Twin-stick shooters and brawlers were an endangered breed before the rise of the indie game. What was once one of the most popular action genres had faded away in favour of first-person and third-person shooters. Big name publishers were not really interested in these smaller, dare I say simpler, games like these top-down/isometric titles. Since the rise of the indie game, titles like JYDGE, Crimsonland, Mr. Shifty, LA Cops, and many others have come to consoles with a fair amount of success. The latest title to add to this list is ZAMB! Redux.
The game started life as ZAMB! Biomutant Extermination for PC. You play as two special operatives fighting your way through the secret asteroid base of a mad scientist (is there any other kind). Cye is a brawler who uses melee combat to take down enemies. He is also capable of using powers (which you use energy for) to fire projectiles or set traps. Chrome, meanwhile, is a ranged attacks specialist. His other ability is being able to plant turrets that can either damage, slow down enemies, or heal you. These turrets add a tower defence element to the gameplay that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The placement, configuration, and choice of turrets make a huge difference.
Enemies take the form of various kinds of robotic creepy crawlies. There’s ants, wasps, worms, scorpions, cockroaches, all manner of foes. You learn pretty quickly which enemies you need to be wary of and which ones to attack in a particular manner. As the game goes on you will come across some that have extra powers to their attacks. These can stun you, slow you down, or make your character move in the opposite direction to your thumbsticks. In these later levels, you’ll also come across enemy turrets that you will want to neutralise before you go any further.
The aim of the game is to take control of each of the reactors on a level and then protect them against a set number of waves of enemies. The number of reactors changes each level but as long as you have one that is left standing at the end, you pass the level. The playing area for each level is fairly small, but it does get quite complicated with various obstacles forcing both you and your enemies along specific paths. The top down/45-degree angle style view can also be a bit frustrating when the obstacles are taller and block your view of an item you want to collect or an enemy you are shooting at.
While we’re talking about flaws in the game, it has to be said that your AI teammate is pretty much useless in the later levels of the game. They just keep dying, forcing you to run back to the nearest reactor and revive them. I had to rope in a friend to take control of the second character so that I could complete the game. Another slight niggle with the game is the music. It’s not that the music is bad, it’s just that it is very repetitive. There are three different areas in the game, and it would have made a huge difference to have music for each of these locations. The music does adapt, to an extent, depending what is happening on screen but it just doesn’t add enough to my taste.
Visually the game is solid. The three areas have enough difference between them to make it worthwhile. Character and enemy design is nice. The animation is smooth, and there are some nice particle effects going on when you use your powers or turrets. The HUD is well designed, and the whole user interface has a good sheen to it. My only criticism would be that sometimes there is so much happening on-screen that it can be difficult to differentiate your character from everything else. This usually is only when there is a huge group of enemies surrounding you, and there’s a cloud of gas around you all, but it can still be frustrating.
ZAMB! Redux is not a game I think I’ll find myself coming back to but I have enjoyed the 10 or so hours I have played it. It’s definitely something you’ll want to play with a co-op partner sitting next to you to get the most out of it. Fans of the genre will find a lot to like here, and at a budget price it’s easy to recommend. I would just suggest that you don’t enter with too high expectations.