ever grace a videogame, Jeremy. Jeremy is the kind of gamer that conservatives think we all are. He cannot distinguish reality from fiction and every other word out of his mouth is either “pwn” (pronounced: own) or “noob” (pronounced: please shut up now). He spouts memes in the most grating of voices and, by the 50th time I heard him ask, “U mad, bro?” my answer was pretty clear. The other characters are nearly as annoying, but Jeremy’s presence in the game simply makes it hard to play. He is simply offensive to anyone who takes pride in being a gamer.
The final level of the game also feels ripped straight from Left 4 Dead, as you have to wait and hold off everything the game can throw at you. The credits are creative and you’ll be able to kill some more zombies while a stream of survivors head to your yacht. Your reward for finishing is more forced humor and two versions of a survival mode.
Graphically, the game is hit or miss with some very enjoyable explosions and creative zombie types. The main characters are a bit blocky, though, and the game does a poor job of providing feedback on accuracy for the rifle and the shotgun. The slower weapons occasionally are hard to hear and feel when you are even firing. They just feel wrong.
The audio is generally a bit strange and I don’t understand some of the decisions. In addition to the atrocious voice acting (which isn’t helped by a miserable script), the zombies seem to be able to vocalize. They can’t think beyond racing for your flesh, but they can talk? The music has some interesting moments, but it’s not anything that stuck in my head after shutting the game off. Some of the sound effects are quite good, but as I mentioned, some of the guns just don’t feel powerful and I couldn’t always tell when I was making contact or even firing.
I wanted to love Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone, but its Frankenstein approach to game design, taking ideas that worked well in other games and stitching them together haphazardly, just doesn’t work. Co-op salvages some of the enjoyment since it limits the presence of miserable friendly AI, but unless you are playing with a full party of humans, you’ll still feel the sting. The humor often falls flat when it isn’t entirely offensive or grating. Zombies and twin-stick shooters should be a perfect fit, but this game feels more “noob” and less “pwn.”
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.