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All Zombies Must Die!

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Doublesix
Release Date: Dec. 28, 2011

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


XBLA Review - 'All Zombies Must Die!'

by Brian Dumlao on Feb. 15, 2012 @ 12:30 a.m. PST

All Zombies Must Die! is a quirky new zombie-blasting action game with a mix of weapons-based arena combat and light RPG elements.

By now, we've seen a plethora of twin-stick shooters for just about every platform using every imaginable scenario. We've also seen a bunch of games where zombies are either the main focus or are heavily ingrained in the enemy library. Additionally, we've seen numerous titles that have combined shooter elements with zombie goodness. Even with all of the twin-stick zombie shooters on the market, developers keep producing them. The latest one to grace the market is All Zombies Must Die from Double Six Games, who had developed Burn, Zombie, Burn a few years ago. While All Zombies Must Die is a deeper experience by comparison, it isn't necessarily better.

The town of Deadhill is the latest city to fall under the zombie apocalypse, and unlike everyone else, Jack doesn't mind the scenario. As he tries to escape the city, he meets up with his ex-girlfriend Rachel, a scientist named Brian, and an alien with dreadlocks named Luxo. With the only bridge out of town destroyed, they have to find a way out of there alive.

The lampooning of anything zombie- or game-related comes through in just about every aspect of the title. The descriptions for weapons always reference some film where it was popularized, and the electronic gates seem to have personalities of their own. There are side characters, such as a dog statue that speaks, and Jack tries to be self-referential as he often compares the situation to a video game. All of this is highlighted by dialogue that never takes a break from trying to crack a joke any chance it gets.

The only issue with the dialogue is that it gets old pretty quickly. When Jack initially jokes about being in a video game, it's amusing. When he constantly tries to prove this to his ex-girlfriend, the joke wears so thin that it becomes annoying. The same can be said for the characters who never grow out of their given roles. While character growth and good dialogue aren't exactly things you go looking for in a shooter, it would've helped this game since it insists on having dialogue scenes at every opportunity.

Like the plot, the gameplay should be familiar to genre fans. In a nutshell, you travel to different areas of the city where you'll be overwhelmed by zombies of varying types. To name a few, there are standard pedestrian zombies, zombies with riot gear, irradiated ones, and speedy zombies in jogging suits. Despite the odds, you are well prepared with standard weapons like chainsaws, cricket bats, machine guns and shotguns. When all else fails and there's no more ammo to collect, you can always rely on your fists to get you out of a jam.

The developers have thrown in several new mechanics to liven up things. While the levels are broken down into basic arenas, each gate encounter that leads to the next area requires the fulfillment of a quest. Whether it is something simple like killing X number of zombies, finding a cheeseburger, or eliminating poisoned zombies with melee weapons, it adds variety to the basic killing. The quests also serve as excuses to get new weapons or open up other features of the game. The basic assortment of weapons can all be modified to gain elemental powers through the crafting system. Augmenting all weapons with things like fire and electricity gives you an excuse to try out weaker weapons once it gains the ability to set zombies on fire.

Each character has a special item that can be used against the horde. Some do a better job at killing zombies, but they're all used to modify them. There's also an experience system in place, much like a typical RPG. XP is gained from just about anything including fulfilling quests, finding items, or killing undead hordes. Like any RPG, gaining experience helps you level up and modify your stats in areas like strength and health. Experience gains are universal, and while you'll have to allocate points to each character manually, it also means that you don't have to grind as much when a quest forces you to use weaker characters.

At first, all of these changes end up being great. Weapon modding helps alleviate the fact that the arsenal you encounter here is actually quite limited while item gathering helps you be a little conscious of where you go and what weapons you bring with you to accomplish said goal. Most importantly, the XP system gives you a valid reason to spend your ammo blowing away zombies. There's some added depth because of this, preventing the title from simply becoming a mindless shooter.

Get past the elation of the new mechanics, and you'll see the flaws. All Zombies Must Die requires plenty of backtracking to reach its eight-hour length, and while some of that is explained in the story, it doesn't make it less tedious, especially when you're constantly given quests to complete. Speaking of quests, none of your previous accomplishments in an area count for a quest until you receive it from a gate. Getting asked to kill 30 zombies when you've already killed 100 prior to reaching the gate simply points out the lengths taken to artificially extend the game. Gathering items is held back by the fact that your counts always reset when you leave an area.

Trying to play the game solo proves to be nightmarish. Get yourself stuck at a dead end or on a tree, and the hordes relentlessly gang up on you. Unless you're playing with one of the stronger characters and have something powerful in your arsenal, expect death to come quickly. Also, searching for items proves to be stressful since it requires you to hold down a button to reduce a meter before the item is successfully found. The problem is that you'll always be mobbed by zombies, and one hit causes the meter to fill up again, forcing you to start the search over. Most can ignore the item hunts, but the mechanic becomes frustrating once a quest requires that an item be found among the wreckage instead of from a dead zombie.

The problem of gathering inventory while you're hurt is alleviated by the presence of multiplayer, since you could have others watch your back while you rifle through cabinets and drawers looking for bonus XP or essential items. While having four players proves to be a fun way to go through these kind of shooters, the experience feels limited since only local play is allowed. Outside of area-0based leaderboards, there's no online play here, and with the game seemingly designed for multiplayer, having no online seems like a big oversight when most other games in the genre make it a point to include it.

The graphics adopt the same style as Burn, Zombie, Burn. Both the heroes and the zombies are styled in exactly the same way, with big, plump heads and long arms to go with their small bodies. The animations are nice and, despite being a zombie apocalypse, the world gives off some bright colors thanks to the game's cartoon style. It looks fine in this style, and the engine can handle lots of enemies and effects without slowdown. The only knock against it would be the fact that your view can often be obscured by structures because of the game's viewing angle. Building walls and roofs hide you from view, and while a small icon shows your relative position as well as the positions of zombies, it doesn't show up all of the time, making it a feature that barely works. Doing the classic maneuver of making some objects translucent when you go behind them would have worked much better, and one has to wonder why this wasn't implemented instead.

The title doesn't offer that much in terms of sound. The effects are well done, but nothing is truly special. The music tends to be a mix of standard horror themes and parodies of horror themes, and while they all play nicely, there's only one song playing in each area. With so few areas to explore in the game, the tunes become repetitive. None of your characters ever speak, but the zombie grunts sound good enough, considering the finite ways one can make a zombie grunt sound unique. Overall, the sound is more serviceable than anything else.

All Zombies Must Die could have been a much better game. The level-building RPG elements as well as the weapon-crafting add some much-needed depth to a genre that is usually shoot first, but never ask questions. However, the constant backtracking, repetitive quests and lack of real variety dulls away whatever fun you'll be experiencing. The bad humor and lack of online multiplayer don't help things, either. With so many other zombie-themed twin-stick shooters on the market, it would be best to save this one for future gaming dry spells you have with local friends.

Score: 6.5/10

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