All Zombies Must Die! – Preview
Mention the undead to gamers these days and you’ll find an equal mix of apathy and enthusiasm. While some will joke cynically about when the next game is getting Zombie DLC, some are still putting the final touches to their undead-related apocalypse plans and blasting the heads off some shambling corpses for practice. In 2009 Doublesix threw their head into the ring with Burn Zombie Burn, a downloadable arena based shooter that encouraged players to set fire to the hordes of brain-seekers in order to achieve higher scores and multipliers. Now Doublesix are back again with a spiritual successor, which adds a narrative to the zombie based slaughter, carrying an equally appropriate title: All Zombies Must Die!
The first character you’ll be introduced to was one with whom many gamers will be able to relate; Jack is a videogame fanatic, and one who has spent more than enough time digitally preparing for the dead to rise from their graves, so at least someone is enjoying it. As the story unfolds he slowly realises that there’s something all too familiar about this particular apocalypse, so you better hope that someone reinforced the fourth wall, because it’s about to be leaned on.
Jack won’t be the only character you’ll meet, as early on you’ll find his ex-girlfriend Rachel hiding away from the decaying hordes. Seeing as she dumped Jack for spending too much of his time playing videogames, she’s naturally not too keen on the idea of being inside a videogame, and seeks to dissuade Jack from that very conclusion. Fleshing out the rest of the cast are Luxo, an alien who learnt English from watching The Big Lebowski, and Brian, a scientist who probably won’t win any points from Luxo after it transpires that he’s stolen his spaceship. Each character also begins with a stat speciality, with Jack and Rachel having boosts towards attack and speed respectively, meaning that you’ll have to think carefully about how you play, dependent on what character you use. Granted, the story may have a simple “get to safety” narrative running through it, but the game’s cast threaten to make that journey a lot more fun.
One of the biggest draws of Burn Zombie Burn came from the risk taken when choosing whether to set the enemy zombies on fire or not; doing so would make them faster and harder to kill, but risking it would pay off big in the leaderboards. This time around fire won’t be the only thing that will affect your foes, as you’ll now have the ability to shock, irradiate and expose the undead to sound-waves. Doing so will mutate them accordingly, but relinquishes more experience points for the risk. As the game elements are introduced bit by bit, you’ll start out working your way through the regular hordes and, before long, you’ll find yourself confronting irradiated zombies, sonic zombies and those pesky flaming zombies, too.
While Burn Zombie Burn was an arena-based shooter at heart, All Zombies Must Die! adds a narrative structure to blasting the brain-seeking, which means that you’ll be accepting some quests from sarcastic robotic gates left behind by the military if you want to progress. While some will let you through if you kill all of the surrounding zombies, some will ask for something a little more complex, like picking up craftable items and burgers left behind by those you’re recently converted back to corpses. If you don’t like the task they’ve set you, it is possible to refuse some quests and have them replaced with an alternative one, though it’s not clear what gates will allow you to do so.
When you need a respite from the mindless carnage, you’ll be able to unlock bases for your characters to hide in, the first of which is inside an abandoned police station. Once inside, you’ll be able to level up your character using the experience you’ve gained from completing the gate quests and craft new weapons to help smack down the slack-jawed. There are plenty of combinations to work with as long as you have the items needed, and each character has their own unique weapon that needs to be crafted before use, so it’s worth spending your time seeing what combinations you can come up with. After all, not only do guns that shoot fire-bullets look awesome, but they’ll also give you more experience points to level up with.
The best zombie plans are the ones that involve you and your friends teaming up to wreck havoc, one shotgun blast at a time, and All Zombies Must Die! is a game that understands that. It’s a game that lives for friends (not brains), but don’t expect it to compromise when you show up with your buddies in tow, as it will up-scale the difficulty in accordance to the size of your party; more zombies will appear, they’ll be tougher to kill and quests will take longer before they’re bested. The game also takes on a new level of strategy, as downed players can now be revived, the hordes are tougher and friendly fire’s on (the developers assumed you’ll have a really good reason for shooting your team-mates). Though, you may find yourself tempted to slip a stray bullet or two in your friends’ direction when you discover that the game ranks you all by how many experience points and medals you earned at the end of each chapter.
As Luxo, Rachel and Brian aren’t available at the very beginning of the game, additional players who want to jump into the action will take part as generic soldiers; they don’t have any unique stat attributes, they don’t have their own unique weapon and talking to gates and NPCs will result in being ignored in lieu of the main characters. It’s not ideal, but it’s a great way of accommodating extra players before the other main characters are introduced. Joining the game is as simple as pressing the start button and getting involved, and it’s possible to start the next chapter of the game if certain players aren’t ready, as they can jump back into action as soon as they are. It all works beautifully, and while there’s no doubt it’ll be a fun experience in single player, it’ll really come into its own as soon as there are other people to enjoy the carnage. It makes it all the sadder that the co-operative play is local only, as Doublesix were unfortunately without the budget necessary to bring it to the online scene.
The lack of online play shouldn’t deter you though; All Zombies Must Die! is a frantically fun game that will whet your appetite for mayhem whether you’re with or without friends, and it proves that there’s still some life left for zombie games.
All Zombies Must Die! will shuffle onto the XBLA and PSN in December, with a Steam release soon after.
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