In recent years I’ve been feeling a bit too “zombied out”. After being bombarded with title after title in the game and movie industries (yes I’m talking to you Resident Evil, Dead Rising, 28 Days Later, Zombieland, etc) I questioned how much more of the genre I could take. Now we have Zombie Apocalypse to add to the end of this long list; an Xbox Live Arcade title that presents a slightly different spin on the “catastrophic awakening of the undead” theme.
If you’ve ever played the classic Smash TV or lesser known Robotron 2084 then you’ll feel right at home with Zombie Apocalypse. Like its predecessors this is a twin stick arcade-style shooter where the left analog stick is used for movement and the right stick is used to tear a zombie a new one (i.e. fire in any direction). Wave after wave of zombies are thrown at you through 55 days set in 7 different areas. The aim is simple – kill as many of these suckers as you can and rescue survivors while trying not to get your brains eaten in the process. It’s all pretty simple and mindless, but surprisingly provides a whole lot of fun.
At the beginning of each level players start off with a standard machine gun, while weapons like shotguns, Molotov cocktails and grenade/missile launchers spawn at random points. The weapons are a blast to use and some of the more powerful ones are capable of dismembering huge groups of zombies at one time. There’s also a nice variation of undead monsters that are thrown at you, from the standard brain eater that we’re all familiar with to zombies that slow down your movement with puke, throw knives, shoot you with shotguns, and explode on contact.
Dedicated buttons for standard and execution style chainsaw attacks as well as teddy bear bombs (just like the pipe bombs in Left 4 Dead) give you more options for dismemberment. Chainsaw executions are nice and gruesome as one would expect but are way too easily executed on most of the non-projectile throwing zombies. While stuck in the execution animation, you can have a large group of zombies literally hoarding right on your back and still take no damage; simply turn toward the next one and the process starts all over again. At one point, I had a group of about 20 zombies surrounding me and was able to run through all of them in this manner. If this was consistent with all of the zombie types it would be no problem but the fact that I can die from a shotgun blast or knife in the back while in this animation just doesn’t seem to follow the same logic.
At the end of the day though there’s quite a bit a value to be had here for a meager 800 Microsoft points. The game can be run through with up to 4 people locally or online, there are leaderboards for folks to show off their high scores, and as you progress through the days in the game additional modes are unlocked. My personal favorites are the Turbo mode, where the speed of the game is bumped up a couple of notches, and the ultra difficult 7 Days of Hell which sends literally thousands of brain eaters at you on each level. Going through the game solo is enjoyable but zombie hunting with multiple people is really where this title shines. With multiple guns blazing and explosions all over, the action gets that much more frenzied. Having at least one other person around to watch your back will help you get out of more than your fair share of near death situations.
Graphically, Zombie Apocalypse is adequate. There’s plenty of gore and limbs flying all over the place and the environments have enough detail in them to do the job. Huge frame rate hiccups occur when explosions take place with large amounts of zombies on the screen but it’s not enough to spoil the overall experience. I’ve certainly seen better looking arcade titles but all in all it’s a solid effort. Online however, you’d better hope that everyone in your zombie killing party has a good connection otherwise things can get pretty frustrating at times. On a few occasions I had to drop out of games where zombies were appearing out of thin air and deaths were occurring without my character even being touched. The game really excels in the sound department though; when someone’s being torn limb from limb either by a zombie or a gun, every crunching piece of dismemberment can be heard almost as if you were right next to them. The soundtrack fits right in with your standard 70s zombie movie.
As gamers and also as reviewers, sometimes we expect everything out of a title. We want it to have the perfect graphics and sound, engaging story, incredibly diverse gameplay mechanics, etc. Quite frankly Zombie Apocalypse isn’t stellar in any of those categories but what it does allow you to do is a get a great deal of entertainment out of some mindless, arcade-style shooting. The amount of amusement that it offers is certainly worth the price of admission. Sometimes a little senseless action is just what we need to pass the time.