[Indie Spotlight is a series that takes you right into the heart of the indie gaming scene, and lets you know if a particular title is worth trying out]
A dual-stick shooter on XBLA? No way! Oh, this one has zombies in it? And it’s an Indie Game, so it’s only $3? How could I say no?
Well, first you could download the free trial. Then I can tell you, once you’re done with that, you’ve seen everything there is to see. Oh, joy.
In Zombies 2.0, you move with the left analog stick and aim your flashlight with the right analog stick. Shoot with the right trigger, use items (grenades, mines, and flares) with the left trigger. A cement bunker housing fragile scientists sits at the top of the playfield, and rats, dogs, and zombies slog slowly upwards from the bottom of the screen to eat their brains. You are a robot that must protect the base. You are a robot… with a flashlight! Ooh!
But seriously, the flashlight is the coolest aspect of the game. The whole play area is pitch black, and your little Mag-lite is the only source of light. It adds challenge, because you will often miss one random rat that will be eating your base while you’re on the south end of the map looking for other hungry creatures.
Unfortunately, the text and life bars at the top of the screen are minuscule, and there aren’t any audio cues to let you know that your base is being attacked (cries of “Help us!” would be sufficient). You won’t notice you missed a single enemy until your base has lost half of its life bar.
There are two modes of play: Standard, where you kill a set number of enemies in one level before advancing to one with more (and harder) baddies, and – my favorite – Survival Mode. In Standard mode, you earn cash from fallen adversaries, which allow you to upgrade your guns and base defense.
You can level up your arsenal to shotguns, assault rifles, and rocket launchers, or you can spend your money on base upgrades like lights, turrets, and spiked fences to keep out zombies. (Pro tip: push the right trigger on the “shop” screen to get to the base upgrades – it doesn’t explain that ANYWHERE and it’s easy to miss!)
Sadly, the cash is VERY slowly earned; by the time you have enough money to get a real gun, outside of your slow, wimpy pistol, you will already be dead. So – frustrated – you’ll try out Survival Mode.
WHAM! You start off with $25,000, more than enough to max out your base, get a decent gun, and stock up on grenades and mines. It starts off slowly, but the zombies just keep coming, and coming, and coming, until you die or outlast them for ten whole minutes. It gets hectic, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed, especially when it doesn’t seem like your gun is killing the undead fast enough. You can go from “doing alright” to “game over” within seconds.
The neat aspect of Zombeis 2.0 is the excessive amount of blood. When you kill a zombie, it lays there in a pile of blood for the rest of the game. Your once-clean field becomes a huge gory mess by the end of the game. Flares and other explosions also smolder for awhile, creating a little more light for you to slay by.
Because Zombies 2.0 is an Indie Game, there are no achievements to be earned. To compensate, the developers created ten “awards,” which are the same as achievements in form and function. Although, there is no way to track your friends’ awards. This automatically makes them less important, although they are still there for completionists.
Also, 2.0 Studios created online leaderboards, but the leaderboards don’t work. It’s a list of self-promoting names with (probably fictitious) scores attached. There are names like “danthekilla” (the programmer), “Castle Crushers” and “Project Alpha” (other 2.0 Studios games), and “1337 haxx0r” (ugh). If you do gain a high enough score to earn a place on the boards, your name is NOT added. What’s the point then? Will these be fixed with a patch sometime soon? The busted leaderboard eliminates any potential replay value from Zombies.
As it is, Zombies 2.0 is only fun for about an hour. Maybe it’s the fact that your robot moves so slowly. Maybe it’s the oppressive darkness and hopeless feeling against many waves of lifeless enemies. For $2 more you can get the original Geometry Wars, which takes this familiar formula (two stick shooter, 1 vs. 1,000,000) and cranks it to eleven. May I recommend that instead?
Score: 5.5 out of 10
[UPDATE! - 9/9/09]
2.0 Studios, in response to requests from fans (and reviewers?) patched Zombies 2.0 into Zombies 2.0, Ver. 1.1 a few days ago. To keep the Gamer Limit readership abreast of the game they would be purchasing now, here is a review update spotlighting the new features. The review above – as well as the score – will not be changing, however. Having the ability to patch a game and “fix it later” does NOT excuse shipping an incomplete product. The game I reviewed is the game I scored.
Anyway: to the improvements.
The first thing you’ll notice: the gameplay speed was increased. This makes a HUGE difference in the level of apparent action. Your robot actually seems to have a soul now, and he is much more fun to control.
The leaderboard was fixed, too (although there are currently only 17 people on it, and I am three of them). Also, there has been a huge decrease in difficulty across all the modes. You can actually make progress in the game now. What a concept!
To the game modes. There are three of them now. What was formerly Survival Mode is now known as Horde Mode, and it is the only mode with a leaderboard. You also have an extra $5,000 to upgrade your base and armada before the zombies attack. The new Survival Mode has no base to defend, and it bears a remarkable likeness to another Indie zombie game, I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1 Well, it doesn’t so much resemble it, as much as it is an exact clone, albeit without the goofy music. It’s fun for a few games, and there are even two new weapons exclusive to this mode.
Also, there have been a few minor interface improvements. It now clearly states “Left bumper” and “Right bumper” to switch between upgrade screens, and “A” and “B” buttons have “Select” and “Back” descriptors to avoid confusion.
If this was the game that was originally put on the Xbox Marketplace, it probably would have earned another point or two in the review. Now, Zombies 2.0 is a lot more worthy of your three dollars, if only because it took the concept from a separate $1 zombie game and melded it with its own, making this new (and improved) Franken-zombie of Indie-ocrity.