Over 9,000 Zombies Steam Early Access Impressions

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With a title like Over 9,000 Zombies, there is no mistaking what this game is about: You kill zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. 9,000 is actually selling the game short, because in four hours of play I’ve already slaughtered more than 60,000 of the dirty brain gobblers. (Well, there were some dogs, crows and crabs in there too — I don’t know where those came from.)

Okay, so this is yet another top-down zombie shooter in an overcrowded horde of top-down zombies shooters, but there are some interesting things about this game that distinguish it as its own thing.

To establish a quick point of reference, the game plays a lot like a cross between the zombie mode in Call of Duty and the run-and-gun arcade classic Smash TV. Seriously, after a while I half expected to hear some disembodied commentator start shouting out things like “Good luck. You’ll need it!” and “Big money! Big prizes! I love it!” between days. Being more specific, Over 9,000 Zombies is a retro twin-stick shoot ’em up with a mix of base defense elements, the main objective being to survive through a 20-day gauntlet of invading zombies and other nasty things that want to kill you, playing solo or cooperatively with another zombie slayer from the Steam community. (At least according to the achievements the end of the game is reached after 20 days, but I wouldn’t know yet, because on my best run so far I only managed to hold out for a dozen days.)

In addition to blasting baddies with all manner of firearms (pistols, machine guns, shotguns, flamethrower, plasma rifle, etc), up to six turrets can be deployed anywhere on the map at a given time. Six different turrets are currently available, including a 50-cal gun, spread shot, plasma, and fireball, grenade and rocket launchers. Building these towers, as well as concrete blocks to create defensive blockades, requires a currency of scrap metal, which is only found from the corpses of slayed zombies. Dead enemies will also randomly drop health packs, grenades, weapon unlocks and a variety of temporary power-ups like god mode, double damage, super speed and rapid fire. The guns all have different rates of fire, reload times, firing patterns and damage outputs, so there should be a gun to suit every situation and every player’s preferred method of putting zombies back in the ground. Weapon unlocks are also persistent, which means once you unlock a gun it stays in your arsenal, even when a new survival run is started from day one.

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The mix between turret defense and old-school running and gunning makes for a fun dynamic that changes from day to day. Against certain enemies it may be better to stay in constant motion, while at other times it’s safer and more effective to find a building and use the existing walls as cover to create a home base of sorts guarded by turrets. The lure of item drops can get you into trouble as well, so you have to pay attention and know when it’s a good time to charge into the fray to add to your scrap supply or grab that new weapon drop you don’t have yet, and when it’s wise to be cautious and wait for another moment to gather loot.

Mouse and keyboard are an option, but as a twin-stick shooter obviously the game is best experienced with a console controller that, you know, actually has two analog sticks. Using an Xbox 360 controller, the left stick moves, the right stick aims, the right trigger or A button fire, the left trigger or X button toss grenades, the right and left shoulder bumpers cycle weapons, and the B button calls up the build menu for placing turrets and walls. Sorting through the build menu takes a little getting used to–particularly when attempting to lay down defenses in the thick of battle–but that’s mostly due to the low-end presentation of the interface. Overall, the controls are tight and easy to grasp.

The game doesn’t follow a traditional wave or level based format. It is structured as a pre-defined sequence of days set on one large, sprawling map. Each day the map fills up with a different type of increasingly difficult enemy which respawns endlessly until the day is over, at which point you are given one measly minute to take a breather, collect your thoughts, gather any lingering pick-ups before they disappear and setup your defenses before the next round of zombies shambles into town. There is no set number of zombies that need to be killed or a clearly defined time limit, you just keep running and gunning without kicking the bucket until one day ends and the next begins. Keeping track of time on the Windows clock while playing in windowed view, each day seemed to last around five minutes. I suppose the lack of a timer is intended to build tension, but I think having some sort of countdown might make things even more tense. For example, as a day is winding down it would be cool to have a clock appear within the last minute or thirty seconds to offer a glimmer of hope that you’re almost there while at the same time adding more pressure to not blow it and die when you’re so close to surviving. Something like that would be better than being left completely in the dark about the timing.

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Predictably, the main issue with the game in its current in-development state is a general lack of content. Over 9,000 Zombies has no shortage of undead to gun down, it just needs greater variety in the form of more maps, turrets, weapons and enemy types. Possibly even different modes or a map editor, if I might offer some ideas from my wish list. With just the one map, dull sound effects (the techno-rock soundtrack is pretty rad though!), and a muddy, nondescript pixel art visual style, the game does grow somewhat monotonous after a few runs, mainly early on since the first four waves are a breeze and having to replay them over and over begins to feel like busy work. Fortunately, the game does allow for saves, so you can reload a run in progress.

As for multiplayer, this type of game is definitely more fun with a buddy by your side, watching your back and helping to maintain a strong defense. (Of course, the game doesn’t force players to stay on the same screen, so during some co-op sections you might not even see your partner if they aren’t interested in teamwork.) Playing cooperatively also feels more fair, as death in a co-op game allows for a chance to return to the fight as long as your partner stays alive until the respawn timer ticks all the way down. Conversely, if you die in solo play, it’s game over, buddy. No comebacks. No second chances. The difference in challenge shows, because I’ve made it through 12 days in co-op but only five in single player, and I have attempted more runs by myself than online. In terms of performance, online play has been reliable whenever I’ve had another play drop into my game. However, finding games has been difficult. More often than not the lobby screen is completely empty, while a couple times the game has outright crashed when simply clicking the “Join Game” button from the main menu. Maybe the online infrastructure still needs optimization, maybe the co-op community is just dead, or maybe both factors are in play. Inconsistencies like this are to be expected with early access, though, so the good news is there’s time for the developer to use feedback to correct any flaws.

Over 9,000 Zombies has a lot of room for growth and improvement, but even with a basic starter kit of features the game already shows that it has a strong, addictive hook that will quickly eat away hours of your life as you attempt to survive “just one more day.” Whether it’s now during the early access period or a few months down the road when the finished product is ready to be rolled out, this is a game zombie shooter fans should absolutely check out.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!