The lights are on
Not to be confused with Telltale Games’ episodic series or Activision’s upcoming first-person shooter, Gamagio and Skybound's The Walking Dead: Assault is yet another game based Robert Kirkman’s popular zombie universe. Assault doesn’t pave its own path through the zombie apocalypse, instead serving as an action-packed retelling of Kirkman’s long-running graphic novel series. The first episode, “Days Gone By,” chronicles Rick waking from his coma in a hospital room, and follows this journey through Atlanta to the particularly disturbing camp scene. Future episodes will continue the story.
Keeping the black and white tones of the comic series, and reminding comic book fans of Frank Miller’s fantastic Sin City run with zombies highlighted in red tones, Assault removes the “who can I trust” aspects and general suspense from Kirkman’s yarn, and replaces it with shotguns, headshots, and collectible stars. This top-down action game is all about killing zombies. While losing the identity of what the Walking Dead is truly about, splattering zombie brains is a hell of a lot of fun.
And there really isn’t much to it. You don’t have to line up headshots, and are never asked to fire a single shot. All you are asked to do is manage the movements of Rick and his cohorts. Double tap the screen in the desired location, and the selected character moves there. Hold your finger in this location and the entire team will converge, regardless of where you may have left them. Characters automatically open fire on walkers, but only if they breach a character’s weapon rage, denoted by a circular overlay cast onto the environment. Firearms offer more time for attack, whereas melee weapons can quickly make zombie skulls look as mushy as spoiled bananas.
AI pathing is a bit questionable, as characters sometimes have difficulty getting around objects. They look like ants scurrying headlong into an object, until finally deciding that a turn to the right or left will get them where they need to go. If you move through environments slowly, the pathing won’t affect your game too much. If a swarm of zombies burst through a door and surround Rick, you’ll probably want to call in other survivors, like Shane and Glenn, for help. These “every second counts” moments are where the AI can be frustrating.
Strategy is a large part of the experience. Leaving characters on their own is usually a bad idea – a hallmark feature of all zombie apocalypses. If you feel your character or group are about to be overwhelmed by zombie forces, a scan of the environment may save your life. Shooting a car sets off its alarm, which draws the zombies’ attention. While Rick and company are usually tasked to kill all of the zombies in an area to complete the level, other objectives are layered on top. A "saving a civilian" objective adds the element of time, as the team must stop the zombies from penetrating an area and eating the civilian.
Exploration is encouraged, but none of the levels are particularly big. Yellow stars known as “supplies” are scattered throughout the environments, and serve as the game’s currency. Supplies can be exchanged for extra characters (you can have four in the field at once), bumps to ammo, damage, health, and adrenaline attributes, and other perks like invincibility and explosive flairs. Camera rotation is smooth, and handled by placing two fingers on the screen and spinning them in the desired direction for rotation. Zooming in and out is also handled well. The map is blacked out with fog of war, and as you would expect, often reveals swarms of zombies behind its blanketed view.
I’m roughly halfway through the game, and I’m having a good time with its simple-yet-engrossing gameplay. Holding ground with guns ablaze as zombies approach is an exhilarating experience. The blood splatters they leave behind is a just reward for well-orchestrated tactics. The fourth level is where the game really starts to ramp up the difficulty. Dozens of enemies could be hidden behind a fog of war. When they are alerted of your location, you'll see red explanation points appear in the darkness, presumably over their heads. And then they emerge. Ammo conservation is key in this level. Picking which foes to crowbar or axe is a big part of the strategy.
Days Gone By offers 11 levels. From what I’ve seen thus far, none last for more than a few minutes. Replaying levels allows for more supplies to be collected, and better upgrades to be obtained. It’ll be interesting to see if these upgrades carry over to the second episode.
The Walking Dead: Assault is well worth a look for zombie-slaying purposes, but don’t go into it expecting the trademark Walking Dead experience. It's available now on iOS for $1.99.
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