All Zombies Must Die! hands-on preview

Zombies may be getting a little passé, but there's no denying that the undead make delightfully guilt-free, satisfyingly gore-filled enemies. The spiritual successor to Burn Zombie Burn (reviewhere), All Zombies Must Die brings the same dual-stick, top-down shooter action as its predecessor, but this time the experience feels more robust. It still has that arcade-y feel, but the score-based objectives have been replaced with a full story campaign and more RPG-style upgrades and character progression. Of course, there are still endless hordes of zombies to decimate too.

Burn Zombie Burn had its funny moments, but AZMD's story mode allows much more room for exposition, and developer Doublesix is continuing with the humor angle. Protagonist Jack is a gamer who finds himself trapped in a zombie outbreak, but not all is as it seems. When he starts to notice how unrealistic the environment is (a gate that only unlocks after he kills 50 zombies?), he begins to suspect that he's been sucked into a videogame. Cue plenty of fourth wall-breaking jokes as he tries to convince his skeptical, game-hating ex-girlfriend of their shared plight. A lot of the dialogue we saw revolved around gaming references, with Jack making quips like "If that's what passes for a boss, I'm going to own this!"

Don't be fooled by its cutesy façade though – All Zombies Must Die is tough. It adds difficulty in interesting ways too, rather than just spamming more enemies as you progress. The weapon upgrades in particular are all about risk and reward. For example, using the radiation upgrade on a zombie will make it weaker, but if you don't kill an irradiated zombie within a certain time period, it will turn into a mutant, which is way more powerful and way harder to kill than a mere zombie. Likewise, upgrading your weapon with sonic powers stuns zombies briefly, making them easier to kill, but once the stun wears off they become stronger.

Status effects play a huge role in combat, and in addition to weighing their pros and cons, you can also harness them into powerful combos. Hitting a horde of zombies with electricity followed by fire will shrink them to an itty-bitty size, but you have to be careful – reversing the order (fire, then electricity) enlarges the zombies instead. With the possibility of harmful combos, we had to work together during our co-op demo to avoid sabotaging each other inadvertently.

Speaking of co-op, All Zombies Must Die supports up to four player co-op locally, and while you can play through the story alone, it's really designed to be played with friends. The number of enemies scales depending on the number players though, so don't expect an easier time with your buddies to watch your back. At times, the sheer volume of zombies onscreen adds a strategic element to the gameplay too, and you must traverse the map carefully tominimize your risk ofbeing cornered and overtaken.

As a respite from the zombie madness, All Zombies Must Die also adds the option of creating a home base for your team on one of the maps you've cleared, so that your team can regroup, distribute skill points (there's an XP system that allows each character to increase stats like speed and health), upgrade weapons, change character classes, equip smart bombs and so on.

With so many features and options to explore and a whole campaign complete with proper quests and sidequests, we're eager to play more of All Zombies Must Die for ourselves. Look for our full review when it comes out on PSN, XBLA and Steam this fall.

Aug 15, 2011

Life is nature's way of keeping meat fresh.