Publisher: Doublesix / Developer: Doublesix / Played on: Xbox 360 / Price: 800 MSP ($10) / ESRB: Teen (Blood and Gore, Mild Language, Violence)
There’s something about blowing a hole in the back of a zombie’s cranium with a 12-gauge that keeps me coming back again and again. The living dead have been the antagonist of many a videogame, and the new downloadable title All Zombies Must Die! is here to show us how much fun mankind’s doom can be: four-player co-op, a deep weapon crafting system, and a story that doesn’t take itself seriously. The zombie killing quickly turns rotten however, with repetitive gameplay, heavy backtracking, and missed opportunities.
The entire city has been overrun by flesh eating zombies, and hard core video gamer Jack couldn’t be happier! Playing games has finally paid off, as countless hours of decapitating zombies with shotguns and chainsaws can be put to good use. The only other people left alive in the city are Jack’s ex-girlfriend Rachel, the scientist Brian who may or may not have been responsible for the outbreak, and a Rastafarian alien with a mouth of a sailor named Luxo. The four companions must make their way to a military evacuation zone before the entire city is bombed, killing all the zombies, and any survivors, in the process. As far as story goes, this one is very by the books, but much of the charm comes from the motivations of each character. Jack thinks he is a character in a video game and often uses this knowledge to decide what to do next. Since he’s seen in a game that combining a shotgun with fire produces a fire-shotgun, he thinks it will work for him (and it actually does). Rachel doesn’t believe Jack at all and just wants to get things over with, while Brian and Luxo have ulterior motives that are never fleshed out. The game has an overall comical feel. The lightheartedness of story and characters act as great foils to the unfortunate situation the characters are in.
All Zombies Must Die!, as the title suggests, has you committing mass genocide to the living dead. Your main goal in each area is to ward off the living dead by any means possible, while fulfilling the objectives for your current quest. As you progress through the game you unlock new instruments of death, such as the zombie apocalypse staple shotgun, chainsaw, flamethrower, and katana, though you have limited ammo for each and can only carry two at a time. You move and dodge enemies with the left stick, aim with the right, and fire with Right Trigger, pretty standard for any dual-stick shooter. Quests can be completed to gain money or new weapons and range from finding soda cans in pop machines to lighting 30 zombies on fire and killing them within 60 seconds. A crafting system allows you to combine items you find like firewood, radiation, and megaphones to make special weapons like an electrified chainsaw or an extra-damage-dealing SMG. Scattered throughout each area are searchable items like garbage cans, car trunks, ammo crates, and vending machines and taking the time to look through them rewards you with extra health or ammo, power-ups like double damage or speed, and items you can use to create new weapons. Just about every action you do (killing zombies, completing quests, searching objects) grants you experience points and with enough you can level up your character and improve their stats how you see fit. All Zombies Must Die! offers a lot to do besides killing zombies…
But these aren’t all implemented as well as they could have been. Regardless of your weapon of choice, dispatching zombies always feels the same. There are only eight zones to play through, and you will frequently backtrack through the same area to get some random item like a piece of wood in order to complete a quest. It’s fine the first few times, but after you revisit the mall 10 times you’ll be tired of seeing escalators and clothes stores. You can only upgrade your characters to level 15, and about halfway through the game I reached that goal. Each playable character (Jack, Rachel, Brian, Luxo) shares experience and handles pretty much identically. Killing zombies left and right is gruesome and satisfying, but too often you’ll get caught between two environmental objects like trees or cars and the zombies swarm on you and kill you almost instantly. In order to progress to the next area (even if you’ve been there before) you have to complete a mini-quest to open a barricade gate and these hindrances to progression become tedious nuisances. These flaws make the game feel stale after the first hour or so, and trudging through the rest of the seven-ish hour long game feels like a chore.
What does make up for most faults is multiplayer. All Zombies Must Die! supports four players simultaneously on one screen. Having one, two, or three friends makes capping zombies much more enjoyable than playing alone. Frantically shooting the hordes of undead as your buddy grabs the power-ups and health can break some test your friendship but is always fun. One glaring omission from the game, however, is online multiplayer. All Zombies Must Die! would have been such a better title if it offered Xbox Live support, but the only way to get the multiplayer experience is with three friends, four controllers, and one TV. The carefree mood of the game makes it perfect for casual play, but no online support holds the game back greatly.
All Zombies Must Die! reminded me a lot of the Super Nintendo classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors. Characters, zombies, and environments are big and bright. Jack and his crew look similar to the Xbox’s avatars, with huge heads and limbs. Though locations are limited, each one looks good. The destroyed park is complete with ransacked vendor stations and a destroyed merry-go-round, while the desolate police station has torn down walls and evidence lockers to rummage through for useful items. Even with a cartoony visual style, zombies still meet their end in the most gruesome ways, spilling liters of blood on the ground and losing body parts as a shotgun shell rifles through their brain. I liked the dichotomy between the visual presentation and situation at hand; it fits the game’s nonchalant style well.
I was disappointed with this game. Killing zombies with friends is a fun, if short, adventure, but highly repetitive gameplay makes the game stale. A great deal of backtracking and monotonous quests holds the game back even further. The nail in the coffin is no online multiplayer, because this game is just screaming to be played with friends over Xbox Live. Legitimately funny story and characters, (especially if you consider yourself a gamer) and a visually pleasing art style are the best things to take away from the game. I wouldn’t say All Zombies Must Die! is a bad game, but I will say there are better zombie games and dual-stick shooters for your money.