It’s hard to know exactly who the intended audience of doublesix’s latest twin-stick light-RPG shooter All Zombies Must Die! is supposed to be.
On one hand, a decent amount of admittedly cartoonish blood and an M rating suggest teenagers ought to be the ones wielding the controller. However, cutesy animation, simple, repetitive play and the weakest attempt at dialogue and story this side of a Barney episode should see most teenagers re-gifting this one to younger siblings faster than they can say “Super-dee-duper!”
Not that Zombies is really terrible enough to warrant being mentioned in the same paragraph as that annoying purple twit. There are plenty of zombies to re-kill – enough that staying put for too long will see them construct a deadly wall of groaning, grabby flesh around the player – and the dispatching of said zombies is fleetingly satisfying. Unfortunately, everything the game does adequately has been done elsewhere, and Zombies suffers terribly by comparison.
Case in point: the clean presentation, bright, well-drawn graphics and jaunty music evoke the Deathspank series, but the depth and sharp writing that characterise that excellent franchise have been replaced by the skinniest of levelling systems and some utterly abysmal writing.
That last point cannot be emphasised enough, by this reviewer or – in some kind of kamikaze strategy – the game itself. Having a character comment in a very meta fashion on just how painfully weak the all-text dialogue seems is one (irritating) thing, but to then inject said pointless banter into the game as often as possible is an act of knuckleheaded self-sabotage on the part of doublesix.
An example: the “this all feels a bit like a video game” meta-gag, something that was barely clever the first time it appeared somewhere back in the 1-bit era and which now only appears as a signal for lazy, unoriginal writing, appears no less than three times within the first half hour.
Similarly backward is the way the game’s only female character is portrayed: as a whingeing, high-maintenance nag who exists only to act as some manner of fun-hating harpy. Sure, fun-hating harpies exist in the real world, but if games – even RPG-lite shooters – wish to cultivate a wider audience and be taken more seriously, they may wish to expunge such offensively reductive stereotypes altogether.
Non-narrative-related banter pops up with such alarming frequency that even when passing one of many sentient electronic gates which lead to new areas of the game, its family history is lobbed forcefully at the player. Doubling as quest-givers, these gates all have names like ‘Maude’ – how wacky! Worse, their quests tend to be as laughably pedestrian as “kill 10 zombies”. In a game where ten zombies are encouraged to re-bite the bucket in as many seconds by the player and that’s by accident, these ‘quests’ exist as little more than terrible writing delivery systems.
Honestly, Zombies would have greatly benefitted from going all ‘80s brawler and just dispensing with story and dialogue altogether.
Fortunately, even bad dialogue can be skipped. Unfortunately, gameplay niggles cannot.
Although nimble, on occasion the characters feel as if they are moving around in some half-gravity version of Earth, and will occasionally drift a few meters to the side despite receiving no input from the controller. In addition, our heroes don’t seem to have grasped the concept of aiming downwards, so zombies emerging from the ground are invulnerable during digging animations, which makes timing the use of that power-up or bat swing irritatingly tricky. If its onscreen, it ought to be fair game.
Further, the need to pull RT to shoot in a twin-stick game is redundant, as is using the same areas for multiple quests. The glacial pace with which the game introduces new foes accentuates the dullness, as do the abundant health packs and general ease of play. The option to turn team killing on is welcome, but for all the wrong reasons. Even the offline co-op mode that allows up to four players to march around levels fails to add any meaningful longevity to the title.
An also-ran in a stacked genre that somehow further lowers the stock of the most overused enemy type of the past decade, All Zombies Must Die! makes both a bad case for its title and as a game in general.