The Friday Game: Atom Zombie Smasher
Chris Donlan finds out what happens when indie gaming’s antic zoologist takes on the undead.
After offering up barnstorming penguins and intergalactic toucans, it was hard not to feel concerned when Brendon Chung, the man behind Blendo Games, announced that the follow-up to Flotilla and Air Forte would feature videogaming’s most over-exposed animal, the zombie. I shouldn’t have worried, however, as Atom Zombie Smasher puts a typically fresh spin on the undead, while leaving the developer plenty of room to unleash his unique, blindsiding sense of humour and laudable fondness for surf guitar.
It’s the early 1960s: Dick Dale is on the radio, drooling monsters have hit the streets, and Esposito, according to the comic book prologue, scores the winning goal and then gets eaten alive. You know, by zombies. Blendo’s latest pitches you into a sweaty Bay of Pigs-era Latin America and frames the battle for survival as a tactical retreat of the last-chopper-out-of-Saigon stripe. Your mission is to extract human survivors from zombie-riddled cities – or, trickier, kill all the zombies themselves – before every last man, woman and child has been overwhelmed.
Played from a top-down perspective, this translates into a fast-paced RTS that leans heavily towards the tower defence variant. The game’s shambling horrors are essentially an advancing torrent of purple dots you’ll want to keep away from your yellow dots as you move your helicopter landing zone around, and the pared-back visual approach offers a lot more than mere readability. If anything, it actually makes the drama more intense: you’ll feel helplessly separated from the conflict as the zombies swarm and multiply on screen, and with no disappointing graphics to get between you and your imagination at every bottleneck and dead end, the short levels can be genuinely gruelling to fight through.
Your own defences come in the form of mercenaries you win over as levels are completed, and pretty soon you can expect to have a handful of dangerous gadgets to deploy before the zombies hit town, while pouring research into still more. There’s a lot to play with all told, ranging from demolition charges to patrolling sniper teams, and your tactical opportunities will vary as the maps bring in their own random tweaks and the survivor targets get higher.
Throw in a territory-grabbing meta campaign, an unspoken yet ever-nagging morality system, and all the other extra-curricular weirdness Chung likes to layer his games with, and you’ve got a wonderful urban chaos laboratory to muddle around inside. In some ways, Atom Zombie Smasher feels like it could be Blendo’s most traditional genre offering yet, but that only gives you more of an opportunity to explore the generous craftsmanship and mean-spirited elegance with which the whole thing is constructed.
It turns out we did need one more zombie game after all.