Age Of Zombies: 28 Minutes Later
…you’ll have finished Story mode. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
This is an interesting one. After modest beginnings with unremarkable gravity game Blast Off, Halfbrick Studios exploded all over the App Store with their second game, the wonderful Fruit Ninja, and consolidated their success with the very decent running-man effort Monster Dash. The latter two games were both simple arcade titles that did exceptionally well at the [59p] price point, but having made a name for itself the developer has now created something slightly more substantial and released it into the significantly more premium [£1.79] range. How’s that going to work out, then?
After much discussion in the Podgamer offices and a methodical process of elimination, we concluded that by far the most sensible way to find out was to download Age Of Zombies and give it a play.
AOZ is a twin-stick Robotron-esque shooter, in a cutesy cartoon style most immediately reminiscent of Mountain Sheep’s much-hyped hit Minigore. It stars Barry Steakfries, hero of Monster Dash, and has a time-travelling plot that sees the action spread across five different timezones (each taking the form of three fairly small levels). You can pick up various weapons during the levels, including different kinds of gun, shields and extra lives, and a selection of secondary attacks like grenades, bazookas and mines. There’s a Story mode, where you play three stages in each timezone culminating in a lengthy boss battle, and an endless Survival game which you can play in any of the five timezones that you’ve beaten (the game picks which of the three levels in the zone you play in), with separate highscores recorded for each timezone.
So much for the structure, then. What we care about is how much fun it is, and the answer to that is “Hmm”. (I’m not sure what that’s out of.) Cutting straight to the chase, you’ll probably complete the Story mode on your first attempt. It’ll actually take more than 28 minutes, but not much more – we’re talking maybe 50 to an hour. This isn’t a difficult game, and while it’s prone to moments of unfairness you’re generously supplied with numerous lives, each with regenerating health (unhelpfully indicated by an extremely vague system of the edges of the screen going increasingly red the more danger you’re in).
Moments of unfairness? Ah yes. Unlike Minigore, the levels in Age Of Zombies aren’t free-roaming arenas. There are paths and alleys and canyons and suchlike, and if you’re not careful you can get yourself hemmed into a narrow area, surrounded at both ends. Annoyingly, most of the game’s weapons aren’t sufficiently powerful to take down zombies faster than the randomly-appearing spawn points generate them, so your chances of fighting your way out of such a situation without taking hits are close to zero. (If, say, you’ve been retreating down a street from a pack of zombies and the game decides to create a spawning point at the place you’re heading towards.)
Luckily, your regenerating energy and multiple lives mean this isn’t too much of a problem, and even if you get killed you can continue from the last level reached, so Story mode is really just an annoying obstacle to playing all the levels in Survival, which is the “real” game.
(You’re clearly not intended to play Story more than once, because if you try to play it again after beating it you’re forced to go through the whole tutorial again. Plus there isn’t a leaderboard for it. In fact, Story mode seems mostly to exist to showcase Barry Steakfries’ action-hero wit, expressed via some funny and surprisingly rude dialogue – practically the first line you’ll hear in a cutscene is “Surprise, Professor Shit-for-brains!”, and there are plenty of other similar low-grade swears scattered around the script. )
And Survival mode is fine. You get just the one life, which makes it much less of a pushover, and AOZ scores over Minigore by having five different scenes to play in rather than just one. But despite the character and the lovely graphics, it all feels strangely flat. Most of your weapons are rather unsatisfying (in particular the feeble flamethrower), with nothing comparable to the sheer joy of getting the monster power-up in Minigore, which also means there’s none of the risk-reward balance – there’s nothing in AOZ so desirable that you’ll take a chance on charging into a huge pack of shambling, brain-hungry zombs to grab it. (And due to your underpowered arsenal you probably wouldn’t be able to anyway.)
In the end, the real problem is that it just never reaches Minigore’s level of sheer edge-of-terror intensity – even several minutes and millions of points into a Survival session it wasn’t commanding my full attention, whereas in Minigore you can jump straight into a game at a point where it’s already at dead-in-20-seconds savage.
Age Of Zombies is, in all fairness, a pretty good game. It’s gorgeous-looking, it’s funny, it’s smooth and it controls well, and there are plenty of OpenFeint achievements to chase and global leaderboards to compete on. But while out there in the real world £1.79 for something of its quality would be a bargain, this is the App Store, and in the App Store “pretty good” doesn’t cut the mustard at that price. It costs as much as Fruit Ninja, Monster Dash and Minigore put together, and it doesn’t come even remotely close to being as good as all three of those combined. In fact, it’s not as good as any one of them.
We’ll be watching intently, then, to see how high it climbs up the Top Grossing charts. Can reputation and graphics alone get something to the No.1 spot? It would hardly be the first time.