Zombie Apocalypse is the illegitimate bastard child resulting from a late night threesome between Robotron, Smash TV, and Hunter: The Gathering. These three classics have inspired this somewhat fun little arcade style romp which has you blasting your way through waves and waves of the undead. The download only PSN/XBLA game from Konami is spread across 55 stages (or days as it is explained in the game) which are cleared after you have laid waste to every zombie in sight. There is only one goal: survival.
Zombie Apocalypse can be played solo or with three other friends (local or on-line.) You begin by picking from one of the four playable characters:
Harlan Woods: Harlan was in medical school when the zombies took over. He is extremely OCD, often color- coordinating all of his surgical tools to match the seasons and fights to rid the world of disease one headshot at a time. “Turn your head and DIE!”
Natalie Flores: A natural athlete, Natalie wanted to be a stunt woman as a child, but schizophrenia kept her out of the action. Haunted by hallucinations, she fights through a haze of Lithium & Thorazine. “Finally, a demon I can actually kill.”
Jimmy86: Jimmy was looping through the toughest shooters before he could walk and by age 10 had already built his first arcade cabinet. He sees the zombie holocaust as a big game, each zombie killed as a notch up in life’s high score. “Girls are like RPGs. You gain XP as you go along, but the fights always get tougher.”
Ed Fragsen: A bum knee took Ed’s military dreams from him, just as a pool boy would later take away his wife. When the zombies took over, he knew he couldn’t stand to lose anymore. “God gave us the power to destroy ourselves. I’ve been practicing for 47 years.”
(It is a shame any thought went into developing the characters’ back-story because once the game starts, none of it matters. All characters play exactly the same and have the same weapons. There are no advantages to picking one character over another other than what you see on screen and their celebratory dance at the end of each stage you clear.)
The controls for Zombie Apocalypse are straight forward: the left analog moves your character while the firing is controlled by the right analog stick. Your survivor also has a chainsaw at their disposal which has two modes: standard and execution. Standard comes in handy if you get caught in a tight spot while execution is an over-the-top kill which is showy and leaves you open to be attacked (but which adds three points to your score multiplier.) High scores are a big draw for Zombie Apocalypse- leader boards keep track of how you stack up against the rest of the world but scores after a continue do not count nor do ones where you start on anything except day one (once you clear a day, you can choose to start from that day on subsequent playthroughs.)
Each character starts out with the standard assault rifle but can upgrade from shotguns, to dual wielding handguns, to rocket launchers. Each of the new weapons appear throughout the stage for a limited time and give the player a much needed boost (but eventually run out of ammo and kick you back to the never-empty standard rifle.) Innocent survivors pop up during play as well. Their rescue is up to you and requires you to stand by them and keep the zombie horde at bay until a chopper throws down a ladder and pulls them to safety. Why in the hell you don’t jump on the chopper and save your own ass is beyond me. Rescuing a hostage results in a “zombie bait” being dropped for you to pick up. Zombie bait is thrown by pressing either of the bumpers which causes your character to toss a cuddly talking teddy bear. Who would have guessed that zombies are drawn to exploding stuffed animals that talk like Elmo meets the Snuggle’s bear. Crazy.
Even though the game is spread across 55 days, there are really only seven distinct stages…just repeated over and over (and over.) You can only see the same carnival or graveyard so many times before you want to scream. The stages do have interactive environments which you can use to dispatch the undead. Use the wood chipper to grind up zombies or throw them into the airplane turbine engine…each stage offers a different choice. New enemies appear every so often early on in the game but get tiresome less than half-way through (which is about the time the new “radioactive” zombies are introduced!) As the levels progress, so does the size of the zombie army you are up against. Be warned- you will continue. Alot. A bit of diversity can be found in black-out levels (where only a small area around your character is lit while the rest of the screen is pitch black) and achievements/trophies that require you to clear stages with use of the chainsaw only. Beating the game also opens the playable “7 Days In Hell” mode which delivers a nod to cinema much in the same way that House of the Dead: Overkill did. Oh yeah- be prepared to get your ass kicked. The area that really stands out is the sound design. Playing in 7.1 surround, the noises come from everywhere and are handled directionally pitch-perfect as you move your character around the screen.
Zombie Apocalypse succeeds in delivering fun zombie shooting action…it’s just the same action over and over again. Co-op play definitely makes this a stronger title (fighting with someone over who gets the power-up that just dropped never gets old…plus you can’t take friendly fire which is always a big plus.) Anyone looking to fill a zombie shooting itch and wanting to wax a bit nostalgic- this game is for you. If your wanting a more fleshed out, modern take on the looming zombie outbreak- the Left 4 Dead series may be a bit more up your alley.
-Zombie Apocalypse is available on the PSN ($9.99) and XBLA (800 Microsoft points)