Sure, zombies might be a bit played out in pop culture, and perhaps in video games more than anything else – at best they’re tied with Z-grade Canadian-made horror movies as far as total saturation. But it’s also perhaps fair to say we’re past the point where we can complain about it too. Like it or not, zombie-themed games are here to stay, and at this point it’s important to differentiate them more by approach than by subject matter. The prevailing trend these days tends towards more serious survivalist fare like DayZ wherein you’re forced to scavenge supplies, and fend for your very existence. What about those of us who prefer their games with a bit more run-‘n-gun and a bit less ‘getting stabbed for your can of beans’? Into that void left by the lack of a Left 4 Dead 3 stomps Over 9,000 Zombies.
Developed by Loren Lemcke and published to Steam Early Access by Mastertronic, Over 9,000 Zombies (herein referred to as O9Z lest I begin to sound like some malfunctioning animatronic Vegeta) puts you, as usual, in the shoes of a lone survivor, but you really only have one thing to worry about this time: shooting the hell out of the seemingly unending hordes of zombies headed your way. A charmingly low-res artstyle calls to mind classic 16-bit era titles; the limited palette and brighter colors recall some of EA’s output on the Genesis, to say nothing of the more obvious parallels with Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and allows plenty of zombies on screen at once. ‘Plenty’ might be an understatement, though – a specially designed algorithm enabling an insane amount of zombies to randomly generate around the levels, preventing the enemy layouts from getting predictable and creating an atmosphere not unlike classic arcade title Robotron 2084.
So, zombies, shooting, sounds like that’s all you’re in for, right? To a degree, but where O9Z really throws some dynamics into the combat with clever level design and varied enemy behavior. The ruined cityscapes you’ll find yourself running through have varying terrain and obstacles in a way slightly recalling Toejam & Earl. Burned out buildings allow you to create chokepoints and strongholds of a sense, funneling the zombies when and where you need them to be. A little bit of that modern day favorite, tower defense, finds its way into the proceedings in the form of turrets and constructible bases that you build up with scrap metal you find during your mad dashes to safety, and allows a bit more strategy than one might expect upon initial viewing.
A short preview? A bit, but that’s sort of the point. There’s not a lot to O9Z and there absolutely doesn’t need to be. Hilariously over the top violence? Hordes of zombies? A fast moving player character who has to rely on speed and usage of cover to survive? Almost sounds like Doom, right? O9Z has a lot of potential, especially if a few more game modes or zombie types could be thrown in to spice things up a little. But even without that, it’s still you against the (undead) world – and sometimes, that’s all you need.