Dead Rising, Dead Island, Dying Light, Left 4 Dead, State of Decay, The Walking Dead… zombie games are big. With such a saturated market, what could make a zombie game stand out? How about a retro shoot em' up that mixes the top-down style of the original Grand Theft Auto with the survival of Smash TV orRobotron: 2084? Those are the elements that bring together Over 9000 Zombies!, the first game from developer Loren Lemcke, a zombie survival game that puts you up against huge hordes of the undead with the simple premises: survive… one day at a time.
Over 9000 Zombies! is a simple, yet deceptively difficult game. Survival is the goal, but with so many zombies out to get you you can't stay out in the open for long. Buildings have no doors to close, bridges aren't safe from zombies spawning or coming at you from two sides, and putting your back up against water gives you no openings for escape once you're being overwhelmed. Weapons need to reload and you can easily run out of grenades. This is where the addition of the games building mechanic comes into play.
Build or die should be your mantra when playing this game. My first attempt playing I felt the first wave was easy enough to shoot my way through, and if I needed a quick escape I would create a hole with a grenade. In between waves I did nothing but chase down the zombies that were meandering about, and this was my biggest mistake. With the amount of zombies that are coming for you in each wave there is no chance of surviving without building walls or turrets for defense.
The building relies on you collecting scrap metal that is dropped by zombies that you've killed. Each item in the build menu required different amounts of scrap metal to build, but with enough scrap metal you can build some formidable defenses to keep the hordes of zombies at bay. You won't be able to stay behind your defense for long though, as you will need to venture out into the sea of enemies to collect more scrap metal, grenades, health packs, and power-ups as they drop.
New weapons are dropped by zombies and carry forward with you into future playthroughs of the game. Where you start out with a couple of pistols, inevitably you will pick up shotguns, assault rifles, SMG's, and even a flamethrower to burn the undead to a crisp. The weapons never feel overpowered, actually as the game increases in difficulty and the number of zombies increase it actually feels like you might as well be throwing stones.
Over 9000 Zombies! isn't without its issues though. Using a controller can feel sluggish at times, and even though there isn't precision shooting like in first-person zombie games (head shots, etc) aiming in a particular direction with the right stick isn't smooth.
As the game increased in difficulty, it definitely felt as though the game was built more for cooperative play than the single player experience. The problem though was that in the time I spent playing Over 9000 Zombies! I was never actually able to find a co-op game to play. Even when I attempted to host a co-op game, nobody actually joined in making it impossible to test out the co-op experience.
Over 9000 Zombies! also lacks variety in its level. There is only one map, so after subsequent games, it's easy to find the best defend-able areas. One such area I found was a road that dead ends at a lake with some small walls at the end. After setting up some turrets it left me barely any need to use my guns until after a few days had passed, and I could just wait for the turrets to do the killing while I collected anything the zombies dropped.
The zombie AI seems to be designed to take the shortest route possible to get to you. This tends to cause an issue with the retro design, as they can get stuck within a cut out area of the map. A good example is the dead end road where I like to set up my defenses. There are a few areas across the water where the zombies will walk into an area and continually walk toward the water. They become easy picking for grenades and turrets, but won't work their way out of that spot unless you leave your defenses and give them something to chase.
Over 9000 Zombies! is by no means a finished or perfect game, but is a lot more complete than other early access games currently out on Steam. I continually found myself pushing to beat my best game and try to survive at least one more day. Even though the game still has its issues, it never took away from how much fun it was to play. Over 9000 Zombies! takes the zombie survival genre back to its core concept: Survive, and does it in a very simple retro fashion reminiscent of Smash TV, Robotron: 2084, and the original Grand Theft Auto. If you're a fan of retro-style game or the zombie survival genre, then you should check out Over 9000 Zombies!
Over 9000 Zombies! is currently available on Steam Early Access for $5.99 until July 9th and $7.99 after.
Sott Gable is a Senior Associate Editor for Front Towards Gamer from New Jersey. He was raised on games without saves and checkpoints and is addicted to coffee and General Tso's Chicken.