The rise of console-based downloadable services brought with it what now seems like about a billion different dual-joystick shooters. The success of films like 28 Days Later and the continued success of the Resident Evil series have brought zombies back to the forefront of popular culture in a way that's still managing to cause all sorts of zombie fervor across several different mediums. Both things, however, feel like they're just about past the tipping point and have become pretty overexposed. So the release of a dual-joystick shooter where you fight back hordes of zombies almost feels like some sort of cynical commentary on the state of game development, or like someone just sort of gave up and decided to develop the interactive equivalent of the lowest common denominator. Nihilistic's Zombie Apocalypse is that game. It's unimaginative across the board, offering up a boilerplate setting with sub-par gameplay mechanics.
The one thing that sets Zombie Apocalypse apart from the pack of other dual-joystick games out there is that it can be played by four players simultaneously over the Internet. You don't get that sort of multiplayer out of most downloadable games of this sort, but it only goes so far. The game itself has you pick one of four characters, and then you must survive by blasting your way through wave after wave of zombies. The first few waves only have regular zombies, which will grab you if they can, but you can usually shake them off by rattling the joysticks around a bit. Later waves introduce more dangerous opponents, including (but not limited to) big guys that fall on you immediately without giving you time to struggle, zombies armed with throwing knives, others with shotguns, and still others with explosives. The exploding zombies, which burst after one shot, are especially annoying, because the game's camera angle doesn't always make it easy to judge the distance between you and your target... leading to plenty of cases where you shoot an exploding zombie only to go down with it. Judging distance makes the projectile zombies a bit trickier than they should be, too.
By default, you're armed with a standard rifle that has a good rate of fire and does a decent amount of damage. Weapon power-ups appear with regularity, giving you access to shotguns, flamethrowers, molotov cocktails, a chaingun, a rifle that shoots through multiple targets, and so on. You'll also occasionally get the chance to rescue a survivor, which gives you a teddy bear filled with explosives that, when tossed, draws the attention of nearby zombies. You also have a chainsaw that you can use to clear things out when the horde gets too close, but you're usually fine with your projectile weapons.
While the game continues on for a lot of levels, there are only seven different areas in the game. So you rotate through these seven stages again and again as the game becomes more difficult. Getting through the game, however, isn't much of a challenge, as running out of lives merely pops up a continue screen, letting you pick up directly where you left off, mid-level. The only penalty is that the game's leaderboards only track games that start on the first level, so continuing your game won't give you a higher score.
Other than being very cookie-cutter, both in gameplay and in subject matter, the way it cycles through a handful of level designs makes the game look really repetitive, and the game never really feels like it requires much skill. Most deaths seem to come from not noticing a zombie that spawned behind you, or by misjudging the distance on an exploding zombie, but since death doesn't matter much, the game feels like a real drag. Zombies will often spawn all around you, but you have to wait for them to complete their crawling out of the ground animation before your attacks register, which is also a little annoying.
Zombie Apocalypse is a boring dual-joystick shooter that lacks the speed and intensity that the best games in the genre all share. Throw in a generic zombie theme and you're left with something that feels like it'd be a neat free Left 4 Dead mod. As a standalone commercial product, though, it's lacking at every turn.