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Zombie Apocalypse Preview

Nick_Tan By:
GENRE Action 
DEVELOPER Nihilistic 
M Contains Blood and Gore, Language, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Geometry Wars with zombie shapes.

I know it’s sacrilegious to say this as a video game nerd in America, but I have never cared for zombies. I’m not averse to the concept of overwhelming swarms of brain-eating corpses infesting city streets and the occasional outlet mall; I’m just not afraid of monstrous manifestations of the creeping eventuality of death. “Fast” zombies, however, are my kind of horror (as in, I’m a ninja), but as many would argue, “fast” zombies are paradoxical jibber-jabber nonsensical hullabaloo.

click to enlargeFortunately, the aptly named Zombie Apocalypse, developed by Nihilistic Software and published by Konami, combines slow zombies with fast-paced run-and-gun action into a Horde-mode, Left 4 Dead, Smash TV shoot-fest merry-go-round that all translates into carefree, unadulterated fun. Killing zombies with shotguns, chainsaws, and flamethrowers has never failed to be instant grati-crack, and like another downloadable title, Burn Zombie Burn, Zombie Apocalypse takes that concept and runs with it until its face is covered in the bowels of the undead.

The story (oh, like you need one) pits you in a fixed top-down square arena, as large as the screen, with only your trusty infinite-ammo rifle to defend yourself against the… err… zombie apocalypse. Waves upon waves of monsters spring up from the ground like ugly daisies along the edge of the screen and inch towards your soft fleshy body, with their mouths ready to gnaw on your trachea. (And you like your trachea.)

Simple and straightforward, the controls are mapped primarily to the dual-analog sticks (finally) - the left stick is used to move and the right stick is used to shoot. It’s a control scheme that’s so fast, fluid, and effective that it makes you wonder why it was ever replaced with mindless button-mashing. While the sticks power the infinite-ammo rifle - the bread-and-butter of your arsenal - you can always also whip out a chainsaw and hack the helpless horde with unsuppressed glee. If you’re more methodical in your approach, you have zombie bait as well, which is (of course) in the shape of a fluffy-wuffy teddy bear.

click to enlargeBut regardless of your shooting style, you’ll be glad to come across the limited-ammo weapons that are randomly scattered on the playing field for your sadistic pleasure: a gatling gun, a super shotgun with a piercing four-shot spread, a grenade launcher, and an ever-delightful flamethrower. These temporary upgrades will not only rack up your point total and kill count, keeping your score multiplier high, but they provide great cover for any survivors that you need to protect. High-score addicts will want to guard any survivors until a helicopter comes in to rescue them, if just to claim the quarter-million point bonus.

Making sure that you’re always moving and side-strafing, yet  keeping to the center of the playing field so as not to get blindsided, is key to your survival. Thankfully, if just the normal household zombie catches you, you can shake them off, but if a large zombie happens to get a hold of you, you can kiss one of your few lives goodbye.

For better or worse, the comparison to Left 4 Dead can’t be ignored. In addition to a round-up of stats that pop up after each wave is defeated, the roster for the main characters is “the black dude”, “the white dude”, “the white chick”, and “the old white dude”. None of the characters seem to be fully fleshed or have any meaningful differences between each other, like weapon specialties or running speed, so it’s currently a little unimaginative to say the least. But as a multiplayer-oriented title that has the same drop-in-and-play, tongue-in-cheek flavor of Castle Crashers, having an equal playing field across the roster makes sense.

click to enlargeThe build shown at the Konami press conference in San Francisco only showed a couple of levels - a car junkyard and a blocked-off urban crossroad - but if the rest of the game is of the same quality as these two levels, we’re in for one of the best downloadable titles yet. Whether it’s the car grinder in the junkyard or the engine of a crashed airplane in the urban crossroads (reminds me of the Crowd Control mini-game in Saints Row 2), each level provides unique opportunities to grind zombies into mincemeat. The junkyard in particular is wonderfully imagined with explosive barrels, stacks of tires that can be sent flying by shooting said barrels, strings of colorful triangle flags flapping in the wind, patches of blood-stained dirt, and ransacked cars that you can use to stall any hungry zombies.

Zombie Apocalypse supports up to four-player cooperative play, and should - I repeat, should - have online multiplayer. (I’m looking at you, Burn Zombie Burn.)

Are you ready for the inevitable Zombie Apocalypse? Look for it to arrive on Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network later this quarter, or this summer, or well, no one can predict when the apocalypse will come… just soon… very soon.
More GR previews for this game:
Zombie Apocalypse preview posted on 04/24/09.

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