After 2009’s Zombie Apocalypse, Konami returns once more with developer Backbone Entertainment for the follow-up, the number-shedding dual-stick shooter Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone for both PSN and XBLA. With zombie titles heating up the charts, sequels aren’t just suggested anymore; they’re expected. The pair’s second attempt at the ever-expanding genre improves upon some aspects of the original, especially in the multiplayer department and player options, but it’s not without some frustrating quirks that will quickly gnaw away at you, not unlike the game’s undead antagonists.
There’s not much of a story here, as you’ll take control of four stereotypical characters just trying to survive – what else? – the zombie apocalypse. Among them are Jeremy, the sub machine gun-totin’, trash-talking online gamer, Alma, the sassy engineer that’s also a sniper, Father Bill, who spreads the gospel with his shotgun, and finally there’s British rapper Def Money with his twin pistols in tow. I like how each character has their own unique weapon to use, and how you’re able to switch among them at anytime. As with the first game, you use the left analog stick to move, and the right one to fire in any direction. Yes, it’s another dual-stick shooter, but at least there’s a button to switch characters on the fly, and another for melee attacks.
There’s also a ‘zombie bait button’, which sets a unique trap for each character (rapper plays boombox that makes zombies dance, engineer sets up gun turret, etc), and then there’s the ‘pwnage button’ that makes your character well…pwn stuff. Jeremy moves and shoots super fast, while Father Bill calls down some heavenly light to smite zombies, and so on. Each plays to their characteristics well, even if the results are more than a little predictable.
You also collect money that you can spend on upgrades for the characters, such as improving their damage, speed, rate of fire, etc. While most folks will be tempted to only use and upgrade Jeremy because of his speed and power, the game forces you to power up everybody in order to survive. So you may not like the sniper’s slow rifle, but she can put down multiple zombies in one shot, which helps a big deal down the road. There’s also special weapons you can pick up and use for a limited time to kick undead butt, such as the chainsaw, flamethrower, etc. These features, along with the fact that all four characters are always spouting some funny lines to themselves or one another, really make the game feel fun and like you’re always playing multiplayer, which you can do with three other buddies both on and offline.
Now onto the bad stuff, such as the difficulty. Maybe it’s just me, but after having fun on the first stage, the difficulty seemed to skyrocket by going from a decent amount of zombies to just being swarmed by them. Until you get your characters powered up a bit, expect to die a lot when playing. Luckily, you can revive a fallen comrade when close to their body, which will give them even more health if you time your button-presses to the EKG beeps. Though sad to say, this does little to help when two or more of your group falls victim to the undead swarm.
The visuals aren’t that great, either, and I’m tempted to say that the original might have actually looked better. At least the sounds and effects are well done, as every gunshot, zombie moan, and funny piece of dialogue comes in loud and clear.
I was expecting a little more from Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone. While it does improve upon some aspects of the original undead-blasting hit, especially with more refined combat and expanded options, it drops the ball on others. the difficulty has been ramped to near-insanity, and the relatively plain visuals seem to have actually worsened this time around. But none of that should bother diehard zombie fans, especially those who really enjoyed the original game, as there seems to be a sense of lowered-expectations for downloaded titles like this. If you’re looking to kill hordes of zombies with some friends, you might want to consider some of the better zombie-themed games out there. But for $10, you could also do a lot worse.
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