All Zombies Must Die is a twin stick zombie shooter. It’s one of the most popular combinations in downloadable gaming, with certain standout titles providing variations on the theme. I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1 simplified the formula and made it into a $1 rave, Dead Nation played things entirely straight and focused on intensity, and now All Zombies Must Die adds some light RPG elements into the mix.
The strange thing is, while RPG mechanics sound like they’d fit perfectly into a zombie shooter, All Zombies Must Die doesn’t really exploit them to their fullest. For instance, the loot system isn’t structured like a traditional RPG. Instead, you have to be prompted to search for loot, kill a certain number of zombies in a certain way, and then you’ll have a brief period of time to grab the dropped loot, or else it will disappear and the process must be repeated. It’s frustrating, because oftentimes this loot is combined with other items to create makeshift weapons under a very simple system in which one item will apply a specific effect to practically any weapon (for instance, firewood will add fire to anything).
Always knowing the available loot in a particular area and being able to get that item frequently and reliably lacks the fun of a random drop, and makes the whole weapon combination system feel less satisfying. It’s not as rewarding to make a weapon with a part that you had to kill 30 zombies in a certain way for as it is to make a weapon out of a rare drop that you randomly discovered.
Quests are similarly underutilized, since quite a number of them are focused on simply killing zombies. Considering that you have to kill zombies to get from one side of a level to another, putting quests that require zombie killing to open gates that allow you to get access to another area feels a kind of like overkill. The majority of the quests just ask you to kill a number of zombies or collect various things scattered around the map while killing zombies. While zombie-killing is fun, it’s not quite as much fun to kill 30 zombies in the process of getting to a gate only to be told to kill 30 zombies to go through it.
Other features are kind of neat. For instance, the game has various status effects that zombies can be afflicted with. They can be irradiated, lit on fire, or stunned by using loud noises. Kill enough affected zombies and you’re granted a rage mode of sorts in which your speed and attack are boosted. When this is over, you’re granted a screen-clearing smart bomb to use at your leisure. At least, that’s how I think it works, the game provides a nebulous explanation of “combos” and words like “Campbell Combo” or “Gangster Combo” will flash onscreen if you kill enough zombies with a shotgun or SMG respectively. While I couldn’t piece together a direct correlation between the “combos” and rage mode, the method I described above seemed to work fine for me.
While the ability to play as multiple characters should be a welcome one, All Zombies Must Die staggers access to its characters, and forces you to play certain ones for specific missions. Each character has a special weapon (generally used to apply status effects), a weapon affinity (for instance, Jack is inclined towards shotguns, but these affinities can be changed…for a price), and different stat specialties. Five skill points are granted to the player each time they level up, but to level up a character’s individual stats cost three or four skill points. While I thought that the way stat leveling worked was an interesting attempt to create a diverse character roster, it also prevented me from easily making characters the way I wanted to. This could get very frustrating.
For instance, I really liked the way that Jack played. He specialized in shotguns, and his character weapon was a torch that both ignited and scared zombies away. This and his high defense meant that zombie-killing was easy and non-threatening (more on that later). I was having fun. Then I unlocked Rachel. She’s designed to be speedy (but fragile). After playing through two of her quests and dying repeatedly, I couldn’t wait to get back to the safe house and swap back to Jack.
After I selected Jack, I walked over to where the next mission location, and the gate (gates speak and give you quests in this game) told me that he wouldn’t let Jack through, and that I had to switch to Rachel. The game changed from fun to a slog once again, and I had no choice in the matter.
All Zombies Must Die is very lighthearted. The writing is comic, the visuals are cartoony, and the main character is excited to be in a world full of zombies that he can shoot. The game is filled with references to classic films (horror and otherwise) in its writing and its music (some of the tracks seem heavily inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween theme, and strangely, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The writers aren’t afraid to break the fourth wall either, with characters complaining about the writing and commenting that the situation that they’re in is very video game-like.
While that’s all well and good, the lighthearted tone means that the zombie apocalypse never really feels scary or stressful. While that’s not necessarily the point of the game, it reduces the zombies from a threat to a nuisance. Whereas games like Dead Nation and even Z0MBIES feel overwhelming when your enemies get close, death in All Zombies Must Die is unimposing, and instead, simply annoying.
The game has zombies but it doesn’t feel like a zombie apocalypse; it has RPG elements but it doesn’t use them like it could; and it has multiple characters but being forced to play more than one is disorienting and frustrating.