“…Atom Zombie Smasher is painless… it brings on many changes…”
Here at Embalmit we do many things, one of those things (and the least requested of them) is to review games that we think are relatively meaningful to what we are doing. One of those meaningful games is Atom Zombie Smasher. A fantastic take on three of the past decade’s fads (now probably dying fads): Zombies, Casual Games and Indie flare. And boy does AZM (for shorts) goes to town with all of these.
To sum up AZM: it is a casual strategy game based on evacuating citizens on a soon to be Zombie-ridden town. Every game takes place on a top down view of a needlessly 3d rendered city. It is up to the player to place barriers, mercenaries, dynamite and a landing zone to evacuate or eradicate the zombies. Once everything is set, the player hits start and a wave of zombies appear on the predicted paths, ready to pounce on our unsuspecting civilians. The zombies are represented by purple dots, whereas the civilians are represented by yellow dots. If a moving purple dot (a zombie) gently brushes against a yellow dot (civilian), it’ll turn that dot into a zombie dot, effectively multiplying the purple dots on small chain reactions, which is bad.
If for whatever reason the planning phase went awry, we can always hit f9 to reload the entire match and maybe place those snipers in a more useful place (like on a roof, maybe). Matches are usually over in about a minute. If everything went well, then you are rewarded with a sweet ass Rockabilly tune. Which I believe used to be a hipster thing for a solid week back in 2009, before it eventually (as all hipster things) was deemed too mainstream by the kids. It was probably replaced by something with a banjo. Things might look a little too Deliverance for a possible Atom Zombie Sequel, but I digress.
Eventually we are taken to a risk style map, we choose another territory and we are back to defending and evacuating. One unusual game mechanic is that we are only allowed to use 4 mercenaries in our missions from a random roster of 8 mercenaries (most times just 3 mercenaries if the chopper is coming too). So it is useful when you can get in your team the artillery, the infantry and the sniper team, since these 3 things kill zombies. It is less useful when you randomly get the worthless dream team of the barricade (which doesn’t kill zombies), the zombie bait (which doesn’t kill shit) and the tax auditors (ok, so I made that last one up). But you get the gist, from time to time you are stuck with a worthless team. It particularly sucks when it’s right on the one level that lasts 30 seconds and has 8 waves of gigantic zombies.
Despite the levels lasting nothing, if you are stuck with a piss poor mercenary team you’ll inevitably just concede the match. We are told that our more useful mercenaries are on “away missions”, even though you’d think a Zombie Apocalypse would be more pressing. I guess there was a fundraiser that day that the Artillery guy, the Sniper Guy and the Infantry guy just had to go to (maybe it’s the wedding of the Artillery guy?, I’d buy that over an away mission excuse).
Keeping with the theme of poorly timed linear randomization, the game randomly spews zombies out to the main territory map at the end of each mission. And if a territory gets too infested with zombies, no more civilians will inhabit those areas. So no more helicopter, only your squad of mercenaries and you’ll be tasked with nothing but killing all zombies. Your last 10 or so missions are pretty much the same mission over and over again (except when you get the useless team combination, which means you will be conceding that match). There’s a few things here and there to prevent this scenario, but it’s too little much too late. You’ll get this samey scenario every-damn-time.
Pissy observations aside (the game is what it is), the game features a pretty awesome graphic style, featuring realistic cartoon style pen and marker illustrations. These coupled with the awesome rockabilly and surf rock soundtrack makes for a very unique experience for a Zombie game. Even the game’s name seems to be veering in a stylish direction, even though there is no Atom anything and you don’t really Smash the zombies. Each victory feels amazing because of the art style and the soundtrack. Kudos to the one man team of Blendo games, who apparently also came up with all the illustrations.
It is rare for the industry to have a single developer doing absolutely everything in a game . Blendo games seemingly sole employee: Brendon Chung, did the coding, designing and drawing for the game (everything but the sound stuff at least). Sure it is a bit of a compromise: the game mechanics are seemingly simple and the drawings seem to have been made by a casual artist (like the ones that keep a sketchbook). But these are all positives, these are all smart compromises. It’s the type of stuff that I wish so much that the Cairn team could emulate sometimes.
A running joke on indie game forums is that of first time developers trying to make a Call of Duty style shooter or an MMO as their first game. None of these teams ever get to release their much touted masterpieces. I mean, hell I’ve done work for at least something like 12 indie games that have never seen the light of day (and that most likely never will). You don’t have to be crazy talented to make games, you have to be smart and work with what you have.
It’s hard to believe the golden age of indie game development died off a mere year ago, what with the release of the awful documentary “Indie Game: Phil Fish is an asshole” movie and with Kickstarter and Greenlight serving as filters for future indie game development. I guess it wasn’t meant to last.
We play the indie games not as an act of charity (although I’ve purchased way too many shitty indies myself). We play them to see what developers can do with no money, no coding teams and modest graphic capabilities. While results may vary, from time to time we get an Atom Zombie Smasher, a game that is awesome on it’s right.
Atom Zombie Smasher is available from many places. Get your copy today!
ps:All the screenshots come straight from the game’s trailer, as I was unable to take any myself. But if anything, this is the only bug I’ve run into while playing the game.