Platform(s): PC
Genre: Action
Publisher: Armor Games Studios
Developer: Ant.Karlov Games
Release Date: April 22, 2019


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PC Review - 'Zombotron'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 22, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

Zombotron is a heart-pounding, run-and-gun shooter with a legacy dating back to the golden era of web games.

Developer Ant.Karlov's games all have one thing in common: They were made in Adobe Flash, the popular format for those who wanted to play online games on underpowered machines. While many Flash games are considered to be time-wasters with very little depth, his titles had more polish than expected, and he earned quite a following. Since Flash has become a relic, Karlov has moved on to more robust programming languages for PC games, and his first title comes from one of his more prolific series: Zombotron.

In Zombotron, you play the role of Blaze Rush, an out-of-work mercenary who's in desperate need of funds. You catch a distress signal and head to it, accompanied by your robot sidekick, Ash. You quickly find that the ship signal has been embedded in the planet for years. As you return to your own ship, you discover that your power cores have been stolen. Now you must recover your power cores and find out why you've been called to this place.

The characters keep it pretty basic as well. Blaze lives up to the role of being a grizzled soldier, while Ash is a typical robot sidekick that is analytical at the wrong times. There's not much to parse here, except that the attempts at humor fall a bit flat and the story can be ignored without consequence.

If you're unfamiliar with the previous games in the series, your first glance would make you think that this is a semi-typical, run-and-gun, side-scrolling shooter, kind of like a more fleshed-out Guns, Gore, and Cannoli 2 or Metal Slug. You can traverse in all directions, and you have 360-degree shooting with either your mouse or right analog stick. You can hold a decent number of weapons, but you can assign three of them for quick switching or leave one blank if you want to punch your way through the levels.

Zombotron expands on this formula by borrowing elements from other genres. Healing is done via bandages, food, and other items that you gather, but the item isn't used right away, so you can choose when to heal. Using a healing item starts a cooldown meter, so you can't rush an area, soak up as much damage as possible, and use a bunch of healing items to return to full health. Killing foes allows you to get XP, which can then be used to level up your dexterity, health and stamina. Aside from guns, you can grab other equipment, like armor, boots and helmets to strengthen yourself and get a few buffs. You're limited to 20 inventory slots, so you need to sell off underpowered items to get cash, which can be used at vending machines for more ammo, equipment and guns.

Despite these additions, treating Zombotron like a normal run-and-gun title with larger levels will get you killed faster due to a low ammo count and strong enemies. The enemies require a ton of ammo to take down if you don't score a headshot, but even then, you'll often be low on ammo reserves. You'll find a bunch of them by breaking boxes, but your inner conservationist will opt to use melee weapons to save ammo. Even then, you'll employ more hit-and-run tactics early on, when it only takes a few hits to take you down since you haven't leveled up yet.

If you've played the previous games in the series, then you know that the real joy in combat isn't in the shooting but shooting smart. There are a ton of moveable objects that affect enemies in different ways. Shoot some wooden planks, for example, and a bunch of rocks could come down to crush enemies. Push explosive containers at enemies and shoot them from a distance, or wait for them to aggressively swing away to blow themselves up. You can also push boxes toward foes or wait for them to break through, allowing yourself a moment to prepare before fighting them. You can even set up scenarios where the enemies fight each other, allowing you to pick off the last survivor and grab the loot that they leave behind. There's a dynamism in place, and it ends up being one of the more exciting aspects of the game.

While the dynamic combat and the good world design make for a lengthy and satisfying campaign, there are parts that are either buggy or designed in interesting ways. For example, the default melee weapon seems to be more powerful than just about any other weapon. Even by the game's halfway point, the only thing that was more powerful than the default baton were grenades, so you could get through a huge chunk of the game without firing a shot. Speaking of damage, the boss balance seems to be done in reverse, as the first boss is quite a challenge to fight. Whether it is experience or because the leveling system works too well, every boss fight afterward is much easier, and the final fight is almost a cakewalk. The game has a robust physics system, so expect it to go haywire every once in a while. Breaking some planks isn't always going to yield a predictable result, and the spear-throwing enemies sometimes chuck their wares straight into the air instead of at you.

Perhaps the more baffling issue comes from the vending machines, which do a good job of telling you the item and cost, and there's even some flavor text associated with each item. However, you're not given any stats for the weapons you buy, and you also aren't told which class of weapon you're trying to buy. Considering the high cost of each weapon, that information is important, and the only way you can tell if something is good is if you buy it and do the comparisons yourself. It's a clunky system that discourages people from spending any money on what could be a great gun for certain boss fights.

There's not much to talk about when it comes to the audio. The lack of voices stifles some of the tired jokes on display, but the small size for the text boxes means that you'll have a hard time understanding what's being said unless you're sitting right at the screen. The lack of voices also means that it can sometimes be difficult to tell if an enemy has died, as there are no death throes. The weapon effects are fine, and the music does a good job of evoking the appropriate sci-fi dread.

Although the game isn't programmed in Flash, some elements of the graphics reveal its Flash roots. The character animations has a segmented look that a number of Flash games seem to sport. The art style may be comprised mostly of the drab browns and grays of the previous generation, but there's a bunch of detail. For the most part, the chaos and large bosses don't hinder the frame rate, but on the way to the second boss, the frame rate tanks for no reason. Pausing the game for a moment to let everything catch up seems to fix it, but here's hoping that it gets patched soon.

It isn't perfect, but Zombotron ends up being a darn good tactical shooting title. The enemies aren't pushovers initially, and the inventory and leveling system help the game feel fresh. The dynamic nature of combat also makes the game fun, as you'll run into unexpected ways of dealing with enemies that make you smile. It is a good thing to see that the game is still being tweaked, as an over-reliance on melee doesn't seem to be intentional, while the lack of information on vending machines is a disappointing oversight. Overall, Zombotron is well worth checking out for action fans who want something a little more thoughtful.

Score: 8.0/10

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