Zombies are everywhere, it seems. For the last few years, the zombie craze has inundated seemingly all forms of entertainment - but in gaming, they’re a natural fit. After all, waves upon waves of mindless monsters have become a staple in arcade gaming almost since its inception, and Konami’s downloadable entry into that genre, Zombie Apocalypse, is no exception.
What is exceptional, however, is how well put-together and surprisingly fun it is.
Selling for $10 on the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade (where it’s listed for 800 Microsoft Points), the game features noticeably better-than-average graphics for an arcade title, especially one with this much action. With some terrific lighting effects and a joyously bright color palette, Zombie Apocalypse is inviting, despite its decidedly M-rated, über-violent gameplay.
Admittedly, this isn’t rocket science here, and that’s part of its charm. You’ll take one of four characters and get dropped into a ravaged wasteland with a plethora of zombies wanting to feast upon your oh-so-delicious (to zombies, at least) brain, and you’ll attempt to fight them off to pass the level. In true arcade fashion, you’ll have three lives to start with and can earn extras by passing certain point thresholds. With your default rifle, you can do plenty of damage, but more weapons will appear in the environment. If you can get to them, you’ll be able to wreak more havoc, and have more fun, wiping out the zombie hordes. You’ll also have a chainsaw, which can be used to cut a swath through a pack of zombies if necessary. The more zombies you eliminate in a row, the higher your multiplier goes up and the more quickly you’ll earn points. A second attack with the chainsaw is more showy, and will greatly boost your multiplier, but try it with more than a handful of the scuffling monstrosities on screen and you’ll be in big trouble - it takes a while to pull off.
Survivors keep things interesting; these blue-suited businesswomen will run into the level, and you’ll need to run over and touch them to drop a signal flare. Then, if you can protect them for long enough, they’ll be rescued by a helicopter, which will give you a bunch of bonus points and drop a dynamite-laden teddy bear somewhere nearby that you’ll want to quickly retrieve. The zombies love the cuddly pink teddy bear, so if you throw it across the level, they’ll chase it, only to have it explode seconds later, helping you immensely. If you don’t save the businesswoman, however, she’ll eventually become a zombie herself, and a particularly nasty one at that, so being a Good Samaritan isn’t optional if you intend on playing for very long.
The level design is rather creative; it’s not only lit well and provides an almost Pac-Man-like maze at times for you to shake your pursuers loose in, but it’s also interactive. If you’re in a junkyard, there’s a car crusher that goes off every few seconds. Lure a few zombies in there and - smoosh - your work’s done for you. An airport level has a jet engine running near the top of the screen, a street level has burning trash cans that explode if you blast them - you get the picture. Discovering how to use the level to your advantage is not only good strategy, but it’s a lot of fun to boot.
Speaking of fun, the game allows four players to team up and play simultaneously, both offline and online, which ramps up the enjoyment exponentially. Thankfully, you can’t hurt your teammates, which is a good thing given the game’s frenetic nature and the limited space of each level, and having buddies to help you out in a pinch gives the entire team a far better chance for success. While the game’s still entertaining while playing solo, playing with friends takes the game to another level entirely.
Zombie Apocalypse isn’t perfect; in fact, it gets a little lazy - and silly - about halfway through, when the zombies become “radioactive”. Essentially, this means they glow green and are twice as hard to wipe out, and it’s pretty cheap. But until that point - and even after it, if you don’t mind the decidedly artificial difficulty increase - it’s a really enjoyable romp. It’ll be pleasantly familiar to anyone who’s let games like Smash TV and Robotron 2084 inhale rolls of their quarters at the arcades over the years, and amazingly, there’s still some gold left to be mined here.
One of the challenges that faces many downloadable games today is simply getting noticed in the first place, and I admit that I hadn’t given this game much thought until I tried the demo and realized that it was worth more than just a passing glance. No, it doesn’t re-write arcade gaming as we know it, but as the calendar turns to October, what’s wrong with a spooky little zombie-blaster that looks good, plays beautifully and provides an awful lot of fun with friends for $10? It may not fill you up, but like a candy bar, it tastes good anyway. It’s no trick; Zombie Apocalypse is a tasty little Halloween treat.