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Atom Zombie Smasher – Review

Atom Zombie Smasher is a funny, clever indie game that combines a pinch of tower defense with a dash real-time strategy (and throws in a little RISK as well) for an addictive experience. Players control an orbiting defense platform that monitors and commands ground forces during a zombie outbreak. While you won’t engage the enemy directly, you’ll deploy troops, set traps, and coordinate rescue vehicles all while plotting out a large-scale strategy from the safety of your satellite base.

Part of the charm of Atom Zombie Smasher is that it’s set in the 1960’s, complete with surfer music soundtrack (By the Volcanics), and has Cold War propaganda posters that encourage you to do your part to wipe out “Zed”, the collective nickname for the zombies. While there isn’t much of story, you’ll see comic book “Vignettes” of still images with caption that tell the stories of survivors on the ground. These unlock over the course of your campaign, and you’ll need to play through multiple times to see everything.

The actual gameplay starts with an overworld map divided into numerous territories, not unlike RISK or other games of global domination.  The zombies control several cities at the start, and you’ll try to capture as much territory as you can by going on missions to rescue civilians and eliminate the zombie infestation.  As the game progresses, different cities will have heavier infestation than others and you’ll have to choose whether to try a risky mission to put down a difficult infestation, or go for an easy victory. Once you’ve made that decision, you’ll switch to an overhead view of that city. The “Orbiting Satellite” aspect of the story is a good excuse for simple graphics; the zombies are just purple dots, and the civilians you’re rescuing are nothing more than yellow dots, while the units you deploy are represented by icons. No need for fancy graphics here.

You choose the landing zone for your rescue helicopters, and set your troops in place to defend your landing zone. You also have traps, like mines and dynamite, as well as barricades. Each mission gives you particular number of civilians to rescue, but you get bonus points for exceeding that quota. Of course, killing all of the zombies will be an immediate victory. If you take too long, nightfall comes, and with it an endless horde of the undead.

AI does much of the work for you, so careful planning followed by quick reactions will make you succeed or fail.  Once the planning phase is complete, missions only last a minute or two, and if you manage to wipe out all of the zombies on a given map within a certain time frame, you’ll “Capture” that territory which grants you bonus points. These points are tallied up on the world map after each mission. There’s also something of a tech tree as well, by rescuing Scientists (blue dots) in each level, you’ll be able to research upgrades and weapons for use on the world map. You and Zed are competing to reach a number of points that you can set at the start of the campaign. A short campaign will last a couple of hours, the middle length a few evenings, and you can pick a much longer campaign as well. There’s plenty of reason to replay and try to challenge Zed for world domination over and over again.

As you play through, you’ll gain upgrades for your units, and new units too. Each new campaign will assign you these units randomly, and the default settings also give you a random selection for each mission too. You can fiddle with these settings to increase or decrease the challenge level. This makes every campaign different, and provides yet more incentive to play through over and over again. There’s also a multiplayer cooperative option as well, but this involves players using a mouse and multiple gamepads on the same PC.

Atom Zombie Smasher is a gem of an indie game and was chosen as one of the PAX 10 indie games for the Penny Arcade Expo. Its developer Blendo Games should be on your radar in the future if you like indie gaming.  Atom Zombie Smasher is available now from a variety of digital distributors for fifteen dollars, but you can get it on Steam for ten.  There is a free demo if you’re still on the fence.



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