Atom Zombie Smasher is a game that will at first appear very familiar to those who have played The Last Guy. The game consists of a top down view of a few city blocks, where zombies roam the streets, and throngs of innocent citizens stand helpless, waiting for rescue. You are their only hope.
In The Last Guy you rescue people by running around collecting them, leading them to a safe zone, where they will be flown away to safety. In Atom Zombie Smasher, you play the role of rescue coordinator, in a game that is basically a tower defense style RTS with your health spread all over the map, instead of at the end of a path.. You decide where the landing zone for the rescue choppers will be, and where any defenses will be set, including snipers, infantry, mortar teams, blockades, mines, etc. Once you have set up the defenses you start the day. Zombies enter the city and begin to roam, and the citizens wander around the same streets until they see a chopper landing in their vicinity. They run from the zombies, but unless they are running to a chopper, they don’t seem to have the will to live, and eventually are overtaken and zombified.
In the early levels, you are fairly powerless. You can change the landing zone for each chopper run, but the rest of the time you sit and watch as citizens make it to the chopper, or don’t. When you have access to more “mercenaries,” like the infantry or mortar teams, you can select targets or areas to defend, but you are still left with a lot of watching little people run around as you sit powerless to help them.
There are only three ways a stage is going to end. Kill all the zombies before nightfall, and all the citizens left alive will be safe. After nightfall, a fresh wave of zombies will come and all you can do is rescue citizens until the zombies have infected everyone who isn’t safely away in a chopper. At this point, if you’ve rescued enough people, the mission is considered a success. If not, you can try again, or concede that this is a doomed area.
There is an overworld map that allows you to pick which territory you would like to defend/rescue next, but it becomes a random choice, as each territory overview provides nearly the same details, and you don’t know what the city will look like until you are committed. The game could have done without the map entirely, because the only thing you are really choosing is if you want a easy, medium or hard level next. However, Every territory you win gives you victory points toward your goal, and every territory the zombies have invaded give them points towards theirs (Apparently zombies have a goal in mind when it comes to victory points). Territory points, combined with citizens rescued (or zombified) combine for total victory points. First team- you or the zombies- to the goal amount wins.
This basically means that if you start off the game poorly, you might as well restart. It’s going to be pretty difficult to come back from a deficit when the zombies have claimed the first few rounds. The best strategy I found was to focus on killing zombies, not defending citizens. If you wipe them out before nightfall, you get bonus points. If your focus is on rescue, the zombies infect people just as fast as you can rescue them.
Presentationally, the game is a mixed bag. Having played through a campaign a few times, I can tell you that the end cutscene is the same, win or lose, which I thought was a little silly, and immediately after that, a text pops up explaining the development of the game. While this information was interesting and explained how some of the game features were fine tuned, I wish it had been something that the player could view at a later time, or not at all, in the “extras” section of the menu. It came off a little like an explanation for some of the game’s weaknesses, instead of allowing the game to speak for itself.
This is definitely an “indie” game, developed by one guy. The graphics are very basic. Citizens are yellow squares, zombies are pink squares. Even with the added elements of choppers, mortar strikes, etc. I felt the game could have been a free flash game instead of a ten dollar game on steam.
That said, there was a fun surfer style soundtrack, and cool graphic novel cutscenes that gave backstory with a good sense of humor. I enjoyed being able to name my mercenaries whatever popped into my head (my first mortar team was called the “Killer Whales.”) You also have the ability to create custom game modes and mods.
Atom Zombie Smasher is good for an afternoon of play, but I can’t say I’d buy it at it’s current price. There just isn’t enough to do. The core mechanics are interesting and fresh, but very limited. While there is customization in the game, the experience doesn’t vary much, and you’ll be ready to move on to something deeper and more interactive before long.