Atom Zombie Smasher (PC review)   Leave a comment

Developed by: Blendo Games
Published by: Blendo Games
Out now
Reviewed on: 5th April, 2011.

Presentation: The plot is presented in a monochrome comicbook fashion with very simple graphics in the game itself. The people and zombies appear as golden and purple dots on a randomly generated city map. Graphically, it’s nothing too impressive, but it does seem to do the ethos of the game justice.

Atmosphere: The atmosphere seems very playful and surreal with oddball characters and scenarios presented in the comics that serve up the plot; however the gameplay itself is one of the harsh reality of seeing people as numbers on a scoreboard, killing ten civilians along with twenty zombies and leaving folk behind. It’s quite a dichotomy.

Control and Mechanics: Very simple, you select your city, place your troops and rescue zones, and use your mouse to set off weapons or move troops in-game. That’s it really, a fair bit of the action is automated.

Who should buy this: Those who like the idea of a zombie apocalypse that forces you to save what you can, how you can and threatens to overwhelm you. Those who like RTS elements with simple, point-and-click controls and a fairly intuitive GUI. Those who like effectively no-win scenarios.

Who should avoid it: Those who want more of a sliding scale difficulty and a better tutorial system. Those who want variety and depth to a game. Those who don’t want to feel they’re forced to treat people as numbers and are fighting against the inevitable. Those who want more plot or atmosphere.

If I have to give a score: I didn’t regret playing this game, but I saw nothing in it that would make me keep playing and it wasn’t really pulling me in, but certainly could be fun in brief bursts. 2/4

Review

I’m going against the trend by giving this a seemingly mediocre score, but it’s a game that has a very certain aesthetic ideal in mind. I’m not saying it’s a bad game per se, it’s just that I wouldn’t even think of recommending it to someone unless they specifically wanted what the game offers.

So, what does it offer? Well, it’s a very straightforward game experience. You are the head of a rescue operation in the middle of a zombie apocalypse in a fictional nation. Each territory on the map represents a city that contains a certain number of civilians. During the daytime, a certain number of zombie get in and start feasting on the living and its your job to get a certain number out with the resources you have at your disposal. These resources start as a single rescue helicopter, but expands to include combative mercenary units from gunners to ground troops to demolitions.

Simple enough, except that as night approaches, the zombies really hit hard and you quickly find the city overwhelmed. If you are clever and resourceful, you should have your rescue targets hit early on, but it gets worse. The game is always keeping score between your rescue efforts and the spreading infection and it’s very easy to fall behind. You end up wanting not just to rescue civilians but taking down as many of the approaching zombies as possible, to keep the infection numbers down.

This is where both the most fun and, interestingly, the most brutal parts of the game come to the fore. You can have all sorts of tools at your disposal up to a fully-fledged nuclear orbital platform. For the moment, let’s say you have a piece of dynamite you can detonate, killing twenty zombies. Sure, one human would die, but said person would die anyway because the zombies were there. Okay, how about if it was five people who could get away? Sometimes you have to make those tough choices, but it’s four zombies dead for every lost human and you’re well into your target. Sometimes, it’s worth nuking an area with more human than zombie casualties just because it limits infection.

You won’t pick up on the coldness of this most times, however. Games, like art, are presenting you with fictional spaces and the plights and horrors of these affect us because we suspend disbelief: these aren’t fictional characters, these are real beings with moral rights like ours and both games and art have tools to help our suspension of disbelief. Atom Zombie Smasher has none of this and even aids dehumanising the people by showing the zombies and their victims as coloured dots on the city map.

That’s all an aside, I don’t make the same requirements of games as I do of art and any musings on the human condition are secondary concerns to actually enjoying the game. It is a fun game, it’s just it lacks replay value and the struggle of lagging behind and catching up with the zombies’ score is occasionally irritating.

The cities are procedurally generated so no two cities are alike, but after a short time, you realise that the cities aren’t very varied anyway so procedural generation doesn’t really add much in the same way it adds to a lot of Netnack’s descendants. I rarely found that changes in the city’s design were causing changes in my fundamental tactics, just minor changes in where exactly I would place dynamite charges or place these or those units.

Other random element beside the shape of the cities are things like the order mercenary units are added to your army or the weather conditions. You will get missions where the daylight is gone almost as soon as you start and where the weather works for or against the zombies. These do alter your tactics far more radically, but they are sometimes too unpredictable beforehand and you end dealing with effects that you could not have really foreseen.

The bottom line is try the demo. If you want more of what you get from that, plus a few neat extra like multiplayer and modding (most game settings are open to player modification), you’ll enjoy Atom Zombie Smasher immensely. Don’t pick up the game expecting vast replay value, because the game goes through the same rotes very quickly and differentiation between games falls by the wayside.

Atom Zombie Smasher is out now. It is available on Windows, Mac and Linux and can be acquired via their website or major digital distribution platforms. Cost is £5.99 on Steam.

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