This Game's Grip is Weak
Download Size: 500 MB
Time Played: 6 hrs.
Favorite Character: Luxo the Alien
Number of Areas: 8
What I'd Pay: $5
Steam Price (3/19/12): $10
There's a fine line between a good zombie game and a bad zombie game. All Zombies Must Die! skirts that line without quite crossing it, but reveals some of those key differences just by how close it almost gets it. Let's dig in and make some comparisons.
All Zombies Must Die! gives you 4 characters, 8 weapons, and 4 status effects to inflict against 7 types of zombies. It also tosses in leveling, questing, and weapon crafting as you wander around the map, grabbing items and clearing out home bases. Zombies afflicted with status ailments drop different items, and killing enough zombies with a certain status ailment in specific areas nets you a loot drop you can use to craft new weapons. It sounds good, so where does it go wrong?
The first thing a good zombie game needs is diversity. It's too easy to skimp on the types of zombies or the weapon differences and completely hose the long-term entertainment. All Zombies Must Die! gets old fast, with little variety in the missions, the guns, or the zombies. Enter an area, encounter the same zombies as every other area, use the same weapons, complete a random mission to leave. It gets old fast, and the occasional new content doesn't stave off the boredom enough. I found myself thinking wistfully of Zombies Ate My Neighbor, another top-down zombie game that thankfully included mummies, martians, and werewolves into the mix for some (much-needed) variety.
Many of the game's systems make this issue worse. First, each character has a preferred weapon; it costs money to change this. If you have a favorite character, you will probably use the same main weapon the whole game. (Your backup weapon is never upgraded and quickly falls behind in usefulness.) Second, the crafted weapons act much like their base weapons. There's no crazy combinations ala Dead Rising 2; combining a gas can with a weapon just lets your bullets set enemies on fire, every time. (Why do they even include crafting recipes when the same combos work on every weapon?) Third, crafting items encourages you to grind out zombie kills and missions, dragging a game that already feels too long even further. I groaned at the thought of grinding for 200 coins and a boombox so I could make a sonic ray gun for Luxo (which would act much like the sonic shotgun, and the sonic SMG, and the etc.). It felt like playing Diablo without the pleasant surprise of a rare item drop.
The second thing a good zombie game needs is feedback. The nice thing about zombies is that they either go down quick, or you can blast chunks off their body as you damage them. The rest of the zombie game should follow suit; subtlety is not their strong point. Weak guns, vague mechanics, and vision impairment have no place here. Unfortunately, All Zombies Must Die! has all of the above. Many of the guns feel very weak, requiring a full clip or two to take out a half-dozen zombies. The SMG is the worst of the lot; point-blank, it rips zombies apart as fast as the shotgun, but any further and it doesn't hit the broad side of a barn. The assault rifle is almost as bad. I found myself constantly falling back on the shotgun, then the handgun, and then the raygun due to their perceived power (which didn't help the variety any).
The other mechanics didn't fare much better. I didn't understand the leveling system until I reread the tutorials, and even then I didn't notice the +10% stat improvements in the gameplay proper. It involved too much confusion for not enough gain. The status ailment system had even less written about it than the leveling system. I had to use trial & error to determine what each ailment's effect did and what drops it increased. After a while, I just gave up on it and stuck to a fire gun for extra damage. The viewscreen wasn't much better. Zombies hidden from sight by the top-down view were just marked with a thought bubble rather than a glowing outline like is standard in games now. The most aggravating part, though, was the low health warning that splattered half your screen with red tint and blood. I'm sorry, game, but if I'm at 10% health, I have a tough enough time surviving without you dropping my vision to zilch to warn me.
In addition to all that, my game ended up bugged. Halfway through the game, all of the non-story missions auto-succeeded without giving me any rewards. Since this was my main source of coins for upgrades, I was never able to purchase the Tier 2 upgrades. Not that I needed them, anyway; the last mission was only moderately tough even with a subpar weapon. My reward for seeing it through? An ending that screams To Be Continued to top off a lackluster story filled with flat jokes and constant allusions to being in a video game. Looking back, I was glad my game bugged out; I didn't need the upgrades & I finished it faster. It was certainly better than the time it auto-saved while I was locked in a region and had to clear it of all zombies with a subpar build; I died more times that mission than the rest of the game combined.
I wanted to like this game. There were occasional areas where everything would just click and I would merrily run away from a screaming horde of zombies, setting them on fire as I lured them to the police sirens that would incapacitate them until I could shoot them to grab more crafting items. Those were too few & far between, though. Instead, I spent way too much time in the game realizing just how monotonous and confusing playing it was.