Indie outfit Blendo Games isn’t exactly known for having “typical” games with generic gameplay and a soulless presentation. From the short, quirky first person spy game Gravity Bone to the beautiful, meticulous space battles of Flotilla, they’ve always reveled in taking a common genre or convention, and turning it on its head.
So is their newest offering, Atom Zombie Smasher, just another tired zombie cash-in, or does it have that signature Blendo Games creativity, charm, and ingenuity? The answer to that, friendos, is yes, yes, and hell yes.
Let me put this out there before any of you get instantly uninterested: Atom Zombie Smasher is not a zombie game. Or rather, it’s not a shooter involving zombies that you’ve been expecting the industry to churn out year after year. To put it simply, it’s a top-down strategy game with elements of tower defense. Each level is a city in a top-down perspective, and your goal is to either rescue all the survivors, or kill all the zombies before nightfall.
While you initially only start off with the standard rescue helicopter, through the course of the game you’re given numerous power-ups, cleverly named “Mercenaries”, that’ll aid in this endeavor. Infantry units, artillery units, snipers, barricades, and land mines are all at your fingertips to use.
With all that firepower, it sounds like a piece of cake, but Blendo cleverly throws a wrench into the mix by implementing random limitations to every battle. Each time you engage a city, you’ll be limited to a certain number of special units, with the other mercenaries “away on a job”. Additionally, each level will have varying rules implemented due to weather conditions or whatnot. So some levels will be harder because of slower helicopter speeds, while some may be infinitely easier thanks to the rain causing slower moving zombies. While it can be frustrating at times, especially when you’re trying to go clean up a heavily infested area, it’s a great way to keep the game fresh and interesting every playthrough.
That’s not to say the game looks and feels boring otherwise. Unlike most zombie games, Blendo keeps the visuals simple, with the survivors and zombies both being represented by dots, and yet maintains the sense of tension and drama that’s present during a zombie outbreak. Seeing a gaggle of yellow dots being cornered by a gang of purple dots, only for my infantry units to rush in just in time and rescue all of them felt like something out of a Will Smith movie. Who the hell knew looking at specks on a computer screen could be so emotionally draining?
Atom Zombie Smasher is a strategy game through and through, but it’s accessible enough that even the crappiest of RTS players can get their money’s worth out of the gameplay. You’ll likely start over the campaign multiple times, as there’s a point where the outbreak just becomes insurmountable and it’s impossible to win. Whether this is due to my incompetence or it’s Blendo’s intention all along, I don’t know, but I nonetheless had no problem starting a new campaign, thanks to the fact that all the levels and power-up progression are completely randomized. Each campaign is a new adventure, and makes it infinitely replayable, as far as I’m concerned. I’m on my seventh campaign now, and while I’ve yet to beat down the zombie outbreak, I’m still having the time of my life.
In a sense, Atom Zombie Smasher probably has the most in common with Plants vs. Zombies. It’s accessible to everyone, without sacrificing core gameplay or marginalizing the difficulty. And at the scant price of $10 on Steam, it might be the best bang-for-your-buck, pick-up-and-play game since, well, Plants vs. Zombies. I never was a diehard fan of strategy games, and yet Atom Zombie Smasher has completely taken over my spare time. It’s now my go-to game for when I have nothing better to do/don’t feel like doing anything substantial. Another fantastic effort from Blendo, and another superb entry in in the indie catalog for this year.