Ah, Zombies. If there’s one thing you can say about our shambling, decomposing friends (aside from lack of personal hygiene and possessing an insatiable desire for eviscerating folk bare-handed and scoffing down on human flesh) is that they’ve acquired a certain ubiquity about them over the past few years. Clawing their way out of the ingenious mind of George A. Romero in 1969’s Night of the Living Dead and going on to appear in subsequent sequels and countless other horror flicks over the next few decades, our undead friends have left a bloody hand print on the public consciousness as one of the most iconic ghouls in modern day pop culture, invading game consoles in the mid-1990s with the likes of Resident Evil and House of the Dead.
Fast-forward to 2009 and the rotting fiends have been introduced to a whole new audience with the likes of movie remakes Dawn of the Dead (sparking a new breed of not-so-shambling undead in the form of the colloquially dubbed ‘zombie sprinters’), Romero’s own Land of the Dead, as well as recent videogame offerings such as Left 4 Dead and Siren. Frankly, you can’t get away from them. Indeed, our flesh-eating misfits don’t seem to have any plans to return to the grave anytime soon, with developer Nihilistic Software unleashing undead Armageddon once again in our living rooms in the form of the PlayStation Network/Xbox LIVE release, Zombie Apocalypse. And make no mistake – this is old school, retro-esque zombie blasting doing what it does best.
With Zombie Apocalypse, things couldn’t be simpler. The undead have risen from their graves for the umpteenth time via an ambiguous catalyst, and you are tasked with slaying the rotting fiends in their hundreds (if not thousands) while trying to avoid becoming a mid-night snack over the course of a whopping 55 days (a fancy word for levels, obviously). There are a total of four characters available to choose from, though in all honestly it doesn’t matter who you pick, since there’s no discernible gameplay differences between the protagonists unless you count their profession and oh-so annoying end of stage witty catch phrases. Essentially, you won’t be missing anything if you decide to plough through as the Doctor and give everyone else a miss. Everyone starts off with a bog-standard machine gun and Chainsaw with which to massacre the zombie hordes, though additional weaponry becomes available as you play through the game, including dual Uzi’s, a rifle, flamethrower, Shotgun and more (albeit with limited ammunition).
Killing the hordes of decomposing ex-humans is easier said than done, though, as there’s literally dozens upon dozens of the buggers waiting to tear you limb from limb. Fortunately, the game’s control scheme affords players the chance to go about their undead slaying rampage relatively trouble-free. There are no complicated maneuvers to ponder over here; the left analogue stick moves your character around, the right activates your firearm (which you can manipulate to fire shots all over the shop if you are surrounded) R1 whips out your chainsaw, L1 delivers an instant kill using said chainsaw, and R2/L2 makes you chuck Zombie bait. The latter is a particularly humorous touch, coming in the form of a C4-stuffed Teddy Bear that our Zombie friends are inexorably drawn towards – just sit back and watch the blood and brains fly. Players are encouraged to rack up as many kills in quick succession as possible, allowing you to accumulate copious amounts of points via a combo system. Points also awarded by saving panic-stricken civilians, who are dotted throughout each location and must be protected until a rescue chopper drops a rope ladder to extricate them from the on-going undead epidemic. If you’re lucky, you’ll also receive a prize for your troubles. Be warned, though - lose all your lives and you can wave goodbye to all the points you've earned thus far.
The Living Dead themselves come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from your standard shambling folk, knife-throwing Grannies, bloated construction workers, puking Zombies, radio-active undead and more. Even the Old Bill show up brandishing 12-guage Shotguns ready to pepper your flesh with pellets if you’re unlucky enough to get in their way. As you expect, there’s a modicum of strategy involved when tackling the more advanced Zombies, especially as some of them are capable of dishing out instant kills at the drop of a hat. Still, by the time you reach level 15-20, it becomes abundantly clear that Zombie Apocalypse is best played with three extra mates on hand to tackle the rotting hordes, as it is nearly impossible to tackle the increasing numbers of Living Dead on your own without plowing through the continue screen for what seems like the 100th time. Needless to say, a fair degree of repetition accompanied by a whiff of monotony begins to creep up on you like an undead pursuer at various points throughout the game, given that, at the end of the day, all you’re doing is blasting through stage after stage of Zombies, repeating the process over and over again. Furthermore, these niggles are further exacerbated when you realize that there’s only about seven stages in the game, so be prepared to pass through the same dreary Graveyard and ransacked shopping district again and again throughout your adventure. As mentioned, the controls work fine for the most part, but a jump or evade button would have gone down a storm, especially as your character has a penchant for tip-toeing over numerous ground hazards, affording your attackers ample opportunity to make a meal out of the situation – literally.
On the flip side, however, the game’s levels are presented in concise, bite-sized chunks, so you won’t find yourself having to endure more than a few minutes worth of eliminating your rotting foes should you find yourself getting bored of the action. What’s more, the fact you’re always kept on your toes, combined with the ever-increasing variety of Zombies and weapons, ensures you should more than often have a blast out of the game (though as previously mentioned, it’d be wise to bring a friend into the mix to finish off the last 20 stages or so, as things really become too hectic for a solo endeavor). In regards to the actual multiplayer component, Zombie Apocalypse supports up to three players locally and online, complete with leaderboards for those of you looking to wipe that smug grin off of your mate’s face in a battle for the highest score - standard stuff, as you’d expect. In terms of replay value, players who survive the Zombie carnage can unlock some additional gameplay modes, one of which darkens each stage bar for a light surrounding your character, accentuating the overall challenge fairly significantly.
Visually the game breaks no boundaries, and is merely functional rather than awe-inspiring. The handful of stages on offer come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from creepy cemeteries, wrecked helicopter pads, desolate shopping districts and more, each one plastered with the remnants of a once bustling society with over turned cars, blood-stained sidewalks and smashed up windows. The isometric viewpoint doesn’t really give you a decent view of your flesh-munching adversaries, though the gore comes thick and fast, with flesh, limbs, blood and brain matter spraying all over the shop as you rack up the kill count. Aurally things aren’t much cop, simply coming down to the obvious array of Zombie moans and groans, roaring weapon effects and obligatory, albeit utterly disposable metal soundtrack.
Ultimately, Zombie Apocalypse does what it says on the tin. While in the big picture it’s somewhat inconsequential, punters looking for some Friday night thrills with a couple of beers and mates in tow will no doubt find hours of pleasure from Nihilistic’s Zombie marathon. Those of you looking for something a little more substantial to keep you entertained months after the purchase date may end up disappointed, but ultimately, it’s hard not to recommend Zombie Apocalypse to any self-respecting retro, undead fanatic. We wouldn’t say no to a sequel providing the formula is a little more polished.
-The Final Word-
Zombie Apocalypse is an enjoyable retro undead shooter romp with stacks of levels to tackle and makes for some ideal multiplayer action. It's plagued by some noticeable shortcomings, though, and probably won't keep your attention for the long haul.