Review: Atom Zombie Smasher (PC)

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Developer: Blendo Games
Publisher: Blendo Games
Platforms: Windows (reviewed), MAC, Linux
Price: $9.99, Buy Here

Content Warning

Beware pf graphic depictions of the wanton slaughter of dots. This game has been banned in Dot Activist territories. There is also an image of a character sporting red censor blur on the forehead as a gunshot wound.

Ready screen

Suffering from symptoms of having too many games to play and being unable to select the next one to play and beat, I decided to play something that I did not believe would occupy an obscene amount of time to finish. I chose Atom Zombie Smasher, a game purchased as an impulse buy after reading recommendations on gaming message boards. I maintained zero expectations.

Story

Blendo Games, or specifically Brendon Chung, is intentionally obtuse in the narration of AZS‘s story. Imagine if Telltale Games’ 400 Days Later various plot points never came together by the end of the DLC, yet these plot points were simply offered as snapshots of that universe’s zombie apocalypse, leaving the finer details to the imagination of the player. ASZ options for this approach which creates a postmodern, Quentin Tarantino feel, for no other reason besides Chung’s own admission that he’s a fan of them even if he cannot justify their existence in his games. The worst part is that they are randomly unlocked. Even after investing eleven hours into the game, I have yet to unlock them all. But that is what YouTube is for!

I could have simply stated here that AZS takes place in a fictional, steampunk 1960s Nuevos Ares and that all other details are arbitrary and irrelevant, but that would have been selling the game short. The vignettes are fun and at times incoherent, and that is why they are worth mention in the grand scheme of the game. A particular detail of note hides within the title screen–AZS is, in actuality, a training program! (Look below “Quit.”)
title screen

Gameplay

The object of the game is to heli-evac as many citizens as possible within a time limit that can vary between two minutes and thirty seconds.

AtomZombieSmasher map screen

Players select missions from the screen above. The object of the game is to fill the yellow bar before the pink bar does. The player sets the Victory Track at the beginning of the game (from 2000 to almost infinity!). Theoretically, the larger the number, the longer and harder the campaign is supposed to be, but I found that the longer the campaign, the easier the game becomes as I have more time to unlock tech. Of course, the pink bar gains an insane lead, but I managed to reel the numbers back. Pink represents infested territories, gold are safe zones, black are zones that were played but not completely purged of the Zed (zombies), and grey are zones that have yet to be infected, and therefore, cannot yet be played. The numbers in the diamonds represent the severity of Zed infestation as well as difficulty to clear, from 1 as easy to 4 as catastrophic. At the end of every mission, both the player and Zed gain bonus points toward the Victory Track, though the multiplier almost always favors the Zed.

AZS planning phase

Once the player chooses a mission, they enter the Planning Phase. One of the frustrating features of the game (that can be turned off in the options), is that combat options are randomized from map to map in order to generate variance in gameplay. This screen is a fine example of when AZS gives the player the finger; there are only defensive options available, and three of them have to be placed before before the round goes live. Only the zombie lure (blue missile icon) can be used while the Zed are active.

The planning phase is the most critical part of the mission, because a misplaced roadblock (orange squares) could funnel the Zed directly toward the citizens rather than rerouting them to a choke point. Players also want to avoid placing land mines (three dot triangle shape at the southwest streets) and dynamite (red-orange rectangles in the south streets) near citizens to avoid collateral damage. However, as seen in the top left, there will be some collateral because there are far more than sixty yellow and glowing blue dots on the screen.

mission map

I include this screenshot not only to exhibit the “violence” that happens in this game–zombies explode in a plume of green pixels when they die while citizens turned into zombies upon contact with the Zed pop in a red mist–but also to demonstrate how chaotic maps can be. Here, so far, the Zed have yet to get out of hand, but as you can see on the western street, they are beginning to spread. The “H” indicates the heli-evac which caps at a default 30 passenger limit before it has to lift off and return again after about ten seconds (five to fly away, five to return and land). The green represents the killzone of the mercenaries, one of the more versatile Zed-dispatching offensive options, as they can be moved. That very large pink rectange is a super mutant Zed that can knock down buildings, setting off explosions (red buildings) and also circumventing possible barricades that could have been lain during the planning phase.

Artilleray and snipers

As you can see here, the dynamite icon is greyed out because it’s a one-time use, probably to clear out the buildings to the east in this photo. Artillery (orange icon; deployed during the Planning Phase in the southeast corner) and snipers (teal icon; the four dots deployed during the Planning Phase on a building in the northwest) are the offensive options available for this mission. Mercs, snipers, and artillery, have their strengths and weaknesses, but this is why it is desirable to have a combination of offensive and defensive options available, but darn that randomization!

Ideally, Players will want to kill all the Zed before the timer expires, because that results in a mission clear and a captured territory. If the timer expires before all the Zed are dead, the map then becomes flooded with Zed with a second wave until the last citizen is evacuated or turned. If the player fails to rescue the minimum number of civilians required, the mission is considered a failure, and the territory is lost to the Zed (unless the player restarts, but that’s for sissies; Permanent Death is the correct mode to play).

Final Word

AZS is a solid strategy game that will keep your interest for a time, and it includes plenty of built-in mods in case the base game becomes bland too soon. Obviously with being an indie game, those looking for AAA production value would be disappointed pass, but for those looking for an entertaining zombie game without the gore may want to give this a go and work the brain more than the trigger finger.

The Bottom Line

Atom Zombie Smasher serves its purpose as a frugal and time-conscious diversion for those interested in a lite strategy game and do not mind banal presentation.

 

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Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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