Review: Zombie Apocalypse

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Put Left 4 Dead, Hunter: The Reckoning and Robotron into a big ol’ pot, stir it around real good, and Zombie Apocalypse is what you get.

Zombie Apocalypse is Konami and Nihilistic Software’s new twin-stick arcade shooter for the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, and like all twin-stick shooters, the objective is very, very simple in this game: you must survive 55 long days of zombie attacks by blasting waves and waves of the shambling brain-eaters to bloody bits as one of four different characters (though they all play exactly the same).

The game starts out as wildly fun and addictive as the premise suggests. Stomping around the seven different maps (carnival, airport, graveyard, junkyard, etc.) and shredding through zombies with shotguns, sniper rifles, flamethrowers, bazookas, chainsaws, pink teddy bears strapped with C4 (they’re bursting with love!) and various other weapon power-ups is incredibly satisfying, and the “move with the left analog stick, aim and shoot with the right analog stick” controls are smooth and accurate. All of the weapons feel tight and powerful when fired, and the comically high gore factor, further enhanced by gushy sound effects and exploding body parts that flail around through the powers of Havok physics, makes for a delightful bit of bloody shoot-‘em-up video game entertainment.

But once you’ve cleared maybe 20-25 stages, the game turns into a tedious grind. Halfway through the 55 stages, you’ll have cleared the seven maps multiple times, unlocked and used all the different weapons, and confronted all the different zombie types, from the standard Shamblers to the shotgun-toting Sheriffs to the Queen zombies that spawn flying insect things that relentlessly swarm after you. And from then on, the remaining 20 stages or so degrade into you running around in a circle for upwards of an hour on a single stage half paying attention as you blast through waves of the same zombies you’ve already killed literally thousands of times. As you progress you do unlock different “modes,” which are generally more like modifiers to the game than completely different modes. There’s a Turbo mode, for example, which cranks up the gameplay speed, and a Chainsaw Only mode stripping you of all firearms. Eventually you’ll unlock a “7 Days of Hell” mode as well, which really is just that: seven stages of grinding hell that are more work than fun.

Making matters worse, the game isn’t all that difficult. You will get outnumbered and die plenty of times, but you are allotted unlimited continues, so unless you care about building a high score you really don’t have to worry about burning through lives.

However, I must say that many of the issues I’ve cited are much more of a detriment to the single-player experience than to the multiplayer. Teaming up with three other players — locally or online – is a blast. There’s a fun cooperative competition to playing with others that better holds your attention and quenches your thirst for zombie destruction. You are a team and must work together to survive, but there’s also a little friendly rivalry going on as you try to kill more zombies and earn more points than your fellow survivors.

Unfortunately, the multiplayer isn’t without its own set of problems. From my experience the online play is free of lag, but other bugs do exist. At random times the game likes to completely lock up your system. Sometimes it happens when you are searching for a match, other times you’ll be going along fine and then all of a sudden the game will just freeze on you. Another bug that surfaced during my play time was an audio glitch I think must’ve had something to do with voice chat. While in the score lobby waiting to load into the next stage, a weird crackling sound clicked on and never went away. I encountered both of these issues playing the PSN version, but reading around on forums and such it looks like XBLA players are having similar issues, which leads me to believe these are more than just isolated problems. Time to call for a patch? I’d say yes!

Warts and all, though, Zombie Apocalypse is an incredibly fun game for what it is. While the experience quickly wears thin as a loner blast-a-thon and probably isn’t worth shelling out $10 (or 800 MS Points) for if you only intend on playing by yourself, it does have a sturdier pair of legs underneath it as a multiplayer game and will suck you in pretty good if you give it the chance. The good news is you have the power to decide. Konami offers a demo for both versions, so give it a whirl on your platform of choice. If you still find yourself craving more afterward, the full game should satisfy your appetite for retro-style zombie annihilation!

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Pros:
+ Mindless twin-stick shooter fun
+ Smooth, satisfying controls
+ Good variety of weapons, maps and zombie types
+ Nicely detailed environments
+ Compelling multiplayer experience

Cons:
– Gameplay wears thin quickly, especially in single-player mode
– Nasty multiplayer freeze bug
– Really not all that challenging
– No skill variation to the four playable characters

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PSN, also available on Xbox Live Arcade
Publisher: Konami
Developer: Nihilistic Software
Release Date: XBLA – 9/23/09, PSN – 9/24/09
Genre: Arcade Shooter
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-4
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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!