For more than a hundred and fifty years, it’s been illegal to judge a book by its cover, and similar snap judgements about other forms of entertainment are equally discouraged. But while you wouldn’t be wrong to temper your expectations about the top-down, twin-stick shooter #KILLALLZOMBIES because it has an all-caps hashtag for a name, the game’s low-rent cheesiness is just one of this game’s many fundamental problems.
Newly available on Xbox One after two years on PlayStation 4, #KILLALLZOMBIES cast you as a contestant on a reality show in which you’re dropped into an arena that will soon be swarming with zombies, so you better start shooting. At least that’s what the game’s press materials say it’s about. There’s no cut scenes or anything to indicate what’s going on or why you’re doing it. Not that it matters, since it’s pretty obvious what you have to do once the game starts.
#KILLALLZOMBIES has three main modes: “Survival,” in which you have to stay alive as long as you can; “Vault Defense,” in which you have to keep a small, fenced-in area safe from the zombies as long as you can; and “Cooperative,” which is basically “Survival” but played with a friend.
Regardless of which mode you pick, though, rounds of #KILLALLZOMBIES all play the same. Dropped into an empty arena, you have to, yes, kill all the zombies before they kill you. In classic form, the game has you using the left thumbstick to move, and the right one to aim and shoot. It also breaks from such recent and similar games as Dead Nation, by shooting automatically where you aim, and not having you hit another button to pull the trigger. Which can be a problem, given how your ammo is somewhat limited, though there’s always piles of the stuff lying around if you can get to them.
As a reward for destroying the undead, #KILLALLZOMBIES gifts you random power-ups, though not the kind you have to pick up. Every time you go up an experience level, you’re given the choice of four random offered perks through a menu that (thankfully) pauses the action. Some of these are pretty basic: you might get a machine gun for a while, or be invincible for a minute or two, or have all your health restored. But some get kind of elaborate: “The player will explode upon death to kill more zombies, but will instantly be revived and a boss will spawn.” Power-ups can even be combined if, for instance, you get a gun that isn’t on a timer and it helps you get to the next level where you pick the power-up that temporarily freezes all the zombies in place; deploying one power-up doesn’t, thankfully, automatically cancel out the previous one.
#KILLALLZOMBIES also drops hazards and obstacles to the arena, ones that will hurt and inconvenience you as much as they do the living impaired. These not only include spinning pylons of spikes and giant anvils, but even what looks like Dale’s camper from The Walking Dead. You can even get killed if they land on you, though the game does put a flashing red light at the insertion point so you can avoid this fate, a courtesy not afforded your undead enemies.
Still more impediments to your survival come courtesy of your friends on Twitch. Not only does #KILLALLZOMBIES have built-in streaming capabilities, but your viewers can vote to alter your game. Which means your so-called friends can increase or decrease the number of undead chasing you around, or add more or fewer obstacles to the arena, and even screw around with the controls and the game’s perspective. Which, for those looking for even more of a challenge, will add a layer of difficulty and unpredictability.
For me, though, it wound up being more exhausting than anything else, something this problematic game doesn’t need. It’s also just the first of many problems I had with #KILLALLZOMBIES.
To start, while the pick-ups and falling obstacles do give #KILLALLZOMBIES some variety, and make rounds far more interesting the longer you survive, it’s not enough. Aside from the occasional boss, most of the zombies you kill are the same, mindless grunts who just follow you around like a swarm of ants; some are just tougher than others. This could also use more variety in the basic guns you use, though this is somewhat mitigated by the more interesting weapons you via the power-up menu.
Speaking of which, the power-up menu in #KILLALLZOMBIES is also fundamentally flawed. To access this menu, you hit the “Y” button on the Xbox One controller or the triangle on the PlayStation 4’s. But you then have to hit one of the four face buttons to choose which power-up you’d like, and yes, that includes the “Y” and triangle buttons. Which means that if you’re in a stressful situation — y’know, like if you’re being chased around an arena by a horde of zombies — you might actually pick an unhelpful or less helpful power-up by accident.
It also doesn’t help that #KILLALLZOMBIES looks cheesy. Besides the generic-looking menus, the arena is made of bland grey hexagons, which makes #KILLALLZOMBIES look more like the training program you’d play before starting the real game.
Similar complaints can also be made about your enemies in #KILLALLZOMBIES, most of which have no definition or distinction. Granted, this is largely due to having the camera so high up, though this actually works well for the action since it means you can see the hordes coming from far away. But by having all of the zombies just look like grey human-shaped blobs, especially against a grey background, it makes #KILLALLZOMBIES look cheap and unfinished.
In the end, the problems I had with #KILLALLZOMBIES far outweighed whatever fun I had after surviving a few minutes. Sure, I chuckled when an anvil landed on a zombie like I did the first time one landed on Daffy Duck’s head, and some of the power-ups added some similar silliness, and having a sci-fi gun while I ran around a bunch of campers was more fun than when I was just using a pistol in an empty arena, but it still wasn’t enough to overcome this game’s redundancy.