Zombies; From Romero’s seminal films to the gruesomeness of TV’s The Walking Dead, we currently seem to share as voracious an appetite for them, as they do for us. This also extends into videogames with a plethora of zombie titles to choose from and the latest to shuffle in our direction mumbling “BRRRAAAINNNSSS!!”, is the follow-up to 2009′s Zombie Apocalypse, subtitled Never Die Alone.
Set across ten different areas, Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone (ZA: NDA) gives a subtle clue as to the games ambitions as a sequel. Right from the title screen, the game is screaming (or should that be moaning?) at the player to gather together three other players and indulge in a spot of co-operative play. It’s pretty clear that, just like the original, it wants to ape Valve’s much-loved Left 4 Dead series albeit within a twin stick, isometric construct. Riffing on the southern setting of the second Left 4 Dead title, ZA:NDA wears its influences on its sleeve.
The player can control one of four characters; Father Bill isn’t actually a long lost relative of Ted from Craggy Island, but a shotgun-toting man of the cloth who is unfailingly polite. Alma is the atypical feisty female character, while Def Money is an unlikely rapper with an accent pitched somewhere between Russell Brand and Mick Jagger. But by far the worst offender of the quartet is Jeremy. Sporting a bandana, this is a guy who is more “bro” than any amount of neck tattoos and affinity for Fred Durst could ever convey, making him infinitely cringe-worthy. What makes things worse is that he talks like a mixture of the deeply unfunny Pauly Shore (younger readers, you might want to ask your parents) and notorious online gossip and all-round douche bag Perez Hilton, actually managing to make him truly more terrifying than any Zombie encountered in the game.
This extreme characterisation feels a bit too forced, almost a vain attempt at trying to channel Ellis from Left 4 Dead 2 with his languid tales of his exploits with his buddy Keith. While those vignettes would ease the tension upon reaching a safe house, providing a much-needed moment of brevity, it ends up doing the complete opposite here and many people will probably want to play this while listening to something else.
Mostly due to the prevailing night time setting, ZA: NDA can look slightly muted in the graphics department. By no means an ugly game, it doesn’t feature the same visual acuity of the original, although that doesn’t detract from the fact that there’s some nice moody lighting that creates the intended atmosphere.
Like most twin-stick shooters, the action is nice and simple to pick up, with a selection of modifiers to augment the player’s arsenal. From chainsaws to grenade launchers, this additional weaponry is limited in how long it lasts, so when and where to use them should be taken into account. There is also a… and we’re hesitate to even type this… a `special move` unique to each character, entitled “PWNAGE”. Father B’s is a rather handy healing spell that also repels the undead, while Alma’s is a makeshift turret. Money wields a super-powered cricket bat (what else?!) while Jeremy thrusts his crotch and unleashes quad damage…*sigh*
What might surprise some is there’s also a persistent levelling system at play, with the various in-game actions (predominantly killing zombies) providing cash gathered to upgrade various character attributes between missions. Upgrading the weapons and melee abilities certainly helps, as does increasing the speed they run at. The shame is these skills don’t carry over once a new game is started, which is somewhat bizarre because all that was needed was a little extra effort to introduce a nominal level cap so players didn’t become over-powered.
Enemy types are varied with some returning favorites from the original making a fleeting appearance, even if the context in which they appear doesn’t fit 100%. The bosses are rightly to be feared, especially at the games dénouement which actually features one of the games true funny moments, made all the better for the fact that it’s so unexpected.
When playing offline the AI will fill in the slots that aren’t occupied by either friends or other players over Xbox Live Arcade/PlayStation Network. These do an adequate job of mimicking human behavior, but it’s unwise to rely on, or expect them, to storm around in the style of Leroy Jenkins. If you want to get the most out of ZA:NDA then playing with others is pretty much a requirement.
The overwhelming sense with Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone is one of `almost, but not quite`. While laudable in attempting to do something different with the Zombie genre, the lack of people online to play with hampers the fun quotient, making it an experience only to be considered if the required amount of friends are available to separate the undead from their heads. Even though you’ll all end up wishing you could do something similar to Jeremy…