Robert’s Take: The first hour with a triple-A title can often be a trustworthy barometer for the overall quality of the game. After all, sizable studios can’t afford to make anything less than a stellar initial impression when substantial budgets and the future employment of dozens of developers are at risk. But in the indie realm, this principal is habitually broken by titles which leisurely work their way into players’ hearts after making an unexceptional introduction.
Such is the case with the current Early Access build of Over 9000 Zombies! Visually, the game is exceedingly basic, with an aesthetic that recalls games from the Commodore 64 era, albeit in a high-resolution, wide-screen output. Players pampered by meticulously drawn pixel art will undoubtedly experience a bit of visual dissonance. Some environmental elements lack fidelity, making visual identification of the environment challenging; my best guess is that the post-plague world is filled with soiled futons and cinder blocks. After five hours of play, I still don’t know if a certain type of zombie is hurling fireballs, projectile vomiting, or tossing explosives at me. All I know if that it should be avoided, lest my characters health gauge would take a substantial drop.
Much like the game’s graphical regression, 9000 Zombies’ harks back to the skeletal plots of arcade games, with an impetus that’s more about survival than any substantial storyline. Likely, your first few minutes with the game is bound to rouse memories of twin-stick shooters such as Robotron: 2084, Smash T.V, and Total Carnage, as the protagonist uses a variety of weapons to peck away at packs of the encroaching undead. Nicely, different arms behave differently- varying in stopping power, range, firing rate, and reload times. But save for a day/night cycle which drowns the landscape in light cast from a setting sun, the core action in Over 9000 Zombies! is fairly unremarkable.
But delve into the game’s tutorial, and you’ll discover the title’s integration of tower defense-like mechanics. Defeated zombies occasionally drop scrap metal, which can be recycled into protective blocks, perfect for constructing a barrier between the player and the undead. Collect a bit more, and it’s possible to build auto-sentry guns, that pepper the passing reanimated with shot, grenade, rockets, or flaming plasma. Using the game’s toolset isn’t always easy, players must either wait for the zombies to subside at the end of the night or build while fleeing from undead hordes- which makes building misplacement quite likely. But once an armament is in place, 9000 Zombies’ becomes unexpectedly compelling, urging gamers to best their own headcount or trump the DPS rates of competitors on Steam.
As an Early Access title, there’s potential in the title, but there’s also a number of possible pratfalls. Although the game purports to use “special mathematical technologies to squeeze the maximum amount of undead chaos out of your PC”, most players won’t think the AI is remarkable. Often, zombies stagger to recognizable subroutines, allowing players to exploit their lack of maneuverability around corners. Worse, the greatest threat doesn’t stem from the size or steadfast demeanor of the foes, but rather their uncanny ability to spawn quite close to the protagonist. While I longed to build a network on zombie-killing nodes, right now the single player component limits you to a paltry selection of six turrets. Save for that irritation, Over 9000 Zombies’ other elements feel balanced, giving players an even chance as each new day brings a bigger surge of flesh hungry foes. Right now, the title provides just the right amount of health drops and temporary perks to keep the action going, and when played with an online cooperative partner, there’s a nice selection of possible undead suppression strategies.
Looking forward, developer Loren Lemcke has mentioned the addition of elements such as new maps and vehicles which would help to further flesh out Over 9000 Zombies’ core mechanics. If Lemcke can also acquire an artist to improve the game’s visuals while bolstering the game’s building mechanics, the title seems like a solid contender to earn a cult following. Certainly, there are sparks of synergy between the action, tower defense components, and cooperative play options. As with many early indie builds, Over 9000 Zombies! has the potential to become something significant, as long as the crucial play constituents all come together.
Gonçalo’s Take: The twin-stick shooter as a genre has remained somewhat untouched over the years, generally employing enemy, weapon and theme variations instead of gameplay additions. Over 9000 Zombies! tries to get around this by adding a tower defense element to the mix, which is a noble goal but perhaps was not taken as far as it could have.
Starting the game, players are prompted to a very minimalistic experience. From the start-up screen to the in-game graphics, Over 9000 Zombies provides an initial effect with its simplistic design and minimal animations. Thankfully, the initial shock stemming from Over 9000 Zombies’ basic visuals is not only forgotten but even ends up adding to the overall experience.
Initially, gameplay functions as a by the number zombie apocalypse themed twin-stick shooter. Players are placed on a mass populated by hundreds of foes which must be quickly dispatched. Eliminating them grants new weapons which can be changed any time with the mouse wheel, temporary power-ups and currency in the form of scrap metal.
This is when the tower-defense premise comes in as scrap metal can be redeemed towards purchasing defense turrets and concrete walls for defense. Unfortunately you are not allowed to place more than six defense turrets on the map, limiting strategic options. It’s not all bad news though, as the game is much more lenient when it comes to walls, allowing for construction of barricades and even forts.
Each level is carries a day-to-night cycle, when the sun dawns zombies gain permanent bonuses replenish their numbers and new enemy types are added. Featuring 20 stages all of whom can be finished in a few minutes, resilient players will be able to complete the game in just over an hour, provided they survive that long.
Over 9000 Zombies features local and online co-op, though I could never find any users while attempting to play the latter. Its control scheme works fairly well with the keyboard & mouse combo though it also supports Xbox 360 controllers.
As an early access title it’s hard to judge which features are lacking due to the game still being under development. In its current state, Over 9000 Zombies can provide an interesting distraction, but currently it lacks the content for a long lasting appeal.
Over 9000 Zombies was played on the PC with Early Access Build provided by the publisher.