All Zombies Must Die augments some interesting RPG elements to distance itself from the throngs of similar experiences available on PlayStation 3. But while the game initially succeeds, the repetition of its samey mission structure sets in quickly — even when experienced in multiplayer.
Borderlands proved earlier in the year that shooters can be successful when blended with RPG elements, and so All Zombies Must Die! attempts to attach a similar formula to the dual joystick shooter. Spiritually connected to 2009's fantastic Burn Zombie Burn!, developer Doublesix's All Zombies Must Die! brings another hearty dose of undead affliction to the PlayStation 3, this time transporting players to the city of Deadhill, where, unsurprisingly, a zombie apocalypse has broken out.
Thankfully, the game's group of unlikely heroes are more than well prepared. Set across Deadhill's wealth of distinctive districts, you and up to three other buddies must embark upon an adventure that involves solving quests and, well, yes, vanquishing the city of the throngs of undead that loiter upon its streets. We're pretty sure you already figured that part out, but we're just checking.
Being a dual joystick shooter there's nothing particularly remarkable about the manner in which All Zombies Must Die! plays. Sprinting through police stations, shopping malls and other familiar feeling suburban locations, you must gather together the game's array conveniently of littered weapons in order to deal maximum damage against the crowds of corpses.
You'll have little trouble happening upon a set of bog-standard guns and melee weapons, with everything from automatic machine guns to cricket bats left lying around Deadhill's partially decimated districts. What sets All Zombies Must Die! apart (aside from its RPG elements, which we'll get to shortly) is its inclusion of character specific secondary abilities, which allow you to affect the undead with different elemental properties.
Each of the four-playable characters has a different tool to afflict the living dead, from the quiffed Jack's lit torch (hello, Burn Zombie Burn!) through to the token hottie Rachel's delightfully appropriate mobile phone. Perhaps most clever about the elemental effects is the impact they have on the zombies; which don't always work in your favour unless you know how to handle them. Setting a zombie on fire example will weaken the target, and spread flames across a whole crowd. But while the zombies will lose health over time, they'll also become enraged, chasing you down and forcing you to keep your wits.
The same is true for each of the elemental effects, resulting in a risk/reward mechanic that underlines the entire experience. Elemental effects are not restricted to each character's secondary ability either, with the environment prompting some statuses (police car sirens send the undead into a sonic frenzy for example), while weapons can be fused with specific loot drops in order to create elementally enhanced death-dealers.
In reality, the crafting system doesn't go much deeper than combining two disparate objects — with firewood adding incendiary rounds to your weapons and megaphones layering similar sonic damage to your projectiles. The concept's wafer thin, but it's enough to extend the game's arsenal with some bonkers augmentations, and adds a sprinkle of depth to the combat system.
The RPG inspiration doesn't end there either, with quests driving the campaign. Sadly the monotony of the game's unambition sets in rather promptly, with the game rarely daring to experiment beyond the odd fetch and kill quest. Main objectives are stretched out by shorter gate quests, which require you to debilitate zombies in specific ways in order to progress. It all gets a bit repetitive alone, and while playing in a groups helps to thwart the tedium, the lack of online co-op is a missed opportunity.
Along the way you'll be earning experience points in order to level up your character and spend skill points on new abilities. It's familiar stuff, but it lends a sense of progression to the gameplay that's often unseen in basic dual joystick shooters, and adds a sprinkle of flare to the proceedings.
Sadly, All Zombies Must Die! never quite makes you feel powerful enough. It's personal preference of course, but we love the sense of power in games, and even after a hearty amount of investment, Doublesix's latest never quite achieves that. It fits with the horror aspect of the game we suppose — All Zombies Must Die! clearly wants to keep you on the tip of your toes — but unless you manage to chain together enough combos to spark the game's rampage mode, you never get the sense that you are the master of your foes. Part of the problem is the game's incessant penchant to crowd you, leaving you with very little escape options — unless you've got a spare Smart Bomb handy — and the undead's unfair ability to soak up bullets like water.
Thankfully the game's playful enough to alleviate any major frustrations. If its title hadn't given the game's tone away, then allow us to confirm that All Zombies Must Die! has its tongue firmly planted in cheek. The game's self-referential humour is hardly original, but it does have a few laugh out loud moments as it openly mocks video game and nerd culture. There's a passing nod to 16-bit classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors in the game's presentation, and its SNES era inspiration is perfectly captured by the hamburger and roast chicken health drops that the undead leave behind.
All Zombies Must Die! is cute and quirky in tone, and there's a lot to like about its self-referential narrative and bonkers arsenal of augmented weapons — radioactive sword anyone? — but the game's unwillingness to extend further on its own great concepts leaves the experience feeling a tad repetitive. It's more fun when played with friends, but the monotony of the game's fetch quests will catch up with you eventually. Agonising amounts of back-tracking and rote combat leave All Zombies Must Die! feeling like something of a missed opportunity — even if the swathes of biting cultural references and inane artstyle add to the appeal.