Courtesy of Konami and developer Nihilistic Software, the Zombie Apocalypse has descended upon the Xbox Live Arcade. I took it for a spin this week and found that killing zombies is just as much frantic and addictive fun as ever.
The setup for the game is the same as for any number of other games in the genre: You’re a survivor in a world overrun with the undead, and your goal is to stay alive while slaughtering as many of the shambling creeps as possible. Zombie Apocalypse is a dual stick shooter like many other games on the XBLA, meaning that you’ll run around with the left thumbstick and shoot your current weapon using the right thumbstick. You also will make use of the bumpers to toss teddy bears (yes, teddy bears), and the triggers unleash the ever popular and essential chainsaw attacks.
On the surface, Zombie Apocalypse plays a bit like a themed Geometry Wars or its ilk. It goes deeper than that, though, by adding goals and actions beyond simply running and gunning. Your ultimate goal is to survive through 55 days (levels), each of increasing difficulty as more and more zombies swarm you with increasingly dangerous attacks. Occasionally non-player controlled survivors will appear in the midst of the swarms, begging for help. You can save them by running over to tag them before blasting away at any zombies that come near. If you can manage to keep the survivor safe until a helicopter drops a rope ladder for them, you’ll score some bonus points (and, likely, good video game karma) for saving them. You’ll also be rewarded by a teddy bear dropping from the sky.
The bears are an amusing addition to the game, but they really can pull your tail out of the fire when used at the right time. You deploy a bear by tapping one of the bumper buttons. This will toss a teddy on the ground nearby. He’ll start giggling about being full of love and liking to be tickled, and I swear he’s like catnip to the undead. The zombies will swarm the teddy just in time to be blasted by the C-4 packed inside him. Very useful for situations where you’re surrounded and need to distract some baddies for a few seconds.
An interesting gameplay mechanic is that your character doesn’t have a typical health bar. You’ll have limited ammo on some of the weapon upgrades (shotgun, flamethrower, etc), but your health is essentially limitless. The zombies attack you by grappling you. If you just have a few of them on you, you can shake them off by wiggling the left thumbstick. If too many get on you for too long, though, they’ll take you down to the ground. Once you’re on the floor, it’s all over. There are several flavors of zombies, some of whom have other ways of offing you. The Big Boys, for example, are chunky zombies in hardhats who can take you down as soon as they grapple you. Grannies, on the other hand, chuck knives at you instead of grappling. One hit from a Granny knife is instantly fatal.
Along with the variety in zombie types, there’s a good selection of settings in which you’ll fight off the undead. All the usual horror tropes are here, from the creepy graveyard to a demonic carnival to a ravaged town square. Each board has unique theming, and often you’ll find environmental hazards that dispatch the zombies quickly and amusingly. You can lure zombies into spinning jet engines, knock them into carwash spinners, and more.
You can choose between four different playable characters, each of whom plays pretty much the same, and each of whom maps pretty closely to the characters you can pick in the other recent zombie apocalypse game, Left 4 Dead. There’s the older white military guy, there’s the smart black guy, there’s the one girl, and there’s the additional white guy (who, admittedly, is quite different from L4D‘s biker thug). After playing through ZA for a while, I decided I didn’t really care which character I ended up with as long as it wasn’t the female (could they have given her more annoying victory dialogue?).
The multiplayer mode works quite well and is very similar to the single player game. In multiplayer, you’ll just have up to three other folks helping you to stave off your impending doom. It’s a co-op game, but there’s definitely some competition to scoop up weapon upgrades as they appear.
If you’re into dual stick shooters or are a fan of zombies, Zombie Apocalypse is well worth checking out, and I don’t hesitate recommending it at its 800 Microsoft Points ($10) pricetag. The gameplay is easy to pick up but quickly becomes frantic, and you’ll find yourself doing the “just one more level” thing over and over.