Atom Zombie Smasher [Review]
If the real world were anything like video games, there’d be a world-ending zombie outbreak about every three weeks. It seems like the undead horde can’t get enough of snacking on human brains in games these days and poor Nuevo Aires is no exception from the menu. Fortunately, it seems you are in the right place at the right time as El Presidente is looking for fresh recruits to save his nation from the zombie menace. If you’re up for the challenge and think you would enjoy a tower defense-style game with a few interesting twists, then look no further than Blendo Games’ new release Atom Zombie Smasher.
Just like its crazy title, the story in Atom Zombie Smasher is fairly nonsensical. The year is 1960, the place is lovely Nuevo Aires, and surfer music seems to be all the rage. Out of seemingly nowhere, a zombie infestation breaks out and the military is deployed to put an end to it as quickly as possible. While there are occasional comic book-style vignettes that occur between missions, the focus of the game is less on the plot and more on combating the zombie horde. It is up to the player to evacuate civilians from cities under siege by the undead and to secure the country of Nuevos Aires bit by bit.
Game play in AZS is broken up into two phases: one on the game’s overworld map and the other in the missions themselves. At the start of each month, players pick which of the various zombie-infected territories to help in the fight against the undead. Once a territory is chosen, the game switches to an aerial view of an urban environment. Survivors are marked with yellow dots and zombies, or “zeds” as they are called, are indicated by purple dots. While the visuals are minimalist, they do a good job of letting the player make sense of the increasingly chaotic cityscape. And if there’s one thing Atom Zombie Smasher is, it’s chaotic.
Like other tower defense games, each mission begins paused as players choose where to place evacuation helicopters and available mercenary forces. As the mission begins underway, zombies begin to stream in from marked entry points on the map. The situation can go from bad to worse quickly as any civilian caught by a zombie immediately becomes one and starts pursuing other helpless victims. If things weren’t bad enough, as time wears on and day turns to night even more zombies pour onto the streets. Each mission is a battle against time as a minimum number of civilians must be evacuated before the city’s population drops to nil.
After each mission the player is dropped back onto the map of Nuevos Aires and their turn ends. Failing to save the required number of civilians gives the territory to the zombies. If the player manages to save enough civilians the territory will be neutralized and if a city is cleared of all “zeds” before sundown it’ll come back under human control. At the end of each turn, victory points are tallied for both the Nuevos Aires forces and the undead menace. Whichever side reaches the preset victory point first wins and the game ends.
While all this sounds pretty complicated, the game’s interface does an excellent job of keeping things simple enough to understand. New tooltips pop up on the screen whenever they are relevant and the game’s pace lends itself well to first time players. While it may take a while to fully understand the systems at work here, it all boils down to classic tower defense game play at the end of the day. However it’s the finer details of AZS that really set it apart from being just another puzzle game.
While some elements of the game are set in stone, Atom Zombie Smasher is a dynamic title and full of random elements which are always at play. At the start of each turn, the game randomly sets a condition for the next mission. Sometimes nighttime comes quicker or the zombies move faster, while other times daylight lasts longer giving the player more time to clear cities. After each successful mission players are rewarded one of several mercenary forces at random; although, each turn only certain ones are available. Some missions will have the player dealing with only a helicopter, a few snipers, and some proximity mines while others will have stationary troops and barricades. There are times where the player is at such a disadvantage that they may have already lost and there are moments where victory is a certainty.
Although players may not always have the troops they may want during a mission, each mercenary force can be useful in the right circumstance. During missions, players are often given a fair deal of control over non-static defenses. Snipers can be repositioned from their starting rooftop location to fire on approaching zombie hordes and evacuation helicopters can be moved around the city to keep the civilian crowd away from “zed” forces. Explosives such as dynamite charges or artillery fire can be used to destroy buildings and create new paths for those fleeing the undead. Later on in the game, scientists can be rescued to earn new abilities for mercenary troops and those troops in turn earn experience and improve dramatically. Having the helicopter be able to arrive and gather civilians faster definitely comes in handy.
Between the random conditions selected at the start of each turn and the dynamic nature of the missions themselves, Atom Zombie Smasher is a game that always keeps things interesting. Each campaign can play out radically different from the one before it and the game can be incredibly tough when certain conditions coincide with a particular set of mercenary forces. While some players may enjoy these absurdly challenging scenarios, others may find themselves a little irritated by the challenge. Fortunately Blendo Games had the foresight to allow certain conditions in AZS to be modified from the get-go.
In addition to the replay-ability found in the random elements of Atom Zombie Smasher, there is also a ton of customizable options available at the onset of any game. Each campaign can be set to any of several victory point conditions for shorter or longer games and there is even a casual mode which causes zombies to move slower and daytime to last longer. If the game is still too tough, additional options are available to further tip the odds in the player’s favor. Those players who laugh at overwhelming odds will be happy to know there are several options available to make the game even harder.
Atom Zombie Smasher also includes local multiplayer. At any time up to three players can choose the input device of their choice and help position defenses in order to help save the poor citizens of Nuevos Aires. It’s a bit awkward to have three people playing, but at the same time it’s a welcome feature nonetheless. For the most part though, AZS is meant to be played solo.
While at its core it may be another tower defense game, Atom Zombie Smasher manages to set itself apart from the pack through its dynamic game play and incredibly satisfying nature. The constant challenge given by the random conditions keeps things fresh even though missions tend to blend together and the game itself is certainly meant to be played over and over again. Any puzzle fan looking for a difficult yet rewarding game should definitely look into giving AZS a shot.
Atom Zombie Smasher is available on PC, Mac, and Linux for $14.99.