NewsReview: I, Zombie

Review: I, Zombie

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With the endless shows, games and films depicting worlds infested by the living dead, has anyone really ever stopped and thought – how is it for the zombies? Well, in ‘I, Zombie’ you can do exactly that. Across a series of official and community-created levels, take control of an undead horde, infecting every last human within sight. A puzzle game with sporadic stealth elements, ‘I, Zombie’ will see you placed in a series of scenarios with the simple objective – kill everyone. With a cute and whimsical art style, its hard not to sympathise with this endeavour, even if you are technically betraying your own species…

Live action of the undead’s assault.

The premise of each level within ‘I, Zombie’ is fairly simple. You start as a single zombie, and slowly navigate your way around each 2D level, infecting enemies and adding to your army until none are left standing. You’ll encounter regular civilians (who run for their lives at the sight of you), armed soldiers (who, quite the opposite, try to shoot you) and stationary turrets (which funnily enough can’t be infected). Despite on the surface appearing to be a relatively small pool of enemy-types, the varying combination of these foes in each level provides a markedly diverse selection. Some levels start with you acquiring a few pals before taking on soldiers, others, the soldiers must fall first… and so on. Each level presents a unique challenge, and as a result must be approached differently to the last. As well as this, there are the occasional ‘stealth-only’ levels, where you must evade undefeatable enemies with the objective of infecting a single civilian (usually located at the other end of the map). These by far present the hardest challenge, and are an excellent break in the usual level-format. All in all, although ‘I, Zombie’ provides a relatively simple gameplay loop, it is a markedly fun and engaging one, with enough diversity and challenge to keep players interested.

Nevertheless, one of the most glaring issues with ‘I, Zombie’ comes in regards to its levels. There simply aren’t enough. Even with a series of winter-themed levels added in, you can blast your way through the entirety of the game within only a few hours. Granted, the levels provided are great, but it is still disappointing for so few to be given to players. It almost feels as if the developers were forced to stop adding content to the game and ship early. I truly believe with a fully-fleshed out single-player mode (pardon the pun), ‘I, Zombie’ is the type of game that would be able to keep players hooked right until the final level. Furthermore, considering that the level design is relatively simple, its hard to see why this isn’t the case. The ability to create your own custom levels (more on that later) is a testament to this point. I can only hope the developers plan to add future content to the game, but regardless, providing enough content on launch is a basic requirement that is unfortunately not met with ‘I, Zombie’.

The winter levels are unique but limited

Despite this, with the levels you are able to play, the experience is both smooth and bug-free. I encountered almost no issues at all during my playthrough, and was impressed at the care taken in the gameplay design. Friendly and enemy AI are remarkedly intelligent (even if their available actions are limited) and I observed no instances of any friends or foes straying from their programmed roles. On occasion, the limited options available to the AI can lead to some chuckle-worthy moments (e.g. soldiers performing sudden 180 trickshots when approaching them from behind), but certainly with the allies at your disposal, their movement and actions felt incredibly responsive. I would have preferred a slightly different control scheme in order to enact commands more smoothly, but this is only a minor gripe, as with a bit of practice it is easy to become comfortable with the button-layout.

On the topic of minor gripes, I do want to talk about the sound design of ‘I, Zombie’. The SFX was fine, albeit fairly basic, and for the most part the game’s soundtrack was both complementary and un-invasive. That was until I felt a sense of familiarity with it. In a ‘Eureka!’ moment, it became blindingly obvious that I had heard the exact audio accompanying each level in countless YouTube videos. OK look, I understand that as an indie game, there may not be the personnel and/or budget to develop a completely unique soundtrack. But honestly, could the developers not have picked a less generic batch of tracks? I wish it was easier to convey this point through words, but seriously, just listen to the soundtrack when playing and I can promise you have heard it at least once before. In fairness, its hardly a terrible choice of audio, and it does fit the game rather well. However, the inclusion of such a generic soundtrack certainly added a sense of ‘cheapness’ to the game. Of course, this hardly affects the core gameplay experience, but much like my issue with the number of levels, the game feels somewhat incomplete in this regard.

A well-disciplined horde hunting down a patrolling soldier

Lastly, let’s get into probably what I would consider the most entertaining element of ‘I, Zombie’ – custom levels. Players are given the ability to create their own levels, which they can then upload and let others play and rate. The level editor is relatively straightforward, and so whether you want to create a level involving 20 zombies vs a single soldier, or one zombie’s lonely revolt against an army of turrets, you can do so with little difficulty. I did encounter one bug with this process, as I suddenly found myself unable to delete objects in the level editor, but in all honesty, this was likely my own fault after mashing a series of buttons. On the flip side, you are able to download and play other’s custom levels, which for the most part were created in the same vein as the first example I mentioned before. These are a lot of fun, and there is a real sense of catharsis in playing level-after-level where you outnumber your enemies 10:1. I do feel that the user experience could have been improved here, as having to individually download levels does become a bit tedious, but the inclusion of this mode at all far outweighs any issues with it. It is worth mentioning the inclusion of community leader-boards, but in all honesty, they are rather meaningless when you consider that the top 50 places are filled with people achieving the highest possible score. Again though, this was a nice touch from the developers.

All in all, I can certainly say I had a lot of fun playing ‘I, Zombie’, and especially with the post-game. The lack of levels is a notable issue with the game, but the inclusion of custom levels (almost) makes up for this. Of course, this is an indie game, but I do try to hold any game I play to high standard. I’m not saying every game has to be epic in scale, but I’m sure you can agree that regardless of the development budget, you would want a fully-fleshed out game at launch. ‘I, Zombie’ certainly has a lot of potential should the developers stick with it, and with some additional content and some polish to the user experience, they may have a fantastic game on their hands.

SUMMARY

+ Fun and engaging gameplay
+ Custom-levels add a lot of unique content
+ Fantastic level design
- Too few levels included
- Generic audio
- User experience could be smoother
Reviewed for Switch (also available on PC, PS4 and Xbox)

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