Entertainment has been experiencing a zombie renaissance in the last several years. Creative types just can’t stop tweaking the formula and giving zombies extra abilities, like running, talking and sometimes creating their own society. Video games are even more notorious for pushing the zombie creative license to new limits, with zombies that explode, strangle and throw objects, like in Konami’s undead hit Zombie Apocalypse. Now comes the follow up from Konami called Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone, which marries the experience from the previous game with creative style inspired by other popular zombie games to much success. The gameplay in this incarnation is fun in its own right, but in adjusting the Zombie Apocalypse formula Never Die Alone runs into a whole new set of obstacles that it doesn’t quite overcome.
In Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone players take control of four survivors making their way through the zombie-infested island of Halfaux. Jeremy is a sub-machine gun-wielding video gamer who speaks in l33t. Alma is an engineer with a sniper rifle. Father Bill is a shotgun-toting priest. Finally, Def Money is a foul-mouthed British rapper with dual pistols. Unlike the first Zombie Apocalypse where players picked one character and stayed with them throughout the game, Never Die Alone features all four characters running through the levels at the same time, with the player able to switch between them freely. This way, players will always have access to the right weapon for any given situation. When the player takes over one of the characters, the others are controlled by the AI. More importantly, each character has a special ability – like quad-damage, healing aura and more – that can be activated when sufficient kills have been accrued.
The limited arenas from the first Zombie Apocalypse have been replaced by levels that include static zones, where players must stave off a horde that spills in from the sides, as well as longer zones that force players to navigate the environment. The longer zones, however, feel very similar to the static zones in that the player is forced to clear out areas before they can proceed. Regardless of the type of zone, there are plenty of environmental interactions to take advantage of. In one level, a giant swinging donut helps kill the undead. In another zone, a malfunctioning mechanical bull smashes zombies to bits.
There’s some minor character building in Never Die Alone, where characters will level up in abilities that the player constantly uses, provided enough money has been gathered to purchase the next level. Thankfully, every zombie drops a bit of cash. Players are also welcome to revisit any previously completed zone to grind if their party is too weak to complete future levels. Finally, characters now have hit points rather than lives. If the entire group goes down, however, the game is over.
Never Die Alone has a purposeful Left 4 Dead vibe to it, including (in-game) cutscenes and the ability to revive fallen comrades. This game is also a departure from the original in that the levels are more objective-based rather than survival- or point-based. Players can clear some zones in seven minutes – in fact, one of the objectives requires players to do so. As such, players will want to repeat all of the zones to complete as many of the objectives as possible, though it isn’t necessary to complete the game.
Overall, Never Die Alone never reaches the challenge that the original offers, mainly because there is rarely a time when enough zombies are present to overwhelm the group, which packs significant firepower. Occasionally, there are special boss zombies that can wipe out the team if the player isn’t careful, but once the player knows what to expect, it’s a simple matter of saving the team’s special abilities to use on the bosses, which go down pretty easily. Furthermore, being able to revive any of the team to almost full health diminishes much of the challenge.
Despite the casual experience, Never Die Alone is still fun to play and is full of charm. A few of the zombie types from the first Zombie Apocalypse have been updated here, like the side-stepping zombie and the puker combined and reinvented as the drunk sorority girl who stumbles sideways and pukes! One of the new zombie types is the Homeless who hilariously groans “Spare change!” and “Need bus fare!” before pouncing on players and knocking their cash to the ground. Similarly, player abilities, like zombie bait, have also been redone. While the C4 Teddy Bear returns, other baits include propane tanks that can be tossed and shot, Molotov cocktails that burn over time and a boom box that forces all zombies in the area to stop and dance to sweet hits from the 80’s.
The biggest complaint players will have with Never Die Alone is its unfinished quality. There’s the ability to play Classic Zombie Apocalypse, which pits the player against a round of zombies in one of the four static zones found in the campaign. The four zones are rotated over and over again as the player progresses through each day, just like the original. However, there’s very little variation from day to day. Occasionally, a boss zombie will appear or a wave of exploding zombies might assault the team, but generally, each day is almost identical. It’s obvious that there was no planning involved in creating this game mode. The challenge never ramps up and no new zombies are ever introduced. In fact, the player can even set the controller down in most cases and let the AI-controlled teammates handle the horde. Each day lasts about two and half minutes at most and players will end up quitting the mode long before there’s any threat of dying. Finally, judging by the leaderboards, there appears to be two more game modes that are not currently available in the game. Perhaps upcoming DLC will address these issues and end the confusion.
The original Zombie Apocalypse was a test of endurance for leaderboard warriors. At some point the zombie theme of the game became irrelevant and gameplay descended into mechanical exercise of reflexes and timing. However, gameplay lasted ostensibly forever. Never Die Alone comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, embracing the zombie survival theme with wit and fun gameplay. Unfortunately, there’s very little replay value and only masochism is offered outside of the campaign, but while the fun lasts it’ll definitely be a blast.