This game has no soul, in a bad way
Zombie Apocalypse feels like a game designed by committee to touch all the bases that a group of investors might think are important to gamers. As a downloadable title it should obviously play like a twin stick shooter but without all those annoying colors and shapes like in Geometry Wars. Zombies are still hot right? It should have lots of gore. It should have the same guns that those really successful action games have. And like those popular MMO's, it should include some amount of dancing. Point for point (yes, even the dancing), Nihilistic Software has included all the right components to make an entertaining zombie game, but like the reanimated corpses that you'll slay in the thousands, I can't help but feel the game has no soul.
As good as it all looks, though, the game has no real style of its own, aiming for photo-realism and nothing more. The visual design also effects the gameplay as ragdoll zombie chunks and detailed animations cause more confusion than they're worth. As enemies crawl out of the ground or pop out of background elements it's hard to tell when they're capable of hurting you and when you can cut them down. Bodies (and body parts) lying around slowly sink into the ground making it hard to tell which enemy is coming and which one is going. Compounding the problems further, there's no tutorial to explain some of the key points of how the game works and it was hours before I finally understood it all. These issues really dragged down the experience for me but didn't deliver the debilitating headshot thanks to a few nice gameplay touches.
As you run and gun through 55 days of carnage your only means of defense is to keep moving (with one stick) while shooting off an arsenal of nine weapons (with the other). It's a shameless copy of any other twin stick shooter (from Smash TV up to Geometry Wars) with everything from shotguns to sniper rifles dropping onto the screen periodically with last resort (and cleverly voiced) "bombs" that draw the heat away from you for a few seconds. It's still almost always a one-hit-and-you're-dead situation but Nihilistic has added both the ability to shake off the basic zombies when they grab you and a handy chainsaw. Mowing down the mob with the chainsaw and wedging yourself into a corner works better than you'd think possible for the first dozen or so waves after which you're introduced to zombies with shotguns and dynamite, grannies with heat-seeking knives and what I'll call flying zombie "bugs" to not give too much away. Being able to shake off zombies and use the one-hit-kill chainsaw on most of the others helps smooth over the game's rough patches but it's the simple gift of infinite continues that kept me working through. The rub here is that once you run out of lives and choose to continue your score gets reset and you can no longer post a new score to the Leaderboards for that game. To those hooked on high scores that might as well mean Game Over and with the many scoring systems in the game you might think about starting over but it's great to have the option to forge ahead with zero points.
One of the game's selling points is its "zombie traps" like whirring woodchippers and gnashing car crushers but you don't lure enemies to them so much as you shoot them as they pass nearby in order to get bonus points. It's simpler than what I was expecting but it adds another obsessive layer onto the scoring mechanics that are the core of Zombie Apocalypse. Simply shooting zombies adds to your score multiplier but pulling off the risky chainsaw execution notches it up quicker and there's the frequent uninfected humans who you have to protect long enough to get picked up by a chopper that really tack on the points. End of stage tallies also offer huge bonuses for not dying and going miraculously ungrabbed by any zombies. I don't consider myself a high score player by any means but I still found myself getting into a nice groove of working the traps and always risking it all for those helpless uninfected bonuses.
If you've turned your curious eye this way for the undead antics or four-player co-op, I'd recommend one of Zombie Apocalypse's contemporaries even if it means going back to Left 4 Dead or Dead Rising. The thrill here is solely the pursuit of points and even at that it's not a shining example. The multiplayer is more spastic than strategic due equally to how tightly the camera is zoomed and the choppy framerate when playing online. A solid day is all it should take to clear the default mode and then all you're left with is gunning for another top score. The seven extra modes don't do much to extend your playtime, adding only novel stipulations like 'chainsaws only' and 'turbo speed' and the five arenas repeat too often. With so many other fine choices to download, both for twin stick shooters and undead carnage, Zombie Apocalypse's uninspired design ultimately left me feeling brainless (pun of the century) about paying full price.