Publisher: Square Enix
You may feel there is something oddly familiar going on here, as UK-based developer Doublesix were responsible for another downloadable twin-stick undead-slaying title from a few years ago, Burn Zombie Burn! Thankfully though, this isn’t a rushed rehashing of the same formula, as All Zombies Must Die! takes the base combat mechanics from Doublesix’s previous effort and expands on everything else to create a much larger, and optionally deeper, experience overall.
I got hands-on with this last year, so I was interested in seeing not only the things I had missed out on seeing, but what had changed from the demo build.
Here’s a quick rundown of what to expect for those not in the know. AZMD! takes place in the town of Deadhill. It is here that we meet our four playable heroes over the course of the game, starting with the video-gaming obsessed Jack. For him the zombie apocalypse is a dream come true and is excited by the prospect of taking on the undead, but his love for gaming also allows him to recognise the fact he is in fact in a video game (which leads to some interesting conversations later on.)
Next up is Rachel, the long-suffering ex-girlfriend. She’s fed up with the outbreak, and even more fed up that Jack is one of the few people left, belittling him at every opportunity. The duo will eventually meet up with Brian, a scientist who is more concerned with his research than the idea of escaping the hordes, and an alien called Luxo, whose main mission in life is to learn English and swear every other word. Together they form a cast that works well with the visual styling of the game, and while it isn’t the greatest script in the world Doublesix reference this in a self-mocking way providing humourous moments, with film and gaming references dotted throughout. It might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but I think the blend of cartoon style with a hint of 60’s B-movie aesthetics is spot on.
The control scheme is easy enough to get to grips with for those that have played twin-stick shooters before; the left stick moves you, the right stick aims your weapon, with the shoulder buttons used to attack. It’s simple stuff that can be picked up very quickly, but is satisfying to play as you slaughter the undead with the controls being slick in execution. The biggest departure from its predecessor is the addition of the RPG-lite elements to the game. Experience points play a large part in proceedings, with XP gained by completing missions and killing the hordes of undead.
Levelling up provides the player with a set amount of skill points that can upgrade different attributes. Attack allows your weapons to do more damage, health provides more hit points, and defence softens the blow from the enemy. Speed allows you to increase the rate at which you move, as well as hasten your ability to pick up objects or revive other players. While certain characters require less points to upgrade certain skills that others (for example, Rachel only requires 3 points to improve speed, while Jack requires more) it effectively allows you to customise the quartet to your style of play.
Another addition to the game is that of status effects which can help you to take down your enemies, although they can also hinder you if you are not careful. For example, setting zombies on fire will causes their health to reduce slowly, but after a short time will increase their speed dramatically. Meanwhile, deafening them with car alarms will stun the zombies momentarily as they don some ear defenders before hulking out a little bit, making them more difficult to kill. And then there's radiation, which weakens zombies for a short time before mutating them into giant beasts intent on turning you into meat paste. It ensures that players use these status effects with care, lest they become overwhelmed with a horde of powerful zombies, and helps to mix things up in the gameplay. This also plays into the special abilities each character is able to use. For example, Jack gets the special ability from Burn Zombie Burn! of wielding a flaming torch to set fire to enemies, while Rachel uses a mobile phone taped to a megaphone to deafen the hordes. Brian uses a nuclear rod to radiate everything, and Luxo has a makeshift cattle prod to send arcs of electricity into anything living-impaired.
Moving away from the fixed-screen Gauntlet-esque gameplay of its spiritual predecessor, AZMD!’s town of Deadhill is comprised of several richly detailed areas, with the various locations providing different layouts to learn and navigate. While some are a bit more open, such as the town square, the shopping mall is quite claustrophobic in comparison, causing a switch in tactics (there’s also a rather blatant bit of in-game advertising with one of the shops that made me laugh.) Moving from one area to another requires you to go through a gate that will only open once a mission is completed. These vary in nature, from picking up a certain item from zombies, or surviving in an area without killing anything for 30 seconds, to taking out a set amount of enemies with a particular weapon. As some missions rely on waiting for a set item to drop the time to complete them will vary greatly, and while the relentlessness of the zombie hordes do a good job of distracting players from that fact, the random chance of success is something that may test the patience of some.
There is a chance for respite from the undead masses, and this is done by performing an “All Zombies Must Die” mission, which involves killing a large amount of enemies. Doing so clears the area of hostiles and provides a safe haven for you to use as a home base, which is where you can change which character you wish to play as, improve your attributes (which takes place in the toilets… obviously) or do some crafting (which we’ll get onto shortly.) These bases can be moved to other pre-set locations, but you can only have one home base at a time. You will be forced to relocate at several points due to the story, meaning some missions which will have previously been on your doorstep could end up being a fair distance away.
There is a range of weaponry in your arsenal with which to tear down the zombies, from the humble shotgun (and its aptly named “Campbell Bonus” for multiple kills) and devastating chainsaw (complete with “Leatherface” Bonus”), to the trusty cricket bat (that can send enemies flying off screen) and menacing katana. My favourite had to be Luxo’s Death Ray and its vaporising action, because not only was it satisfying to watch several zombies light up, but lasers are cool. Each character can only carry two weapons at a time; a “preferred” weapon which is always with you, and a random pick up, but players can also switch to their fists should they run out of ammo. I actually found the fists to be quite overpowered to begin with, but as more powerful zombies entered the fray I found myself relying on my trusty shotgun a lot more.
And worrying when it run out of ammo. Doh.
As well as the base weapons, a crafting element allows you to add different status effects to each of them, allowing you to set fire or radiate zombies without relying on the environment around you. This is achieved by combining weapons with special items that can be claimed by killing a certain number of enemies in a certain way. For example, the town square will reward you with Firewood (a crafting element we’ll get onto shortly) if you kill 30 zombies that are on fire. You can then take the firewood and combine it with a shotgun, forging you a flame shotgun.
It is a simple system, but as with upgrading attributes and even with locating mission objectives around the town, Doublesix have done well to ensure everything is not only well labelled, but easy to work with, enabling the player to get back to the real matter at hand; shooting zombies. That said, maxing out all of the attributes and forging all the weapons will take many hours of zombie slaying, and this is on top of all the collectables dotted around Deadhill waiting to be picked up. While you can decide to circumvent all of this and play through the story only, it is this option of creating as deep an experience as you wish that works in AZMD!’s favour. Casual gamers there for the thrill of the ride can plough on through, while completists will have a lot to keep themselves busy.
Another main feature for AZMD! is the ability for four player local co-op, with drop-in, drop-out capability. I was able to test this out with the help of my good friend “Doctor” Paul, whose addition to the mayhem caused the game to scale the amount of enemies marching towards us. Because the screen zooms out when the players moves away from each other, it made tracking my character something of a challenge when I was being swarmed. That said, when tactics were used, such as Paul (playing as Rachel) using the sonic sound ability to deafen the zombies whilst I shot them, it was immensely fun to go through the missions.
However, there is one key element to remember; friendly fire. In the mayhem of a few skirmishes one of us would accidently kill the other, leading to a mad panic to clear enough zombies to allow for a revive. Of course, with XP and items not shared between players, a sense of competition can arise, so be wary of the devious ones amongst your friends. For example, at one point Paul and I had a duel in our safe house, one I ultimately won. I then revived him, only to have the rest of my health destroyed by him and run away… he revived me later, but revelled in his vengeance. It’s something that the developers clearly encourage, going for what I call the “sofa mocking mentality” you usually only find in sports games.
Of course, you could always play nice… but being dastardly is far more entertaining, wouldn’t you agree?
Is AZMD! faultless? Not quite, but my gripes are definitely not deal breakers by any standard. My attempts to charge up melee weapons such as the cricket bat would occasionally not register, leaving me in something of a bind when surrounded by brain-seeking menaces. Objectives would send me to the far side of a map, and when I returned to go back the other way the gate quest would send me back to the far side again to pick something up before I would be let through. This wasn’t always the case I must point out, but those looking to power through the story might get frustrated by the back-and-forth trekking.
Additionally, some may complain about the lack of online co-op, but you’re sadly going to have to be in the presence of people for this one. If it’s any consolation, it’s more fun that way.
- Slick controls that are easy to pick up.
- RPG-Lite elements work well with the gamplay.
- Charming plot with plenty of content to get through.
- Melee weapons can be temperamental when charging up.
- Mission objectives may annoy some gamers with their placement.
- Lack of online co-op could be a deal breaker for some (local play is where it's at though).
The Short Version: Ultimately, Doublesix have managed to create an entertaining and charming twin-stick shooter, with the addition of RPG-lite elements helping to break away from similar titles in the genre. The slick controls, the co-op functionality, and the simple layout of menus and objectives allow players to get into the zombie-slaying action with ease, and make it a downloadable title worth purchasing.