Xbox Live Arcade and PSN have become breeding grounds for ideas both new and old. When a developer combines both of these aspects to bring an interesting take on a genre, it really makes me appreciate that we have the service. Developer Nihilistic has taken the recent trend of slaying zombies and combined it with the old-school arcade mentality from such games as Smash TV and Robotron. Twin stick shooters are nothing new, but when you combine Left 4 Dead with Geometry Wars you get a mash-up of entertainment that is one of the most predictable, repetitive and mindlessly addictive multi-player experiences on the service. Zombie Apocalypse is a great time waster, as long as you don’t expect anything ground-breaking.
The premise is as simple as they come. You take on the role of one of four different survivors and attempt to outlast the 55 day campaign. From the select screen you can feel the influence from Valve’s zombie masterpiece. There is absolutely no difference in any of the four protagonists, so your choice is entirely based on which one you want to stare at wave after wave. They do have a couple different reaction animations at the end of each wave, but they all retain the B-movie feel and repeat often making them more of a novelty than a feature. Story is not a focus, nor should it be, and the game plods along at a steady pace as you progress from one wave to the next mowing down zombies.
What I enjoyed most about tackling each wave is that they felt slightly different thanks to enemy variations, environmental hazards, and even themed levels. There were times where the electricity was out, and you have to hunt the undead down with the illumination of a flashlight. Enemy variation plays a huge role with some of the most original concoctions that keep gameplay fresh and interesting. You have your traditional zombies that stumble around after you at a snail’s pace, as well as the larger zombies that you cannot shake off once contact is made. There are kamikaze zombies that come at you ready to explode, pregnant zombies that spawn demon fly-babies that will swarm you and knife-throwing grannies that have deadly accuracy with their blades.
The scoring system adopts the punishing arcade mentality that you will eventually master the game because you have no life. I say this because top scores are only recorded if you start from Day One, and you never use a continue. Needless to say this is no small feat, as the later waves will test your twin-stick skills like no other before it. Thankfully this is only if you want bragging rights, because you can continue as much as you want to. On my first play I manage to make it 30 days before I had to lay the game down, and this was going at it solo. The action really takes on a new level of excitement when you throw three friends into the mix.
Much like Geometry Wars before it, your score is multiplied based on how much you can kill before being taken down. This becomes an addictive obsession as you attempt to boost your multiplier before one of the construction worker zombies grabs hold of you. You are equipped with a chainsaw that also boosts the multiplier as it must be operated up close and personal, thus exposing yourself to close encounters. The risk/reward system works great and seeing how many days you can last before finally expiring your extra life cache is a blast. The worst part is that the developers put in an Achievement/Trophy that you can earn when you reach a multiplier of 100. Unfortunately this is a lot more challenging than you can imagine as your multiplier score only goes up after five kills, and most levels don’t send enough zombies to boost it without using the chainsaw method.
Every few waves you are also introduced to a new weapon that makes taking out zombies that much more fun. You always have your default assault rifle and chainsaw, but you can also obtain shotguns, rocket launchers, grenade launchers and my personal favorite the flamethrower. Each weapon has a unique and special way of taking down enemies, not to mention a unique way of painting the streets with their innards. One of the coolest things is the teddy bear that you can get when you rescue a civilian. These act as smart bombs that lure all zombies to its location, spout a hilarious quip, and then detonate. This always delivers a smile to your face as you watch the moshpit of the undead light up like a Christmas tree.
The other thing that I really enjoyed about Zombie Apocalypse was the level variety. Each level has a cavalcade of death traps that you can lure your pursuers into for an even more grizzly death. These include electrical wires, fireworks, saw blades and of course the traditional jet engine. Considering there are 55 days to get through the level variety keeps things interesting, even if they begin to repeat right around ten days in. I also appreciated the assortment of themes ranging from a graveyard to the town square, all complete with immense detail and plenty of room to maneuver.
Visually the game adopts the top-down isometric perspective you would expect from this type of game. The levels pack plenty of eye candy including impressive lighting effects and the frame rate usually only takes a dip when you throw a C4 party with the explosive teddy bear during rush hour. The character models and enemies are highly detailed and nicely animated considering how much action you can get onscreen at once. My one complaint is the drab color palette that makes the game feel more muted than it should. Sound effects are standard fare as is the mundane soundtrack, but some of the dialogue is absolutely hilarious; in that cheesy B-movie sort of way.
Zombie Apocalypse is a great addition to both downloadable services. It is mindless fun that can feel repetitive if you let it. The hardcore scoring method will keep junkies occupied for some time and the multi-player is a blast when you can find three friends to play with. It is not going to change the way you play games, but there are much worse ways for you to waste $10 on either service. If you are craving the next great twin-stick shooter I highly recommend giving Zombie Apocalypse a try. Besides who does not love mowing down the undead?