All Zombies Must Die! Hands On
Developer: Doublesix / Publisher: Doublesix / Played on: Xbox 360 / ESRB: Rating Pending / Release Date: Fall 2011
You might assume you know everything there is to know about All Zombies Must Die! when I say it’s a downloadable top-down dual stick zombie shooter. I can guess the image in your mind because it’s probably the same one that popped into mine – a Smash TV clone, but this time about zombies. Thinking about All Zombies Must Die! in this regard is a massive disservice though. The game builds on the fire mechanic of Doublesix’s previous game, Burn Zombie Burn, wraps a massive character progression and crafting metagame around the typical zombie killing, and manages to have one of the most natural and charming senses of humor I’ve seen in any video game.
All Zombies Must Die! has a combat system that fully places the tradeoff between risk and reward in your hands. Each character class can inflict a specific status effect on zombies, which makes them stronger and more dangerous. For example, Jack (the main character) sets zombies on fire with a torch, making them run faster. Rachel, Jack’s ex-girlfriend, can temporarily stun zombies with sonic blasts from her cell phone, but this also makes them stronger. These statuses can be stacked and combined in different orders that cause zombies to shrink, grow, or mutate into huge beasts. Thing is, the more dangerous you make a zombie before you kill it, the more experience and rare loot drops you’ll get from it. There will definitely be an art to amping up the zombies as much as you can without getting overwhelmed.
The loot drops contribute to the progression metagame surrounding the moment-to-moment zombie destruction. You can convert any of the game’s areas into your home base by initiating the titular “All Zombies Must Die!” event. Once you’ve cleared it out, that zone will be permanently zombie-free and give you access to the level-up screen where you can spend stat points and a crafting screen which lets you manufacture more powerful weapons. NPCs give you recipes for these weapons, and the world map even indicates where you can find particular ingredients, so going on the hunt for better zombie weaponry looks like it will add surprising depth to what’s normally a skin-deep affair.
Finally, and this is the part that surprised me the most, All Zombies Must Die! has a refreshing sense of humor. It’s evocative of mid-90s PC games when developers were a bit weird and not afraid to show it. The aforementioned main character Jack is a heavy video game player — his character class is even “gamer.” Thus, after spending some time in the world of All Zombies Must Die!, he starts to realize that certain tropes in the world around him feel very much like a video game. He points out conspicuously wide-open areas that signify boss fights, whole hamburgers and turkeys popping out of dead zombies, and “painfully weak dialogue” (his words, not mine) to the other party members in an effort to convince them that they are, in fact, stuck in a game. One quest in the game tasks you with finding a video game store to procure a zombie video game just to prove to the other characters how similar they are. That whole conceit would be enough to carry a game’s humor, but it’s just one of the many unique humor threads running throughout the game — just wait until you meet the alien that learned English exclusively with comic books and The Big Lebowski.
Though All Zombies Must Die! may appear generic at first glance, it’s anything but. The clever combat, surprisingly deep character progression, and unrestrained sense of humor make it a game that I already can’t wait to shoot through with friends when it releases this Fall for the Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, and Steam.