There’s no shortage of twin stick zombie shooters, and developer Doublesix has added one more to the assortment with All Zombies Must Die!, their recently released downloadable title. But wait! This isn’t just another clone of every other zombie stomper you’ve been playing for the past few years. AZMD does enough unique things in its cartoony style that it feels significantly different and in many ways better than its undead brethren.
The first point of distinction in AZMD is in the tone and presentation. We’re used to having the zombie apocalypse thrust upon us in these sorts of games as a horrendous, depressing, and horrific event with no chance for levity. But what if the goofy sensibilities of Plants Vs Zombies shambled into a full-on zombie invasion that flooded a whole town with the staggering dead? That’s the gist of AZMD as our hero, intrepid video gamer Jack, finds himself surrounded by and on the run from a horde of zombies. The graphics are cartoony and complement the zaniness of the story.
Jack, his ex-girlfriend Rachel, and a handful of other survivors are trapped in a town that’s quickly falling to the reanimated mob, and all the while Jack is acutely aware that he’s in a video game. Breaking the third wall is a near-constant device that has Jack making frequent observations about the nature of the quests he’s being sent on, the proliferation of loot he’s collecting, and the endless array of locked robotic gates demanding favors before they’ll open.
The basic gameplay has you controlling one of the four playable characters as they run around a section of the town to accomplish some specific goal while being hounded by the zombies. Usually the given task will come from a robot guardian your only means of escape from that area, and it will order you to kill a certain number of zombies in a particular way or collect certain items before you can progress. Killing zombies amounts to running with the left stick, aiming with the right, and shooting with the trigger (or walloping melee-style, depending on your current weapon). Power-ups, health bonuses, and other items litter the town maps and also drop as loot from the zombies as you kill them. The objective-based missions provide some variety to set AZMD apart from other twin stick zombie games, but the gameplay still does feel a bit repetitive after a while.
At the core of the game is an entertaining RPG system that lets you collect experience points for leveling up your characters as you go. When you’re ready to upgrade abilities and weapon specializations, you make a pit stop in a bathroom to distribute your earned points. Also upgradable are your weapons. The game sports a full crafting system that allows you to collect parts and pieces and then assemble them together to make a bigger boomstick when you return to your safehouse area. The weapons are varied and do include staples of the modern zombie genre, such as shotguns, chainsaws, and the ever integral cricket bat. Modifying your weapons at crafting stations will make them hit harder, and they’ll also gain elemental abilities, allowing you to end up with named gear like Odin’s Toothpick Katana.
With four playable characters, having a multiplayer mode seems like a no-brainer (zombie pun entirely intended), and AZMD delivers with two- to four-player local co-op. There’s no online co-op, which is a shame because the game seems well designed for that sort of play. Still, it should be a fun couch multiplayer experience, and playing with friends will take away one of the more frustrating aspects of the single player experience. If you die during a single player level, you lose all your progress on that level and have to start it from the beginning. No mid-level saves allowed! With multiplayer, you can keep going as long as at least one player is still alive and kicking.
With its goofy sensibilities and light hearted presentation, All Zombies Must Die! is a welcome departure from the overly dire and grim zombie fighters that fill the genre. The game released recently on the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 to sell for $10, definitely a fair price point for all this addictive content. I reviewed the Xbox version and had a hard time putting the controller down during Jack and company’s crazy zombie adventures.