There’s a moment in Konami’s top down zombie shooter, inspirationally titled Zombie Apocalypse, where the action pauses and you’re asked: “Why don’t they shoot back in the movies?”
It’s an ironically brainless thought, kind of like asking: Why aren’t there zombie suicide bombers? Why don’t zombies throw knives? Why are there no nuclear-powered zombies? Why can’t zombies fire lasers? Why are there no cowboy zombies? Why don’t zombies squeeze winged babies from their cold, clammy vaginas?
Oh, hold on, Konami have an answer for all those questions and Zombie Apocalypse is the unfortunate consequence of forgetting that fiction, despite being fantasy, still demands standards.
To call it one-dimensional would be as much an understatement as to point out that at this point zombie games are banal. Despite boasting 55 levels there are actually only 7, reused in precise order 8 times over the course of the campaign and one lone goal remains throughout: keep playing. There is nothing else. It takes liberal inspiration from Left 4 Dead and the vastly more enjoyable Flash game Boxhead Zombie Wars (play it free here), but even that manages to incorporate a greater degree of tactics than this lazy endeavour.
It’s a twin-stick shooter, character control is dictated by the left stick and weapons the right. You run around in circles shooting mindlessly while enemies randomly appear from all angles. It’s a formula that doesn’t stand tall for long and a detrimental lack of imaginative weapons doesn’t aid its cause (would the age-old clichéd lawnmower hurt?)
But monotonous doesn’t even come close. Rehashing the same 7 levels 8 times is insulting but to not once alter the gameplay even vaguely is unbelievable. Not that the developer doesn’t try to hide their empirical laze; limiting you to just the chainsaw for a few levels does little to revive one of stalest games I’ve ever had the misfortune of playing. Similarly four boss battles (all of them identical) only shine light on the slow creative death this has endured.
The formula works for the opening five or six levels (conveniently long enough for a demo) and some quite out-of-place inventive level design helps Zombie Apocalypse get off on the right decaying foot. Levels are brief and quick-fire; watching zombies ignite on a firework stall or decimate in a wood-chipper is, at first, comical. But as the maiming continues, levels become arduous and derivative and by the time the mundane conclusion shows its welcome face there’s absolutely no pleasure to be found.
That’s as much to do with woeful enemy design, as it is its repetitive nature. Flooding the screen with zombies is fine at first. They are, as you’d expect, typically moronic, gladly congregating and wandering into a stream of machine gun fire or a shotgun blast. But as more ludicrous enemies are forced into the fray (the shotgun zombie, the knife-wielding zombie), most of which can execute you from distance, the game pilots toward the inevitable abortion it is.
And even death is irrelevant. Unless you’re worried about your leaderboard score (you won’t be, there’s absolutely no skill or method involved) multiple deaths go unpunished. Utilising your life supply results in an extended death screen, before dropping you precisely where you left off. The game is so bad this is probably a good thing but when levels are indistinguishable, there’s no prize for playing well, and the enemies are so transparently cheap, there really isn’t a motive to finish the game.
Hilariously the epilogue states, “If this were a movie we’d fade out to a distant highway, the sun rising on an unknown stretch of pavement.” And judging by some of the design decisions and clichés it’s difficult to know whether or not the developer is serious. Regardless, if Zombie Apocalypse were a movie it would have never made it passed concept. And we have to be thankful for that at least because this is an uninspiring, plagiaristic and agonising monument, how not to make a videogame.
So an apocalypse alright.