Thankfully, as the war continues you steadily unlock a wider range of mercenaries and orbital doomsday weapons, which compensate for the randomness. While you start Atom Zombie Smasher with little more than a rescue helicopter at your disposal, you eventually gain access to more esoteric and eccentric sounding armaments. Artillery, infantry, llama bombs.
Did we say Atom Zombie Smasher was like Lemmings? It’s more like a Jeff Minter remake of 28 Days Later.
The most technically interesting element of the game, however, isn’t the diversity of the weaponry, but the way that the city-scale and overworld battles are meshed together. At the end of every month points are doled out based on how many survivors you’ve rescued, how many Zeds you’ve killed and how many territories you’ve completely cleaned. Zeds, meanwhile, get points for victims and infestations, and all the points are added to a Victory Track that runs along the bottom of the screen.
GET TO THA CHOPPAH
The Victory Track is basically a scoreboard. It charts which side has the most points, unleashing game modifiers when certain landmarks are achieved. Survivors mainly get new mega-weapons, such as the Elephantbird Orbital Cannon, while Zeds start to show up in more interesting forms and to rupture gas lines, making cities more volatile.
If modifying the game as you go is your aim, though, then you’ll be relieved to know that Atom Zombie Smasher comes with full mod support, as well as an example from which tinkerers can learn. The explanation behind this is included in a short letter written by creator Brendon Chung, in which he explains the trials and tribulations he’s undergone in developing Atom Zombie Smasher. Long-time followers of Chung’s work, which includes excellent freebies such as Grotto King and Gravity Bone, will already know that Atom Zombie Smasher has quietly been in development for years, but reading the ins and outs of it all is enlightening to newcomers too.
Really, though, we’re not sure how much modding Atom Zombie Smasher actually needs. There’s plenty of scope for crafting your own stories and injecting novelty weapons into the game, but unlike some big releases (ahem, Elder Scrolls), there’s very little that needs to be ‘fixed.'
The default campaign is hard at first, admittedly, but the difficulty plateaus once you’ve learned your way around most of the units. Orbital weapons and the research tree that comes into play later – ‘Prepare to drop some science! Exotic technologies are now available!’ – help with this too. The fight against the Zed has plenty of variety as well, as a result of the randomised seasons, levels and weapon availability.
The people look like ants from up here...yellow ants!
It’s the brevity of the experience that helps most of all, however. Atom Zombie Smasher is designed to be finished quickly and replayed indefinitely, with individual skirmishes usually taking less than ten minutes to figure out. The way that these strategic puzzles are linked together stops the game from easily becoming tiresome, allowing you to focus more on killing Zeds and giggling confusedly at the vignette cutscenes.
That said, the way in which the gameplay is broken up into tiny, bitesized morsels makes it hard to assess just how good Atom Zombie Smasher really is at times. The vignettes, for example, can lose their impact when they're run together, and start to feel like little more than insane ramblings. The campaign also feels like it would turn out to be repetitive and shallow if the missions weren’t so short and sweet.
Timing is everything, however. By keeping the humour and action so carefully restrained, Blendo Games enables Atom Zombie Smasher to work its charms brilliantly, keeping the levels moreish and the vignettes wicked funny. The result is a game that's perfectly judged, instantly addictive and draped in weird humour and originality.