A long time ago, I wrote an article about how I’d like to see a game where you play as the zombie(s) and your goal is to infect all the humans. As a person who never really liked zombie games, I always felt a game like that would bridge the gap in interest for me. That’s why I was interested in trying the fairly recent I, Zombie by Awesome Games Studio. This puzzle game allows you the opportunity to experience the zombie apocalypse through the point of view of the zombies instead of the survivors. While it is not nearly as visually impressive, visceral, or exciting as the game I always imagined, I have to say that for multiple reasons, this is probably the most pleasant zombie game I’ve ever played.
I, Zombie is not a game you play for the graphics, but the graphics were one of the things I most appreciated about it. Don’t go into it expecting Resident Evil or Left for Dead. This is a helicopter view puzzle game with a simple visual style. There are only two settings in the whole game. Every level takes place in a base camp or quarantine zone like location. There are buildings, which are basically defined by roofs, doors, and not much else. Some of them have a more broken look to them, but it’s basically all the same house. Scattered among and around the levels are crates of various sizes. Some of them have symbols on them to show that they are specific commonplace zombie game items like medical supplies or biohazardous materials. The ground is all grass with dirt paths intentionally placed in certain parts of each level.
The game is broken up into two seasons. 20 of the levels take place in the summer and 10 in the winter. The summer levels are sunny, but also have raindrops constantly falling and a brighter general color scheme. The winter levels have a more blue hue to them. The buildings are covered in ice. The grass is covered with snow. There are snowmen in the levels and snowflakes constantly falling instead of rain.
The characters in the game are very cute. Which, yes, is quite odd for a zombie game. The playable character is a bald zombie in a brown shirt. He’s very short but not shorter than any of the other characters in the game. There are a very small number of NPCs. Maybe like five total that are just reused over and over in each level. The same NPCs can occur multiple times in the same level. One of these is a soldier and the rest are civilians. All the characters in the game are male. While the number of characters may be small, each of them looks really distinct because of details such as glasses, hats, and clothing. Each of these NPCs can be zombified and then they still look distinct but now have green skin and tattered clothing.
The HUD is pretty simple. All you have is your life bar with your current command under it in the top left corner and a timer in the top right. Both are very easy to interpret and large enough to be easily seen while playing. A life bar also hovers above each character on the screen whether human or zombie, including you. Humans have red/orange life bars, zombies have green life bars, and yours is yellow. The menus are pretty nice, making use of rounded block letters and touches of color to try and make them seem both cute and horror at the same time. Like the main title screen uses black to complement the title letters by making it look like they’re decaying. But the font style is so happy that it’s just not scary.
There are a few little effects that make the game just a bit more finished. When zombies die, there are blood stains on the ground. Soldiers’ helmets get left as well. After a few seconds these remains disappear though. The raindrops and snowflakes constantly falling are really well done. The only thing you don’t really get is a proper human to zombie transition. This is because the transition happens so quickly that you don’t really see a transformation. Instead this process is expressed through sound. Overall the game runs really smoothly. There’s no lag and not really any loading times either. It’s a pretty small scale game, but a well-made one when it comes down to performance. I really liked the graphics. They weren’t impressive by any means, but I really enjoyed them. Even my girlfriend thought they were cute.
The gameplay is simple to execute but hard to master. It’s a puzzle game, but it’s not a completely consistent one. Your goal is to turn all the people in each level into zombies. You do this by walking into them or having another zombie walk into them until their life bar hits zero. All you can do is walk around with the left stick and give commands to other zombies. Your three commands are attack, stop, and follow. Commands go out to all zombies no matter where they are on the screen. Attack makes all zombies attack the person nearest to them, which really translates into walking into them till their life goes down. They will move straight towards them regardless of any traps or endangerment to their life. The less life a zombie has, the slower it moves. This is true for you too. Both zombies, including you, and humans regenerate health over time. Stop makes all zombies stop moving and wait for a different command. Follow makes all zombies move towards you by the most direct route. Again zombies don’t consider traps. Each command corresponds to a different button of the main four. Triangle is used as an instant level restart.
The basic mechanics are easy, but the challenging part is turning all the people without dying first. People cannot die. They can only turn into zombies. Zombies can die. If you die then you have to restart the level. Even if there are other zombies left, you still lose the level if you die. The challenging part comes from solders and turrets. Soldiers can be killed just like normal NPCs but they have guns, meaning they can damage you as well. The range of these guns is quite long. Soldiers will start shooting at you as soon as you are in a direct line of sight with them and within a certain distance. You cannot sneak up on them from behind. The trick is to get up to a soldier quickly enough to turn him before he shoots you to death by making use of corners and surprise attacks. Even when you have multiple zombies assisting you, you can still lose because soldiers, which often have companions, can shoot you down specifically or finish off the whole group of zombies before you get close enough to them. Turrets work just like soldiers except they have an even longer range and can’t be destroyed. The only thing you can do is avoid them or dodge their shots. Sometimes your only option is to use other zombies you’ve amassed as cover while passing by them.
I, Zombie functions like the standard stage based puzzle game. Each level is short and you’re given a one to three star rating when you finish it. You are timed, but the time doesn’t affect your star rating except in special levels. Your rating is actually based on the number of living zombies left when you turn the last human. There are a few special stages where your goal is actually to turn one specific human as quickly as possible rather than turning all the humans in the stage. In these levels, the one human is past a bunch of soldiers and obstacles, the soldiers are always powered up so they can’t be killed, and the star rating is based on your completion time. Just by finishing each level, you will get at least one star. In the winter levels, you can use snowmen as cover for hiding when guards walk by. But if they see you enter the snowman then it won’t work.
Some levels are not about you moving around and killing people but instead about you controlling other zombies from far away and getting them to do all the work for you. It’s in these levels that the flaws in the gameplay are really pronounced. You can give the commands and change them as often and as quickly as you want. But the zombies respond to those commands based on proximity. Meaning that if you have two zombies standing next to each other at a fork and you command them to follow or attack, they may not take the path forward, often causing them to split up and ultimately die by trying to fight soldiers alone instead of together as you intended. This flaw leads to a lot of headaches and retries, but it is not a game breaking issue. In general, the gameplay is pretty solid for what the game is with a pretty balanced difficulty increase from level to level as you progress. It was one of the better stage based puzzle games I’ve played in a good while.
The sound is pretty good in this game. You can control the volume of music and effects separately with one to ten range volume bars. The effects are simple, but effective. There are sounds for zombies transforming or dying, gun shots, and rain. That’s basically it, but they’re all good quality and clear. I really like the music, but it’s a bit odd for a zombie game. It’s a sort of brass band style jazz but has kind of a circus feel to it. There are just a few looping tracks and you can hear the pause between loops, but the music is not bad. It’s appropriate for the graphics style, but not necessarily the game’s context.
The amount of writing in this game is so minimal that it’s almost not worth talking about. There is no plot other than the overarching, but unspoken, idea of zombies taking over the world. The only time writing is used in the game is when you get to special levels. These levels always start with a title card telling you that a scientist is creating an anti-zombie weapon and needs to be killed. Other than that, there is no writing in this game whatsoever. Even the credits consist of only four names.
As with all puzzle games of this nature, the replay value is strictly performance based and adds nothing to the gameplay experience. There are only 30 levels total, but getting three stars in them all is challenging. To complete all the levels once will take you less than two hours. The game keeps track of your completion time. Mine was 48 minutes total. There are three separate leaderboards. One for total stars, one for total summer levels completion time, and one for total winter levels completion time. There are also 11 trophies, all of which are achievement based. The highest one is gold. Ultimately the game isn’t that long and, unless you really care about getting all the stars and topping the leaderboards, won’t take you that long. The $4.49 price tag is a bit higher than it should be with only 30 levels. That being said, I feel that the number of levels is perfect for this game when disregarding price. Most of the time, games in this genre are too long. At the end of this game I wasn’t bored, but I also didn’t have a desire to play anymore. It was the perfect length.
As I said at the beginning of this review, I, Zombie is the most pleasant zombie game I’ve ever played. It’s by no means meant to take the place of traditional zombie games. Instead it gives you an entirely different experience. It’s not the hardcore title I would like a game of this point of view to have, but I very much enjoyed playing it and completed all the stages in one sitting. Don’t pay £3.69/$4.49 for it, but definitely pick it up during a sale.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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