I say this not to besmirch anyone else’s fandom of something, and nor am I attempting to make myself sound “cooler” by disliking something popular – if I was into that I’d have to go back to pretending I didn’t want to see Guardians of the Galaxy – but recent pop culture begs the question: are zombies a little too overexposed these days to anyone else?
It makes total sense why. Recent economic and political situations have got people thinking about the end times, zombies are flexible enough to fit into whatever gameplay style or fiction you want, and they’re not a copyrightable or immediately identifiable idea, so anyone in need of a good horde of unstoppable faceless enemies probably thinks of zombies before anything else while brainstorming. This need for “something that attacks in near endless waves” is what I assume led the creators of Over 9000 Zombies! to choose their game’s subject matter.
Over 9000 Zombies! (henceforth referred to as O9Z) is indeed a zombie game, but one that tries for something a bit different. Avoiding both the character-based pathos of something striving for deepness like Dead Island and the joyless slog of repeatedly dying naked and alone in a forest like Rust, Dying Light, or any of the “me-toos” the survival genre has spawned, O9Z gets right to the rotting heart of things.
Recalling classic arcade titles like Smash TV, O9Z puts you in the top-down, 2D shoes of a nameless apocalyptic warrior who must survive as long as possible against cartoonishly large hordes of the undead as they rush to consume your delicious innards. And I do mean large hordes. The amount of zombies you’ll face on screen simultaneously would make Serious Sam start to feel like a wuss, and even before I get to the rest of the game, I would like to say that it’s awesome.
There are a few things I enjoy more than a game with hordes and hordes of easily-killed bad guys to wade through, and O9Z scratches that itch more satisfyingly than a lot of the games I’ve played in recent months. Your character (at least when using a gamepad) controls flawlessly, with just the right speed and agility to dart around the maps and blast into the swarm without ever feeling like you’re too strong or too fast for the zombies to be a threat, and the selectable weapons give you options over what style of offense you prefer. I always went for the weak-but-fast submachine guns, but even switching over to something like the shotgun or the silenced pistol changed the dynamic of the combat enough to force me to come up with different tactics, which is pretty impressive considering how initially shallow it might look.
But even that’s not the entirety of the action. O9Z, like many of its undead-apocalypse brethren, has you scrambling about the level to collect supplies in order to fortify the level and help stem the rising zombie tides. Defensively-minded players can erect concrete blockades to seal off areas or funnel zombies to a certain point on the map, whereupon they can be greeted by a number of selectable turrets (which include grenade launchers and, awesomely, plasma cannons) that you can build around the level. I myself didn’t care much for the blockade building. Even with the ease of choosing a location and actually building it, I didn’t like having to fight with the menu, and they all seemed a bit too fragile at first. It doesn’t help that the game is oddly stingy with scrap metal early in the game, so I frequently found myself falling back on a handful of turret types and remaining mobile, preferring preventative agility to defensive strength (but that could just be me and my lack of patience).
However, the occasional wonkiness of the construction options is offset by the impressively seamless way the developer – one-man game-machine Loren Lemcke – snuck in some fun action-RPG additions. Taking cues from games like Borderlands, who wants to give you enough stats to make it fun but not so many you get bogged down in menu screens forever, each of the gamepad’s face buttons is mapped to a different stat that affects things like the damage your turrets do or how many hitpoints you have. Not a ton of options, but enough to help cater to your particular gameplay style. Players more interested in constructing enormous fortresses will have just as good of a time as players (like me) who prefer the more active approach.
I’m also happy to announce that there were basically no technological complaints. The art style allows for quick loading, smooth framerates, and a TON of things to be happening on screen without a single hiccup from either my custom-assembled desktop or my trusty-but-underpowered HP laptop, and the one crash to Windows I did have was likely due to me alt-tabbing too much. The music is pretty serviceable and appropriate, bouncing from every-recent-game-trailer dubstep to humorously chuggy butt-rock, both of which work pretty well for a not-that-serious zombie game, even if you maybe won’t want to hunt the soundtrack down later. I guess if I did have a complaint about the graphics, it might be that the lighting effects tend to be a bit too extreme, with the way shadows are handled being a bit distracting at times: not even overly obscuring, just kind of visually confusing in the heat of battle. Otherwise, though, I couldn’t really stay too mad at a game whose art style so closely recalls ancient Apogee shareware games. If you’re a fan of 2D art, you’ll find O9Z enjoyable (if not a bit simple, but that’s the point).
Alright, maybe I was a little harsh on ‘zombie games’ earlier, but perhaps I like O9Z for its approach. Sure, the humor is a little too Borderlands-2-“man the internet sure is funny” sometimes, and I’m still not 100% convinced it absolutely needed zombies, but what it does it does very well, and it provides a breath of fresh air. Not everyone who is still into zombies will enjoy it, especially after they find themselves never getting killed by another player for their ammo, but if you’ve got an itchy trigger finger and/or too short of an attention span for anything more ‘serious’, then Over 9000 Zombies! is absolutely worth a look for you. Besides, you get to fight zombified historical figures – I killed Tchaikovsky, and in the end I felt both weird and proud about it.
Now if only we can have Loren tackle different subject matter for the sequel, similar to how Alien Shooter started branching out. Few things would make me happier than seeing Over 9001 Robots! in my Steam library.