Zombie Apocalypse Never Die Alone Review
Change isn’t always better.
In 2009 Konami published Zombie Apocalypse, a 4 player cooperative Zombie stick shooter, and it was a really good game. Last week they released the sequel Zombie Apocalypse Never Die Alone with a new developer in Backbone Entertainment. The sequel doesn’t build upon what made the original so good, instead they tried to change it too much and ended up making a totally different, and not as good, game.
The overall idea of the game is the same, with it being a stick shooter in the middle of a zombie apocalypse, but this time there is an actual, albeit not very deep or interesting, story. The story brings the characters Jeremy, Alma, Father Bill, and Def Money together to help each other survive to make it off the island of Halfaux, which has been overrun by Zombies. It’s as straightforward as a story gets and serves no purpose at all. The orignal game just threw you together to make it through wave after wave of zombies, so it was nice to see an attempt at a story but in the end if that was all they could come up, I would have preferred the time been spent on making the game longer, amongst other things, as it’s fairly short with only 10 levels that can be completed in an afternoon.
On the surface the gameplay looks the same as the original, but once you start to play you realize this is a much different game. You use the left stick to move and right stick to shoot, and it has most of the same weapons as before with Pistols, Shotgun, SMG, Sniper Rifle, Flamethrower, and even the cute but deadly teddy bear bomb. The problem is that each character can only use 1 gun (with unlimited ammo) and 1 melee weapon, and they can’t swap. So Jeremy is stuck with an SMG, Alma a Rifle, Father Bill the Shotgun, and Def Money has dual Pistols, and their melee weapons are all the same but just look different, like a hockey stick or a cricket Bat. Even though you can pick up “Mash-Up” Weapons that are more powerful but with limited ammo, such as the Flamethrower and Grenade Launcher, they are few and far between compared to the original which had plenty of them in each level. The later levels do have more Mash-Up weapons but it should have been more even throughout the entire game, instead of just littering the last few levels. The new way forces you to stick with 1 gun while trying to find mash-up weapons to get something better, which is not nearly as fun as the orignal way. When playing solo you can cycle between characters with RB and LB, but when things get so intense with zombies filling up the screen it’s hard to think about switching characters over trying to survive.
The characters all have their own unique Zombie Bait and Pwnage Ability on top of their weapons. The Zombie Bait is a variety mess of abilities with each character having something so different and only one of them actually works as bait. Jeremy throws out the teddy bear bomb which lures in enemies and then explodes, killing everything near it, but no other character has anything as effective. Alma has a propane tank that you can shoot to detonate it but zombies aren’t drawn to it so you are stuck waiting for some to get close to make it useful. Father Bill has Scotch bombs you throw but the blast is fairly small and if you miss, it’s wasted. Finally Def Money throws out a beat box that plays old 80′s songs that will make zombies dance, allowing you to get your shots in while they are defenseless. The teddy bear is the only one that really works good and gives even more reason to play as Jeremy most of the time, if not the whole game like I ended up doing.
That brings us to the next point. The characters in the game are the most annoying group of people you could ever meet. Well, Father Bill, Alma and Def Money are sometimes tolerable, but Jeremy is the worst character in any game I have ever seen. He is described as “a professional gamer who doesn’t see the difference between life and video games. It should read “we took every stereotype of gamers and made it so annoying you will want to mute the game”. He lives with his mom still and can’t say a sentence without the words “noob” or “pwn” in there somewhere. It’s almost like Backbone is picking fun as the stereotype of gamers, which is weird since they are making a game for those people. It ends up making me not care if Jeremy lives or dies and I actually let him get eaten a few times out of spite, that’s how much I hated him. The game is built for multiple replays but having a character so annoying doesn’t make me want to play it more.
New to the sequel are Pwnage Abilities which let each player use a special ability after they kill enough zombies to fill up the pwnage meter. Jeremy earns 4x Damage, Alma earns an automatic turret, Father Bill earns Holy Radiance that allows you to heal yourself and other characters that are close to you, while also damaging any enemies that come too close. Lastly Def Money earns Textbook Shots which sends him on a rage with the Cricket Bat, dealing out more damage than normal. Finally a new gameplay feature that is helpful and well designed. Using these abilities wisely can mean the difference between beating a level or having to start over. Oh right, if you die in any level now, instead of being able to continue where you left off like in the original, you have to restart the entire chapter. Ever hear of a thing called Checkpoints? Again, another terrible gameplay change.
Also new to the sequel is that each character can now earn EXP and level up certain attributes, including their weapon, speed, zombie bait and their Pwnage ability. As you earn kills with your weapon, Zombie Bait, or Pwnage ability you will earn EXP for it, which you can then buy with money you picked up during the level, after you complete the level. While playing solo you have to switch back and forth between characters for them to earn EXP and then you can level each up, but you would have to cycle through them so often to have all of them level up frequently which feels more like a chore, than fun.
The levels this time around (10 in total) are a bit different as every 2nd level is an actual level that you get to walk around on to proceed, unlike the small static maps in the original. While half the maps are still smaller and static, they are bigger than the original maps. This is a great change and opens the game up and gives it some depth, the only problem is there are only 10 levels and you can complete all of them in an afternoon. You do unlock 2 bonus modes, Classic and Blackout when you beat the main story. Both modes are the same, except Blackout is in the dark, with only a spotlight over your character. The goal is to survive waves of zombies, to see how many days you can survive. Both modes are fun for a bit, but since you can’t upgrade your characters in between levels and if you die you have to start over at Day 1 again, it’s not something you want invest your time in.
Since the 2 bonus modes aren’t worth spending time on after you earn their achievements (which isn’t that hard), and the main story is over before you know it, there isn’t a whole lot of content here. With 2 years between the games, I expected more.
Zombie Apocalypse Never Die Alone does allow for up to 4 players to play cooperatively online or offline in the main story, and the two bonus modes. This is definitely the way to play, but I feel bad for all the people who will be stuck playing as Alma and her Rifle. This is where the weapon selection really rears its ugly head, as when playing with 4 players you can’t cycle between the characters so once you pick, you are stuck with that character for the rest of the game. If you have less than 4 players you can set the open spots to computer controlled and stick one of them with Alma and then you can all cycle to her to use her Bait or Pwnage ability when you need it. Even if they all had their own specific primary weapon but then had more secondary weapons to either find or purchase it would have fixed this issue. This isn’t a game where you want to play as a sniper so having a long-range gun as your primary is the least amount of fun you can possibly have in a stick shooter game.
The EXP you earn online does not carry over to the single player progress so you basically have to manage both sets of characters, or you could just play multiplayer games and when no friends are around or online, just set the other slots to computer controlled. I would bet most gamers aren’t going to want to spend much time on this alone and just save it for when they have some friends willing to play, as its way more fun co-op than solo.
Most of the achievements are basic with ones for beating the game, earning money, using the pwnage abilities and making it to certain Days in the bonus modes. The one that stands out is to complete all the chapter objectives. Each level has specific optional objectives that when completed earn you extra money, but the problem is the game isn’t worth playing over and over to get them so it’s an achievement that you probably won’t bother worrying about and it’s 40g is wasted.
I was quite disappointed with the end result in what was one of my most anticipated XBLA games this year. We had a blast playing the original cooperatively, but failed to reach the same excitement with the sequel. Backbone changed things that didn’t need to be changed such as the fixed weapons, and the lack of content compared to the original is quite surprising. Even with the new features like EXP, upgrading your character and longer levels, they failed in making the game better, which is the basic idea of any sequel.