The ravening dead have returned and are out for more brains and biological tasties. As with the first game, Zombie Apocalypse, four survivors are trapped amidst a horde of undead and are searching for a way out/off the scenic Halfaux Island, Canada. Each of the survivors has his or her own reason for being stuck in the midst of the zomb-ocalypse, and each brings his or her own flair to the group. Additionally, the survivors’ progression to the end goes through a series of missions as opposed to the wave after wave of foes in the original.
As previously mentioned, the four survivors in Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone bring a little more personality with them – even if it can be a bit over the top at times. Jeremy is the gamer of the group, tossing out lols and noobs at his comrades, while Def Money brings a British rapper flavor. Father Bill is the shotgun wielding holy man while Alma is the sassy sniper that’s good with a wrench. During the game’s missions, they quip back and forth with one another in a way that’s very reminiscent of another zombie game, Left 4 Dead. While the writing isn’t nearly up to the same level, it’s still rather amusing and makes the (sometimes tedious) missions much more enjoyable.
Should you choose to go it alone, all four survivors will be available to play during the missions. You’ll select just one to play initially, with the computer taking control of the rest, but you’re free to switch to any of them at any point. Aside from the unique abilities that each survivor brings with him or her, which I’ll discuss in more depth in just a bit, changing to a different survivor also allows you to level up his or her abilities at the end of the mission. These abilities are spread across five different areas: speed, ranged weapon, melee weapon, special attack, and “slam” ability.
Everybody Wang Chung tonight! [Note: You will hear that song when you toss Def Money's boombox]
In order to level up these abilities, you’ll have to use them until they reach the next level, and then buy the upgrade in between missions with the piles of cash you collect from the undead masses. While this adds a nice RPG element to the affair, it also serves as a defining example of “grinding for levels.” If you want to max out each of the characters (something that needs to be done to some degree to make it through later levels), you’ll find yourself replaying some of the missions just to level up. There is a little incentive, though, to go back and visit familiar ground again as each mission has certain challenges to try and achieve that get easier the higher the characters’ levels.
Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone’s real strength lies in its co-op, elements of which are visible even in single player. As briefly mentioned previously, each of the survivors has his or her own unique abilities to help mow down the undead hordes. The four characters wield four different weapons - the SMG, shotgun, pistols, and high-powered rifle - and have different special attacks. Jeremy throws a C4-laden teddy bear, Def Money tosses a boom box that leads to a “Monster Mash,” Alma throws out a propane tank to be shot at the right moment, and Father Bill tosses Molotovs. They also each come with a “smash” attack to help out in those situations when the mass of foes gets to be too much. Individually, these four have a tough time of things, but together they are quite the formidable force.
If you're thinking, "gee, what's a zombie and what's anything else?" you're not the only one
The strength of Zombie Apocalypse NDA’s co-op extends to its freedom in allowing local and online players to team up and drop-in/drop-out as they please. A computer player fills any empty slots until filled by a player, either existing or new. While this allows just about anyone to play and enjoy the game together, there is one major catch. As you’re playing through the game with your friends, killing a plethora of undead, take note of one important fact: character progression, both story and level-wise, are only retained by the host account. This means that if you join another player’s game, he or she is the only one that benefits from a game perspective. It is the game’s biggest flaw and one that’s tough to overlook in this day of co-op gaming.
Zombie Apocalypse: Never Die Alone is definitely a worthy successor to its progenitor. It changed the formula a little by switching to a mission-based level structure and providing the characters more… well, character, but it also misses a few key steps. The leveling system can get tedious, the overall appearance of the game feels much darker than the first and it can be tough to see friends and foes, and saving the progression to the “host” player only all are flaws that are hard to ignore. Still, there’s a good deal of fun to be had with friends and Zombie Apocalypse NDA fills that gap in between this fall’s many releases quite nicely.