The goal in Zombie Shock is to never stop running and never stop shooting. The zombies, ranging from beefy cops to rabid rats, come in waves and don’t let up. Those expecting the nuanced scares and taut tension of early George Romero films won’t find anything like that here. Tinged with gore, questionable English and an impressive arsenal of weapons, Zombie Shock offers some of the best pure action on the iPhone.
The manga-influenced cutscenes show Abel, a brilliant scientist that cured AIDS, busting out of a psychiatric hospital after a virus turns the population into zombies. Not the slow, shuffling type either. Rather, these are the breed that run like Olympic sprinters. An emergency warning urges all survivors to get to JFK International Airport, so Abel embarks on a journey of running and gunning through sewers, forests and roads, but the locales all feel similar. The only thing that changes is the types of zombies and ferocity of their attacks.
The game is a side-scrolling shooter, but unlike all those space shooters where the enemies emerge from the right-hand side, here they barge in from the left. It’s a small twist to a decades-long tradition. In those games, the protagonist is an invader, trying to make it through enemy bases while dodging a barrage of projectiles. Here, Abel is a survivor running for his life. Every enemy, whether it’s the Pyramid Head-inspired boss or a zombified child, has to be killed in order to move on. All the enemies attack up close and personal, except for a couple bosses.
There are only a handful of enemy types, but the vibrant sprites are as beautiful as they are vile; women with their legs blown off crawl toward Abel at an alarmingly fast pace, chubby female children run wildly and so do the run-of-the-mill zombies that proliferate the ranks of the undead. As great as they look moving, they look better dying, with buckets of blood and chunky bits of flesh. Yummy.
The limited amount of enemy types doesn’t matter much since the diverse selection of weapons and smooth gameplay takes center stage. Three weapons can be carried per stage, and the shotguns, pistols, chainsaws, crossbows, rocket launchers and assault rifles each feel unique. Crossbows pass right through the undead, often killing several at a pop. The pistol, while comparatively weak, is fast and easy to net headshots with.
The best tactic is to keep Abel at the right side of the screen while taking out enemies before they approach. When they get close, things get a bit sloppier, and he has to dodge and weave while aiming his weapon. The enemies keep on coming, often overwhelming him when he’s careless. During the 50 quick stages, there are no power-ups aside from the occasional stack of cash and exploding barrel. Instead, weapons are equipped and upgraded in-between the action. Points are given for each kill, with bonuses for headshots. Strength, health and other attributes can be upgraded, which adds another hook for addiction in this already-engrossing game.
When the action gets frenzied – and it often does – some minor flaws rear their blood-encrusted head. Switching between weapons only takes a tap, but the small screen makes it easy to hit, or not hit, the proper weapon. Aiming can be a bit sensitive; although this is less of an issue since having to realign the weapon sight only happens when zombies advance too far. Aside from those problems, there are few other hindrances in surviving Zombie Shock as Abel moves deftly amidst the swarm of infected.
One of the most impressive parts of the game can be seen in the credits. With a handful developers, Blue Wind has crafted one of the best pure action games on the iPhone. The graphics are gorgeous, the game is fun, and while the brief cutscenes are rife with dubious usage of the English language, it doesn’t matter. Zombie Shock comes down to zombies, shooting and running. Lots of running. I’ve beaten the game twice, and I’m not going to stop to catch my breath yet.