Game Rant's Jeff Schille reviews All Zombies Must Die!
The developers at doublesix (Burn Zombie Burn, South Park Let's Go Tower Defense Play!) are back with a brand new downloadable game for PC, PSN, and Xbox Live Arcade. All Zombies Must Die! fuses twin-stick shooter mechanics with role-playing elements, but is the resulting game greater than the sum of its parts, or is it just another drop of water in a veritable sea of zombie-themed shooters? Check out our full review of All Zombies Must Die! for the answers.
The town of Deadhill has been hit with a zombie apocalypse, leaving Jack (a gamer), Rachel (Jack's ex-girlfriend), Brian (a scientist), and Luxo (an alien) as the only survivors. In order to escape the town, the characters must fully explore Deadhill's many neighborhoods, all the time fighting off attacks from hordes of the undead.
The game makes a good first impression, thanks to its Unreal Engine-powered visuals and lively soundtrack (check them both out in the game's first trailer). While the main character art borders on the generic, the evolving, top-down landscapes of Deadhill and, especially, the many different kinds of zombies look great -- though the copious quantities of blood that erupts from slain zombies is definitely at odds with the game's cartoony visuals.
The same is true of the game's dialogue, which occasionally takes an unexpected left turn into profanity or sexual innuendo. The dichotomy is distracting: All Zombies Must Die! looks and sounds like a game for kids, but parents would be wise to take note of its M rating.
Contrary to expectations raised by the name All Zombies Must Die!, for the vast majority of the game, players will not be eradicating the zombie menace, merely surviving it. Only on stages that can be converted into a base of operations for our heroes will players finally be tasked with destroying all zombies, after which the area is secure. On every other stage, no matter the scale of zombie carnage, the undead will rise again, and again, and again until the player finally leaves. Fortunately, killing zombies in All Zombies Must Die! is reasonably fun, thanks to its flexible weapon crafting system.
Each of the game's four protagonists have a unique elemental attack: fire for Jack, sound for Rachel, radioactivity for Brian, and electricity for Luxo. By adding elemental properties to the weapons discovered over the course of the adventure, players can create a wide range of zombie killing implements.
Elemental attacks, in turn, cause status effects on the zombies in ways both predictable and surprising. Sure, set fire to a zombie and it burns, but blast a zombie with Rachel's Sonic Taser (which is a cell phone combined with a megaphone), and it becomes a Sonic Zombie, complete with headphones. Similarly, a zombie that falls in a puddle of radioactive muck mutates into a hulking, powered-up version of itself.
Zombies who have been subjected to elemental attacks will drop needed pieces of loot when killed (for instance, kill 25 Sonic Zombies to score a megaphone). That loot can then be used to craft ever more powerful armaments. Zombies drop the occasional healing item and box of ammo, as well.
It's a simple, flexible system that encourages experimentation with the game's many weapons. The available arsenal grows to include everything from chainsaws to laser guns, though some weapons (the shotgun, the ray gun) are simply more useful than others (the SMG). Unfortunately, an over reliance on fetch quests and an uneven difficulty curve drags the game down.
Be it a piece for a new weapon, a DVD, or a mutant zombie brain, every mission in All Zombies Must Die! is some sort of fetch quest. Complicating matters, the neighborhoods of Deadhill generally feature exit conditions that must be met. Managed to harvest a Shock Mutant brain for Brian? Good, but you'll still have to make it back to the exit without dying, and then complete another objective (say, kill 30 flaming zombies) before exiting the stage.
The game's loading screen text helpfully suggests that players may need to craft specific weapons for specific quests. That's true, but in instances where players have brought along the wrong weapon for the job, it can be difficult just to exit the stage - a situation further exacerbated by the fact that players occasionally have to pass through multiple neighborhoods during a single quest, and that single players loose all progress on a stage when they die. Get ready for exactly that to happen. Repeatedly.
All Zombies Must Die! does not restrict its RPG influence to the game's crafting system. Players gain XP for every zombie killed, and that XP can be used to upgrade the characters. Sadly, the upgrades lack punch, and function more to help players keep pace with the game's difficulty than to make them feel particularly powerful. As a result, the game is always slightly harder than it needs to be. The boredom and frustration that sets in when tackling a tricky stage repeatedly will be more than many players care to endure.
Finally, there is the game's story. All Zombies Must Die! tells a subtle, inventive meta-story about Jack realizing that they must all be stuck in a video game. Plot points include a birthday present for Rachel that Jack claims was seized by the military, and the possibility that Brian is responsible for the zombie outbreak. To say that none of those story threads is neatly tied-up by the game's out-of-nowhere, borderline-non sequitur, ending is to charitably understate the situation. Suffice it to say, I can't ever remember being angry about a game's ending but I was angry about this one.
To be fair, All Zombies Must Die! is not an outright bad game. It controls well and looks nice, and players who take the plunge can look forward to a lengthy adventure. Unfortunately, the difficulty curve and the frustratingly repetitive quests make All Zombies Must Die! tough to recommend from a pure gameplay standpoint. Meanwhile, the disparity between the game's presentation and its subject matter suggest that the developers at doublesix never quite figured out who All Zombies Must Die! is supposed to be for. Pass.
All Zombies Must Die! is available now for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Game Rant played the PS3 version for this review.
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