Category Archives: Action / Adventure

REVIEW: Zombie Shotgun Massacre 3

Despite the ‘3’ in the title lending itself to a varied and (obviously) numbered progression, Zombie Shotgun Massacre 3 shares much in common with the previous entries in the series: a barely-clothed heroine battling the continually-spawning undead with a shotgun. It’s not a difficult formula, nor a particularly complicated one. From a marketplace standpoint, you could even say it’s the perfect formula. Breasts, zombies, violence; sounds like a winner.

Zombie Shotgun Massacre 3 - Screen

And in some ways, it works. Same as in the earlier games, ZSM3 stars the series’ titular1 ‘Alice’, a deadly, lingerie-laden fox armed to the teeth, slowly making the 2D streets (and the requisite Red Light District!) safe enough for everyone to walk around in their underwear… I think. There’s a very loose plot involving evil types and a missing friend, but the majority of the game has you patrolling the same few avenues, rescuing the same few citizens, and blasting the same few enemy types. Over and over. Oh, and sometimes, it rains.

The gunplay is adequate, if not terribly inspired. You walk, you line up your shot, and you fire. The game gives you other ways to dispatch the dead, although your arsenal is still pretty limited. Besides the default shotgun (just four rounds, and with most enemies taking three to four shots each to take down, you’ll be reloading… a lot), you have grenades and an AOE super move that can save your always-exposed skin in a pinch. Regrettably, the AI isn’t overly-complex; don’t get swarmed by a crowd, and you’ll be okay.

Even then, ZSM3 has you covered. Enemies typically drop cash, zombie DNA (which converts to cash), and grenade / health refills. Combine this with vending machines on each street, a gun shop, an Uber driver to take you back to HQ for cheap, and characters that can refill all your vitals for free (after you’ve rescued them, natch), and you’re safe to roam the streets with relative ease. Occasionally, you’ll encounter some lowbrow humor, like toothbrushes being used in unintended ways2, missing cats to wrangle up (again), or a stripper that gives you crabs3 after sleeping with her.

Zombie Shotgun Massacre 3 - Screen2

Indeed, tough choices lie ahead.

Still, the game’s biggest threat to you is tedium. A lack of interesting objectives (come on, another rescue mission… ugghh) and an emphasis on a slow, incremental grind means you’ll be spending several hours just doing the same damn thing. Which isn’t very fun, especially when there’s not much in the way of varied scenery or more involving combat. After you’ve shotgun-ed your thousandth zombie and / or hoofed your way to the far corner of the game’s map for the umpteenth time, you’ll have probably had enough.

Zombie Massacre 3 looks and feels solid at the outset, but spending any amount of significant time with it reveals it to be a repetitive slog, with very little in the way of rewards or a satisfying payoff. It’s certainly playable, and… you know… boobs4… but there’s simply much better zombie games on the market. Pass.

  1. I swear that’s not meant to be a pun… okay, fine, who am I kidding? It’s a pun. Tits! Whew. Glad I got that off my chest
  2. Ahem. Like as a vibrator, say. 
  3. Yes, the edible kind. Which you can then sell. What, you were expecting the STD? 
  4. The kids love ’em. 

REVIEW: Real Evil

The original Resident Evilcheesy dialog and all— probably holds an affectionate place in all our hearts. It’s a landmark game. Besides widely being considered the genesis of the ‘survival horror’ genre, its style and ideas inspiring hundreds of would-be homages and clones since, it’s hard to ignore any game with zombies in it1. Chris Antoni’s Real Evil ($1.00) wants to be a nostalgic, even campier, low-budget version of Resident Evil. Its heart is in the right place, but its complete reliance on that goodwill and nostalgia proves fatal.

Real Evil - Screen

It starts off promising enough. Real Evil‘s tale is a meta-story of sorts, involving a bland-ish robot plucked straight from your average XBLIG title and thrust into the real world without explanation. This sees you battling zombies on pre-rendered backgrounds (…fancy words for ‘pictures of someone’s house’) and searching for clues / items, complete with those inherently-awkward camera angles and a limited amount of ammo. Ah, Resident Evil, I remember you well.

Player movement is equally-awkward, taking its cues from the old-fashioned ‘tank controls’ the RE series was known for. It’s a less than effective scheme in hindsight, more about rotating slowly to face the direction you want. The combat animations for your robot are nifty but slow, meaning you’ll have to aim and fire pretty fast at some points to avoid a quick death (one hit = instant demise) or unseen foe.

As you explore, you’ll run across some basic puzzles, such as piecing together a computer password or maneuvering objects in the environment, and some nods to previous games by the developer. Well, it’s all highly self-referential, actually. You’re in on the joke if you’ve played most of the games referenced, but if you’re coming to Real Evil fresh, both the narrative and the gameplay are likely to feel bizarre or disjointed. One minute you’re fighting zombies in an attic, the next you’re staring into the void and facing off against cubed threats on a level ripped from Block King.

Real Evil - Screen2

Even with the shifting styles, Real Evil‘s biggest issue is its adherence to Resident Evil‘s ancient ideas regarding gameplay. The camera angles are a nuisance more than they are a fond memory, with the jarring transitions from room to room sometimes making it hard to tell if you’re hitting a target. To complicate matters, there is a limited amount of ammunition to find, with no way to attack enemies if you happen to run out. It’s entirely possible to trap yourself at a save point unarmed, making any future progress impossible.

That’s hardly a recipe for fun. Points go to the developer for the XBLIG-unique twist on an old formula, but the mishmash of games and ideas here don’t quite work. Add to this the frustrating viewpoints and an extremely-low tolerance for mistakes, and Real Evil‘s attempt at nostalgic survival horror feels bloated and just as dated as its inspiration.

  1. As XBLIG has come to know all too well. 

REVIEW: Dead War

The protagonist of Bandana GamesDead War ($1.00) is hard to get a read on. She’s on Death Row for murder at the start of the story, saved (ironically) by the onset of a zombie apocalypse. As you venture forth, you learn more about her and her background, shaping the character in subtle ways. Some of those decisions on her personality can be made by you throughout the storyline, choosing when and who to help. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but then again, it’s not often that XBLIG presents semi-complex characters in its games (let alone a zombie title). This was an unexpected surprise.

It could be said that those same ‘lowered expectations’ might apply to the genre itself. Zombies are old hat; mindless fodder led to the slaughter against whatever vast array of weaponry you find and whatever trumped-up reasons you’re given to do so. Thankfully, Dead War trounces some of your preconceived notions about what the game may or may not offer. It is a zombie shooter, but like Survivalist, any comparisons to other games like it on XBLIG end after that.

The game plays from an overhead perspective and controls like a twin-stick shooter, presented across seven fairly-large and varied levels / chapters. These environments take you from the prison you call home to an abandoned hospital, to darkened subway tunnels and a university full of stranded survivors, as well as a few more places in-between. Given its undead denizens and arcade-ish control scheme, you’d expect it to play more action-oriented. To my delight, Dead War focuses more on exploration, driven by bits of story and real objectives, rather than just waves and waves of zombies1.

And though it borrows a bit from RPGs and squad-based shooters2 in the process, I kept coming back to the sense that Dead War felt more like a roguelike in places. You need patience and a steady hand. Little things like a simple map are a luxury you need to earn / find. Rooms and corridors are deliberately kept hidden from view until you open the door / turn the corner, essentially leaving you blind— and on-guard— for most of the game. This cleverly forces you to explore your surroundings carefully, and interact with other characters to advance and fill in the story gaps (and your map).

Even gathering extra ammunition (corpses only yield so much) requires some tact, with boxes locked behind amusing, reflex-heavy minigames. Need money for supplies or a better gun? Civilian entrepreneurs would love to sell them to you, but you’ll have to gamble. You can bet and win money at various kiosks in the world, allowing you to try your hand at Blackjack, play the Slots, or damn the odds and lay down money on horse races3 (see below).

Granted, it’s hardly realistic, but it all makes for a nice change of pace from the standard zombie killing that other titles serve up on repeat. And while nothing here is graphically-intensive, the game works with what it has, making effective use of lighting and claustrophobic rooms to create tension when needed. Dead War‘s locales also contain plenty of optional storyline should you desire it, stored on computers and TV broadcasts scattered around the world, including a few humorous anecdotes about other games and media (there’s riffs on Resident Evil, The Walking Dead, Metal Gear, even Destiny4).

Side activities considered, it’s tempting to dismiss the game as ‘easy’, when really it can be quite difficult at times. The game strikes a nice balance between you being well-armed for any situation and encouraging you to conserve ammo5. Either way, you’ll want to play smart. In another nod to roguelikes, should you die or fail an objective at any point in the chapter, you’ll have to start the level from scratch. This could potentially wipe out the last half-hour or so of your progress. It’s maddening (Chapter 4 can be an annoying ‘escort’ mission), but it’s also fair. Nothing comes easy. Try to rush through this apocalypse, and Dead War will make you pay for it.

Dead War - Screen

Part of the charm is in that challenge, of course, and it’s that challenge (as well as its well-done ancillary bits and minigames / side missions) that allows the game to rise above its crowded genre. All told, you’ll probably need 5+ hours to see it all the way through. And you totally should. It takes a good amount of convincing— and quality game design— to get me excited about another zombie game. Dead War manages that and then some.

  1. Although you do get plenty of those, rest assured. Aside from the standard ‘vanilla’ type, you get the ‘green’ acid spitters and ‘red’ exploding zombies, which can put an end to you (and your squadmates) really quick. Tread lightly, and carry a big shotgun. 
  2. There’s only one chapter that uses ‘squad control’ to any great extent, and it’s actually more of a hassle than fun. The commands are spotty, and the AI loves to throw itself at danger (and refuse to retreat), so really, you’re better off just lone-wolfing it. 
  3. ‘Big Thanks’ to Bandana Games for naming a horse after the site! I didn’t expect that either, so I’m honored. 
  4. Admittedly, it’s become an addiction. Even though it’s not what I’d consider a ‘great’ game, I can’t stop playing the damn thing. 
  5. On a ‘Normal’ playthrough, anyway. I can’t speak for things on ‘Hard’ mode, because… well, I’m not cut out for real trouble. 

REVIEW: Space Assault

Fighting off the previously-reviewed Assault Ops for ‘most generic title’, the also-combative Space Assault ($1.00) features a generic every-soldier, doing battle with a host of alien machinery. Also, there is no ‘space’ in Space Assault, as far as I can tell. Every stage takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth-like planet. Well, you hop from one level to the next in a spaceship. Er… fine; there’s some ‘space’, but it’s still heavily terrestrial, hopping from and to a series of Earth-like planets, equally post-apocalyptic.  …You get the idea.

Space Assault - Screen

Regardless of the ratio of ‘space’ to ‘not space’, Space Assault is a third-person shooter. And the game’s description couldn’t be more applicable to the minute to minute gameplay: ‘Destroy the enemies, find the key, and enter in the portal‘. It is exactly this, unwavering in that dedication, with some slightly-altering scenery.

Each stage begins by dropping you in a large arena, either being shot at or soon to be. Your enemies are the standard, run-of-the-mill types (a mech, a drone, some kind of ‘gorilla’ mech, maybe?) and sparsely-animated1. Also, they are indistinguishable from a distance… and bullet sponges. Thankfully, combat isn’t required. You only need to find the key in each level, then head for the exit. Should you need it, there is a minimap, one you have to (bizarrely) seek out via an item pickup2, along with ammo and health refills.

It’s simple, if inherently repetitive. What this info and the static screenshots can’t show you, however, is how slow and clunky it all plays3Space Assault treats third-person shooters like it’s a brand new, still-developing genre. It has awful controls, a tank-style scheme that really doesn’t want you to turn effortlessly, or walk and aim at the same time, or have any fun with the combat. Its weapon ‘zoom’ goes too far, and hip-firing makes it hard to line up shots. While the game’s difficulty is tuned in your favor, you’ll certainly be fighting the controls more than your enemies.

Space Assault - Screen2

Complicating this is the character’s incredibly-slow movement speed, turning every level’s ‘key hunt’ into a protracted slog. In fact, you’re better off jumping through the entire level, …provided you don’t get caught up on any of the scenery. When you do finally nab the key and advance to the next planet, the game tallies your score and the process repeats ad nauseam.

Needless to say, Space Assault makes it extremely difficult for you to like it. The repetition is one thing, but the obnoxious controls, the bugginess, and the otherwise generally-sloppy design do nothing to help the cause. This game is a literal chore to play, and you should avoid it at all costs.

  1. Sort of like stop-motion animation, I guess. 
  2. Once you’ve found the minimap, important items like the key and exit portal are (somewhat) highlighted. It makes sense to keep these hidden from view, but then again, why bother with the map at all, if your real intention is to make players hunt down the key / portal on their own? It’s an odd system. 
  3. You can check out Splazer’s trial gameplay for that. 

REVIEW: Astralis

Long the theory and premise of almost every science fiction story ever told, we are definitely not alone in the universe. As our technology advances, and humanity yearns to stretch its corruptible arms across the greater heavens of interstellar space, we will finally learn the truth, for better or worse, and where we stand in the then much-larger food chain. According to Astralis ($1.00), the future of space travel is decidedly Russian (Putin doesn’t mess around), and has us meeting face to face with some very tough alien adversaries in the form of the Macropai.

As the unnamed and faceless Commissar, you’ve been sent to investigate the recent production troubles on a terraformed world far away from home, and find those responsible for the stoppage. You are essentially Judge and Jury and Space Marine all rolled into one badass package, which perhaps explains your exalted title. Unfortunately for all involved, those troubles are not of the human variety. Flying aliens have overrun the entire colony, placing nests near every major artery and complex. Most of the workers have perished, and the military (and its supplies) is scattered. Guess who’s just been promoted to de facto exterminator, comrade?

And exterminate you must. The entirety of Astralis is an open-world laundry list of cleanup objectives, mopping up one alien mess just to move on to the next. The helpful minimap and marker keep you on the path, with plenty of optional exploration to find ammo dumps, alternative weapons, and deserters to judge. Whatever route you travel, you’ll fight for every patch of ground you take. Your enemies are a smart bunch. Their resilience increases according to size (bigger guy = bigger trouble), and they come with some serious (and literal) teeth, attacking in packs and retreating to recoup health when damaged.

Almost a character all by itself, the environment on Tellaryn IV is among the most beautiful on XBLIG, with foreboding structures, gorgeous vistas, and a dynamic weather system that literally changes the color palette as you traverse, howling wind and heavy rains popping up without a moment’s notice, making an otherwise hostile alien world seem strangely all the more natural. While there’s no direct impact on the gameplay, it’s those little details in world construction that you silently appreciate.

Though it plays like almost any third-person shooter on console, the fact that it does is a testament to the controls and attention that went into the camerawork. For me, I never had to tweak the sensitivity, and I never once felt the action wasn’t perfectly framed. The shooting feels solid, and, regardless of weapon choice (shotgun, sniper, plasma rifle, etc.), incredibly effective. The challenge, too, is expertly balanced. Combat is combo-driven, with points / multipliers awarded for kills, which then translates to a save beacon you can place anywhere within the world. On Normal, you can fully enjoy the game without too much trouble, but the tentacled monstrosities really become a menace on the higher difficulties, where ammo conservation and a steady, tactical approach are vital.

Astralis - Screen

And you thought they smelled bad from far away?

Some minor quibbles. Given the world and surrounding set pieces, it’s a missed opportunity that Astralis doesn’t explain its universe a little more. Instead, it quickly ushers you from objective to objective, and any exposition given during the judgment conversations is kept largely superficial. Even the judgments themselves feel basic, with no real weight behind your decisions other than what you invent on your own. Points are handed out whether you forgive or punish. These are small nitpicks at best, mind you, and probably good news for the TL;DR set that abhors anything with a complicated plot, though I would’ve preferred more story.

Still, from the action / adventure viewpoint, the game is top notch. Easily the best third-person shooter available on the service, it’s worth so much more than the $1 it asks for. It’s like playing a really great N64 shooter during its heyday. And in a lot of ways, Astralis should be remembered as a landmark XBLIG, not just for its ideas, presentation, or its visuals, but as another title that turned the corner from simply being another independent game, or a copy of an existing property. Instead, it’s a game that shows what small teams with talent and dedication can produce, and their joy in creating and sharing that project reminds us why we pick up a controller to play them.