Small, repetitive environments, weak weapons and an uneven difficulty level plague Zombie Apocalypse. This wholly uninspired dual-stick shooter lasts far too long and manages to make dispatching of hordes of the undead boring and tedious.
The game’s Default Mode sees players assume the role of one of four stereotypical survivors as they try and outlast 55 days of full-on zombie assault. Along the way, you will encounter nine types of zombie and attempt to destroy them with the help of 11 weapons, your trusty chainsaw and exploding teddy bears. On paper it sounds like fun, but in practice, Zombie Apocalypse is a chore to play. Read More…
The first and biggest issue I had with the game is that the 55 days of survival in Default Mode take place in a mere seven different environments. After the first “week” the levels simply start looping, albeit with more zombies to destroy. The game is just too long for it’s own good. It took me about four hours to complete Default Mode and that was at least two hours too many. About halfway through I was getting very bored and just longing for levels to end so I could save and quit, even at the expense of my high score.
The environments are very detailed and each one has its own traps like wood chippers and car crushers that you can send zombies into for bonus points. The real problem with the environments is that they’re all the same size, which is to say quite small. While a cramped feeling generally lends itself well to a game about survival, these environments provide ample ways to escape the brain-dead, pattern-based hordes and I was able to complete most levels by simply circling around them and staying near the preset weapon spawn points.
Not only do weapons spawn at the same spots throughout the course of the game, but zombies and your character do as well. This makes the whole experience very predictable and takes way any real challenge or strategy. The difficulty in Zombie Apocalypse comes from having many types of zombies on the same level at once. Some zombies cannot be shaken off and will devour you on contact. Others throw knives at you, run at you with explosives kamikaze style and pregnant zombies even give birth to undead moth minions. In most cases, having your character die feels more like it happens because of cheap kills rather than a genuine skill-based challenge, which leads to frustration.
Though Zombie Apocalypse is a relatively good-looking game, it can be tough to distinguish exactly what is attacking you and from where because of the game’s top-down view and pulled-back camera angle. There were countless times that I found myself saying "What the hell just got me?!". In the long run, dying is inconsequential and should you run out of lives, you can continue from exactly where you left off as many times as you want. Your progress is also saved after every day, so there is no need to complete the Default Mode in one sitting.
Losing a life does reset combo meter, which goes up with every five zombies you kill. Should you execute a zombie with your chainsaw, your combo meter will go up by three points at once. The longer you stay alive, the faster your score builds up. When playing in single-player, you will receive an extra life every 2 million points, allowing you to retain your score for the leaderboards a bit longer before your inevitible death. However, beyond high score chasing there is little reason to try and get through the game without seeing the game over screen.
By allowing you to continue ad nauseum, developer Nihilistic Software, Inc. has removed any intensity or drive to stay alive like the in arcade classics Zombie Apocalypse is blatantly trying to emulate; namely Smash TV. I would argue that that 20+ year old game that boiled down to “Kill stuff, win prizes!” had a more compelling narrative than Zombie Apocalypse. The game does nothing to explain what happened, where these zombies came from or why our survivors have to make more than seven loops around the city in order to destroy them and their distinctly non-zombie boss.
Normally I wouldn’t complain about the lack of an overarching narrative or story in a dual-stick shooter, but Zombie Apocalypse is not a 30-60 minute experience like most games of this nature; it’s over four hours long. Condensing the experience and creating some kind of personality would have made the game much more enjoyable. I feel that the developers could have literally cut the game in half and still gotten all of their ideas across. Even the boss battle that you encounter in the game is repeated four times and it takes place in the same environment every time.
There are some slight variations along the way like chainsaw only levels or blackout levels that provide you with only a small amount of visible space around your character, but these levels are too few and far between to help keep the experience fresh beyond 20-30 in-game days.
As you progress through Default Mode, you will unlock other modes that you can play solo or co-operatively via local or Xbox LIVE (PlayStation Network) play. The aforementioned Chainsaw Only and Blackout levels become their own modes and you will also unlock Turbo Mode, All Weapons (which from what I can tell gives you no weapons aside from the generic gun) Mode and what I feel to be the greatest strength of the game; 7 Days of Hell Mode.
7 Days of Hell Mode is an amped-up take on Default Mode and had it been the main mode of the game I would feel very differently about Zombie Apocalypse. 7 Days of Hell Mode is a single trip through the game’s environments with the zombie count increased exponentially. It’s much more fun and intense and even though these levels tend to run a bit long (most last 30-60 minutes), this mode is by far the best in the game. Had Nihilistic Software, Inc. chosen to make 7 Days of Hell Mode the main mode of the game, made the 55 day Default Mode an unlockable and tacked on a generic story, it would have been a much better experience.
Another thing that would have helped Zombie Apocalypse is better weapons. You do have the opportunity to erase zombies with a shotgun, a grenade launcher and even a bazooka, but none of the weapons are particularly effective, especially during the latter stages and they lack any real “oomph”. Even when executing a zombie with your chainsaw or sending them into an environmental trap, there is little impact or effect beyond seeing buckets of blood spew onto the play area. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but I think that Zombie Apocalypse lacks any sort of visceral quality related to combat.
The sound design certainly adds nothing to the package. Any music in the game is relegated to muffled background noise and weapons are simply weak sounding. Each zombie type does make its own blood-hungry groan, but in general the audio is as bland as the gameplay. Particularly annoying are the chatter of your exploding teddy bear zombie bait and celebration sounds that the characters make upon completing a level.
Zombie Apocalypse is controlled like most dual-stick shooters with the left analog stick used for movement and the right for shooting. You control the chainsaw by holding down the right or left triggers on your controller and both bumpers are assigned to tossing your exploding teddy bear zombie bait. Should a zombie grab ahold of your character, you can in most cases shake them off my vigorously shaking the left analog stick.
For the most part, Zombie Apocalypse is a good looking game. There are some problems related to lighting, but worse are physics-related issues. There were many times that I got stuck in the environments because of texture clipping and often “dead” zombies would remain floating in a level instead of disappearing. Considering the small size of the arenas, these issues should have been removed during testing and quality assurance. There was also noticeable slowdown when blowing up a group of ten or more zombies and often the game would literally stop for a few seconds.
I cannot in good conscience recommend Zombie Apocalypse to anyone at all, chalk this review up to a case of “I played it so you don’t have to”. It is an extremely generic and unfulfilling experience that lasts too long and I actually had trouble playing it enough to write this review. I did thoroughly enjoy myself for about an hour and I thought that 7 Days of Hell Mode was great, but it was not enough to make me remember the game in a positive light. In fact, I deleted the game from my system immediately after writing this review less than a week after its release.
+ 7 Days of Hell Mode
+ Four-Player Co-Op
- Bland, Generic Gameplay
- Default Mode is Too Long and Tedious
- Weak Weapons
- Performance Issues
Game Forward Score: 1/5
Brian J. Papineau > Game Forward
Zombie Apocalypse (Xbox LIVE Arcade) Quick Facts:
Genre: Dual-Stick Shooter
Developer: Nihilistic Software, Inc.
Publisher: Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc.
Release Date: Sept 23, 2009
Price: 800 Microsoft Points
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)