Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Block Zombies! (XBLIG): "A Voxel Zombie Shmup With A Plot Twist"

These days you can find a new zombie based video game for almost any console. They are just like the undying creatures they are based on. For the most part you'll find that most zombie games follow a similar pattern with a horror-survival theme. Some zombie game developers have even taken the shmup (shoot 'em up) route. It's nice to see that there's still room for creativity in the genre though as 'Nostatic Software' has proved with their latest game "Block Zombies". Block Zombies combines both horror-survival elements, and unique objective based shmup style gameplay with a story unlike any zombie game I have witnessed thus far. With that being said I do realize that I'm a little late getting the review out there, and once again it's due to my way of contacting the developer. I still hope you enjoy the review, and that it gives you enough insight on the game to allow you to make an educated decision as to if it's the kind of game you'd like to own or not.

Block Zombies is a semi-overhead shmup with voxel style graphics. It follows the simple story of a girl who awakens to a large crash outside her house. What she finds is a glowing crystal, and an end of the world scenario that could easily be described as an alien invasion. The girl wakes up ready to fight as she goes outside to check on the ruckus with her father's pistol in hand. This is where the story ends, and the action begins. Once outside you take control of the voxel girl as she tries to destroy all of the glowing green crystals, and protect herself from the zombified citizens. Your goal as the voxel girl is to rid the world of the crystals, and ultimately save the day. You (the gamer) accomplish this by completing objectives in order as they appear on the map's display. The objectives include destroying crystals, and then killing alpha zombies with acquired weapons. Doing this will eventually lead you to the main source of the alien/zombie mayhem, and allow you to complete your quest of saving the world.

Gameplay in "Block Zombies" is easy to pick up on, but does require some getting used to. The control scheme isn't your basic shmup (dual thumbstick) setup. Instead the controls are a little more complicated, and use nearly all of the controller's buttons to operate. I'm not going to go into detail about the controls simply, because I'd probably confuse you. The good news though is that the game offers a good controller diagram with button descriptions/functions. Aside for the controls the game also offers a small arsenal of available weapons, and upgrades that can be obtained through dropped items from the zombies. You actually begin the game with only a pistol (infinite ammo), and acquire new weapons after you kill a certain amount of zombies. If I remember correctly the game has five guns (pistol, shotgun, SMG, flamethrower, RPG), and three types of sub-weapons (flare, grenade, mine). All of the weapons can be upgraded in various ways (power, clip size, fire rate, effectiveness) by obtaining dropped weapons parts. Ammo can also be collected by picking up red, and blue voxels in the same manner. Health als plays a huge role in the game. You have a health meter that lowers in level as you get hit. There are health refills that can be gathered the same way as the ammo, and weapons parts though.

The game features objective based gameplay that will have you heading to certain spots on the map in a specific order. When the game begins you will take out the first crystal that is nearest to your home, and then the alpha zombies that are located nearby. The game follows this same pattern of taking out a crystal, and then killing the alpha zombies throughout the entire game. You will continue to do this same pattern of gameplay until you reach the final set of crystals, and end the game. As simple as this may sound it isn't that easy. You'll encounter hordes of various/unrelenting zombie creatures that come in different shapes, sizes, and that even move in different speeds. Learning how to utilize your weapons in the best manner will save you a lot of trouble and dying. With that being said there's really no game over within "Block Zombies". You simply return to the last crystal you destroyed. This can definitely prove to be a hardship though since sometimes the next objective is a good distance away from the last crystal you destroyed.

The graphics in "Block Zombies" has a sort of retro feel to it. At one point during the game's menu screen it even has that classic grindhouse screen filter going on. For the most part though the game is built entirely of voxels (3D pixels). Even details like the flames from the flamethrower are made of voxels. I definitely like the approach that 'Nostatic Software' took. The voxel appearance really made this game stand out from the other zombie shmups I have reviewed. The overall look to the game definitely suits the story that is being told. The sound effects included in "Block Zombies" are simple but accent what's going on quite nicely. The zombies moan throughout the game in various tones, and the explosions/gunfire even have their own sound effects.

In conclusion I found "Block Zombies" to be a thoroughly enjoyable game. It offered escape from the normal zombie titles that plague the video game marketplace. I ended up doing a playthrough in one sitting (about 2 hours), but I definitely had a fun time doing so. With that being said the game isn't without flaws. Often times I found some serious lag when I destroyed a crystal, or finished of the last alpha zombie for a given region. It didn't hinder gameplay, but it was very noticeable. Considering that it didn't really effect the outcome of the game, I could easily overlook that flaw. I also found the game to have a little replay value. This mainly involved acquiring the game's 18 trophies, one of which is a mystery. In the end I think "Block Zombies" is worthy of a purchase. While it's not a lengthy game, it does offer a quality gaming experience.

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