The undead are as fashionable as they ever have been, especially at this time of year, but did we need another 4 player co-op Zombie bullet fest? Does Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone bring anything new to the table? Read on to find out.
Game: Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Price: 800 Microsoft Points/$9.99
The game opens with a mind blowingly annoying charicature of your average call of duty player explaining how he and his friend stumbled across a weapons factory, just in time for the zombie apocolypse to begin. You’re then introduced to the other three characters that will be making their way across the infected island with you. You have the young female weapons expert, British rapper and Reverend, each with their own wafer thin back story which only holds any weight when compared to the reasoning for the four finding themselves together on a truck, fighting zombies. The way the characters introduce themselves to one another feels laboured and extremely unnatural, this game clearly wasn’t designed to tell a story.
The whole tone of the game is unsurprisingly dark, which makes it feel like there is very little to differentiate one stage from the next in terms of setting. After a minute or so on each screen, everything is a mash of reds and greys, broken only by firing a power up. Graphically, Zombie Apocalypse does what it needs to do, zombies explode in a satisfying shower of blood and paint the pavement, weapon blasts are distinct and there is just enough variety in the enemy skins to avoid annoyance. It’s not stunning, but it’s the gameplay that holds things together.
I’m genuinely torn between describing the dialog as horrifically cheesey or as simply brilliant, the same sentiment applies to the voice acting. If the idea was to poke fun at games of a similar ilk, as well as itself, then it’s been pulled off perfectly. Some of the one liners do begin to grate after a while, and the short sequences at the beginning of each level can’t be skipped, which becomes a huge annoyance, but on the whole the sound is effective and the banter between the four characters is entertaining.
It’s clear that Zombie Apocalypse was designed with some core mechanics in mind, and the story was low down the list of priorities. Whilst the level design is pretty linear overall, there is the odd exception and the enviromental kill opportunities that are available are not only funny, but an extremely effective way of thinning the horde. The revive mechanic works well, being designed in such a way that you need to create enough space and time to actually use it, no instant patching up your teammates.
The game could either do with a tutorial, or much better handholding throughout the first stages. There is some, but not enough and whilst the game isn’t exactly rocket science, a solid explanation of what things do would be welcome. There are audio cues, but they usually trigger after you need them.
The levelling system is solid and encourages repeat plays of previous stages to bulk up your weapons and special abilities when things get tough later on. Upgrades are earned through use, which works brilliantly when playing solo. It surpresses the urge to play through as just one character, and paid for at the end of each round if you’ve earned enough money. I frequently found myself revisiting the earlier stages with beefed up weapons to chew through and grind XP, just to make the later stages a little less tense.
Each level has a list of objectives to be completed for bonuses which range from obtaining a certain amount of environmental kills to rescuing survivors, which again rewards repeat play, although you can’t view them mid level which seems like a strange miss on the developers part.
The obvious way to get the most out of this game would be to play 4 player co-op, especially as the multiplayer facet has been so carefully crafted, literally any combination of local or online players is supported. Having said that, the single player experience stands up on its own. Although they don’t handle boss fights too well, the supporting AI is overall very good, and balancing your time between characters to ensure you’re levelling them equally is a challenge in itself.
It would be easy to get hung up on minor details like why on earth zombies drop wads of cash when you maim them, or why they feel the need to stop and dance when you throw a jukebox near them, but don’t. The levelling system and the gunplay are more than enough to make Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone worth a look. It’s far from perfect, but these two key elements are executed so well, it’s easy to overlook the areas which are lacking polish. Above all, it’s a steal for the price and damn good zombie mashing fun.