As 2011 closed out it only seemed fitting that the gaming community was, once again, presented with the chance to take a shotgun to the head of its most overused mascot, the zombie. I mean, it was only last week when the last zombie themed video game, let alone a zombie themed twin-stick shooter came out, right? Well regardless of how long it actually has been, if there are two things the video game world has seen enough of over the past few years, it's zombies and twin-stick shooters.
All Zombies Must Die is the amalgamation of these two worn gaming clichés. A premise and playstyle that many idle thumbs with a hankering for decimating the deceased can already find festering in the market. Be that as it may though, the team at doublesix has a few tricks up their sleeves for helping their cooperative entry survive its genre's own apocalypse.
All Zombie Must Die! (PSN, XBLA [Reviewed])
Publisher: doublesix (PSN), Square Enix (XBLA)
Released: December 27, (PSN), December 28, 2011 (XBLA)
MSRP: $9.99, 800 Microsoft Points
From the very moment one enters the city of Deadhill, it's pretty clear that All Zombies Must Die isn't your typical undead romp. With its Nickelodeon-esque art style, the game is visually quite a departure from the typical gore-filled, realistic setting that the subject matter is known for. A sort of breath of fresh air that, while looking kid friendly, still packs all the blood, decapitations, and grotesque creatures zombie fans have come to expect.
As the story begins, and the first homage to one of many pop culture references is made, the game wastes no time in unleashing the undead. This is an arcade-action game that's all about shooting zombies first and asking questions later. In fact, the game thrives on the idea that it is a video game with clever writing that constantly breaks the fourth wall. It's often humorous to hear the game's main protagonist complain that he has played a video game exactly like what is happening in his world. Then again, playing All Zombies Must Die is an experience many gamers have done a few times already.
Featuring gaming's most hackneyed antagonist, within the delicate packaging of a genre that is becoming just as tired, presents a difficult task for delivering a standout adventure. All Zombies Must Die's bread and butter is its seamless drop-in and out four-player co-op, but ironically it's also its biggest weakness. That's right, while the game is built on the foundation of surviving relentless wave after wave of zombies with friends, the experience is relegated to local play only. I can understand doublesix's idea for wanting to create something that defies the norms, but when pretty much every direct competitor to All Zombies Must Die offers an online experience, its omission is as inexcusable as it is bewildering.
If you do manage to rustle up a few friends, though, All Zombies Must Die provides a fairly fun fight that is only heightened by its charm and ability to combine some enjoyable gameplay systems. For starters, there is a light RPG progression system -- built on level grinding and stat customization -- weapon and tool crafting, and plenty of quests to occupy the most attentive of players. They are all executed well and add much needed depth and diversity to a game struggling to create a unique identity in an overcrowded market.
Calling All Zombies Must Die a twin-stick shooter with some RPG trappings is fair assessment, but at its core it can best be described as a arena shooter. The difficulty can be brutal -- especially going solo since there is no way to revive -- but what truly makes the game a challenge is the way players must complete a mini-task before being allowed to leave any zone. These tasks range from collecting specifically dropped items to killing certain types or amounts of zombies. Unfortunately, these tasks tend to blur all into one big rinse and repeat cycle after a while and ultimately show their true purpose of only stretching out the length of the game.
The game does its best to keep things fresh by introducing new zombie classes throughout -- adding a little strategy to the mix. What makes each set of zombies even more entertaining is a range of effects that can, often inadvertently, be bestowed upon them by the player. Flames make faster zombies and sirens from police cars bestow a greater sense of strength to the undead. It really makes every encounter a life and death situation and forces players to be mindful of their weapons' status effects and any environmental hazards that may be lurking nearby. There's a great sense of chaos created by All Zombies Must Die, which is only amplified in the case of multiplayer thanks to the scaling difficulty.
It generally goes without saying that most games are more entertaining with friends. Sadly, I found all the robust RPG, questing, and crafting experiences in All Zombie Must Die better suited for my single-player excursions. Now this isn't to say that I had more fun going it solo, it'd just that with the many layers and length of the overall game, seeing this game to its completion with a four couch-camping companions may be a tad unobtainable.
There is a lot to love with All Zombies Must Die, from its more humorous writing to its charming visuals, but ultimately the game fails to deliver the in-depth multiplayer experience it set out to. There's a solid experience to be had from start to finish, but unless you've been in a coma, or underneath a rock for the last few years, you've probably already played this game.