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Atom Zombie Smasher – a review

June 5, 2011

What do you get when you combine the Zombie Infection Simulator with heavy weaponry, a surreal story and surf guitars? Atom Zombie Smasher, that’s what.

The concept of this casual PC/Mac strategy game is dead simple. Zombies are overrunning a fictional country, and you are the military high commander charged with saving the populace – or at least stopping the zombie menace. At your command are various mercenary units, ranging from rescue helicopters to snipers to zombie baiting devices and orbital cannons.

The game itself is quite elegant. You pick a city from a larger map, with a level of zombie infection ranging from 1 to 4. Your job is to go in, rescue as many civilians as you can and minimize casualties. You cannot control the civilians (represented by yellow blocks) much, they just mill around before being called to the rescue chopper by its blaring fog horn. Zombies (represented by pink blocks) enter the map from various points. When they come into contact with civilians, they turn them into zombies. Your various mercenaries try to keep this from happening, while you try to reach your quota for civilians requiring rescue. In the case of a level 4 infection, the whole populace has already been turned, and your job is to eliminate all the zombies. Sound easy so far? It would be, if you didn’t have a time limit of 30 seconds to two minutes. When the time – daylight – runs out, zombies pour in from all the entry points of the map, and most civilians are usually undead fodder in a matter of seconds.

What about your trusty mercenaries? Artillery shells the map, bringing down buildings and zombies. Snipers can cover whole stretches of streets, but are slow to fire. Infantry is effective at dispatching zombies, but while mobile, are still too slow to tackle the whole map. Barricades block streets, land mines are self-explanatory, zombie baits lure in zombies from a large area while dynamite can be used to bring down buildings and zombie hordes via remote detonation. Orbital cannons…well, they level city blocks and whatever happens to be in the area. The catch here is that not all mercenaries are available for each mission. Additionally there are different condition affecting each mission, such as longer daytime or faster zombies. Your mercs collect experience from their missions, allowing you to enhance them. I especially love the mercenary name generator, which gives you some immortal names for your units. The 375th Ocelot Reds for example.

The overall feel of AZS is a weird mix. On one hand there is sheer desperation. In the first few campaigns you really stand no chance unless you’re extremely lucky or a real strategical game prodigy. While you win areas, the zombie infection spreads through different cities far quicker than you can contain it. The victory point ticker tips mercilessly in favour of the zombies, politely telling you how much you’re trailing or (rarely for me) in the lead. This doesn’t lead to frustration, however. Instead you’re left with the ungrateful task of doing what you can to stem the tide. This also causes the inevitable “one more go”-effect. Also, if the game feels too hard, there are plenty of settings to play with, and you can tweak the game to ridiculously easy should you wish to do so.

Desperation’s not the only thing. AZS is downright surreal at times. Little vignettes told in comic book style offer you some insight into the world, but are usually quite incomprehensible. Really, they are. You can’t really talk about plot when it comes to this game, only about flavour. Add to this the constant surf guitar music, and you’re left in a very weird but strangely comfortable place.

The game isn’t without its flaws. As with all casual games, it can (and probably will) eventually get boring and repetetive, especially if enjoyed in large doses. This is basically the game’s biggest drawback. To offset this the game only costs 10 USD on Steam, and certainly provides enough entertainment for the price. There’s also a three-player co-operative mode, which I haven’t had the chance to test yet, as well as a ton of modifications for the game, easily accessed from an in-game menu.

Overall verdict: Atom Zombie Smasher is a great little casual game. While it will get boring after a while, it’s still an entertaining piece of gaming guaranteed to give you hours of fun. For the price of a dvd or a few miniatures, that’s definitely not bad.

The game is available for download from various sources, see the official site. There’s also a free demo for you to try, which I recommend. Play through it, and you’ll know whether you want the game or not.

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