Platform: PC (reviewed)
Developer: Bootsnake Games
Starting a review with a mini-rant about the prevalence of zombies throughout every corner of our medium is becoming as big a cliché as the subject matter itself. You're probably as bored of reading about it as we are of writing about it. So with our reservations about the glut of undead-themed games firmly in mind, imagine our joy at discovering a zombie title that dares to do things differently. Containment: The Zombie Puzzler has all the ingredients for yet another forgettable downloadable shooter - guns, a gritty cityscape and hordes of shambling revenants - but manages to convert them into a ridiculously addictive puzzle game.
Containment isn't just a name: it's the aim of the game. Action takes place in a top down view of a city street, with small numbers of zombies surrounded by brightly-coloured survivors. You'll soon realise that the characters conform to an invisible grid resembling that of Bejeweled or Puzzle Quest, and you can swap the positions of any two survivors with a couple of mouse clicks. If you manage to surround a zombie with similarly-coloured humans, they'll turn inwards and murder the hapless undead goon with extreme prejudice, removing it from the board.
Boom. Zombie contained.
This simple mechanic remains throughout the meaty campaign, which spans a number of branching levels strung together with an compelling, bleak yet occasionally humourous storyline. But there's much more to Containment than simple colour-matching. Zombies don't just stand still and wait for their second death, rather, they'll actively attack adjacent survivors every so often and convert them into extra troops. You'll need to work quickly to stop a single zombie from propagating legions of reinforcements, creating a real sense of urgency and panic as they start to spread across the field. However, taking your time to set up complex combos can pay dividends in the long run, which adds another layer of strategy to the proceedings.
Each type of survivor can also provide you with powerups and items when matched, depending on their colour. Green soldiers, for example, will give you a deployable grenade that can destroy a cruciform grid. Pink scientists proffer hazmat suits that give a line of troops temporary invulnerability as well as changing their colour, thus setting up the potential for massive pink combos. Sniper bullets and molotovs can get you out of even the most desperate situations when used properly, though like the very best zombie flicks, you'll need to decide whether to save supplies for later or smoke 'em while you've got 'em.
Later levels introduce destructible scenery elements, hazards, spawn points and new varieties of zombie, making for a surprisingly well-paced experience throughout the handful of hours it will take you to complete. With an infinite survival mode on hand to pad out longevity and multiple routes throughout the storyline to enhance replayability, Containment is an absolute bargain considering the meagre £2.99 price point.
It's worth noting that more should have been made of the scoring mechanics. The potential for setting up massive combos would have translated brilliantly into leaderboard runs and score attacks, but the campaign doesn't feature even the slightest hint of numerical rewards. Even the survival mode doesn't display a score on-screen, and it's a wasted opportunity that would have vastly improved Containment's sticking power.
Visually, Containment is fairly simple but exceedingly attractive. The 3D level backgrounds are detailed enough to impress, while the colourful characters always stand out and make for at-a-glance recognition. Unfortunately the repetitive (if high fidelity) sound design and voice samples fare much worse and betrays its roots as an iPad game.
Ah, yes. Containment originally released on the App Store a couple of months ago, and sadly the PC version won't let us forget it. Having to swipe the mouse across items and scenery objects is a real hassle, and dragging powerups is much less convenient than using (sadly absent) keyboard shortcuts. As much as anything, the relentless clicking feels much less natural on PC and it's all too easy to make incorrect moves in the heat of battle without the intuitive connection between fingertip and touchscreen.
If you have the option, definitely buy it on iPad instead.
- Accessible, hectic and addictive puzzle gameplay
- Attractive presentation
- Good value
- Much more intuitive on iPad
- Desperately needed scoring mechanics
- Repetitive sound design
The Short Version: Containment: The Zombie Puzzler is an imaginative, addictive and attractive little title that gives the tired old zombie conventions a welcome new twist.
Well worth buying on PC, but do so on iPad if you have the choice.