Surviving is hard work and it's Atom Zombie Smasher's biggest credit that, even though it uses a colourful, humorous world and jolly feel-good music, it never lets you forget that. In Atom Zombie Smasher the zombie apocalypse is a riotous, funny and bizarre experience built on a cartoon palette, but it's also no joke.
This is good; it enables Atom Zombie Smasher to stand out in a market flooded with other zombie games, while still communicating the fascinating bleakness of the zombie scenario. The surreal comedy, which has become a trademark of Blendo Games, is especially enjoyable. It’s baffling and unusual, but having your planning stage interrupted by the news that El Presidente has taken up residence in an iron lung with twin gatling guns, which never stop firing, feels oddly worth it.
‘I may be in an iron lung,’ El Presidente yells as he repels a coup d'état with a blaze of antiquated lead, ‘but I am still a LION!’
Nuke 'em from orbit
Not only is this unreality humorous in itself, but it helps stop the often gruelling mid-game stages from getting too oppressive as well. Atom Zombie Smasher casts players as the operator of an orbital satellite responsible for evacuating citizens and holding cities against the Zed invasion; a process divided into two stages and set over many months.
The first stage of the battle takes place in an overworld map, which is divided into territories classified by the extent of Zed infection. Stage One zones are lightly infected, with only a few city streets overrun and a lot of citizens that you can easily airlift out of harm's way. Stage Four, on the other hand, is a total epidemic and requires you to firebomb as fast as possible.
The second stage is where the real meat of the game lies, however, with you using your orbital command station to direct ground forces and airstrikes on whichever city you’ve elected to save. Cities are viewed from above, with Zed hordes marked in purple and citizens in yellow, and you’re given a small dispatch of arms with which to save a minimum number of survivors.
Vignettes such as this provide injections of humour
It’s quite similar to Lemmings in that regard, except the lemmings are little people and you’re wielding sniper teams, landmines and CATCannon orbital bombardments rather than blockers and builders. In other words, it’s much better than Lemmings.
It’s also made much harder, however, because the army shortages, health and safety laws and astrological phenomena can limit your options somewhat. Your lazy mercenary forces will insist on having holidays every few months, while the Zed apocalypse is playing havoc with the solar system and every month brings a new disaster. Sometimes the daylight vanishes in seconds and the zombies swarm at night, while at other times it snows hard enough to cement the joints of the Zed threat. This can make battles feel a little arbitrary, as planning to accommodate all the variables is almost impossible, but it also works to make battles more complex and involved.