Some things are released into the world brimming with potential but ultimately unfinished or broken in some fundamental manner. Frankenstein’s monster. The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Battlecruiser 3000 A.D. Add War of the Zombie [$2.99] to the list. War of the Zombie is a game brimming with great ideas that are held back by a combination of annoying bugs and poorly implemented features. The problems aren’t game-breaking for the most part, but they definitely detract from the overall experience. Despite its flaws, War of the Zombie is a game very much worth trying if you have a few spare dollars lying around. Even in its currently flawed state, the game gets enough right to provide at least a few hours of outstanding play time.
War of the Zombie is a zombie strategy simulation game that combines elements from squad based tactical, real time strategy, simulation and role playing games. The game is split into two phases: squad-based combat and base management. Your base takes the form of the Ark, a huge double-runway aircraft carrier that roams the world as a roving independent country. The Ark is owned by Safe Industries, a presumably shadowy corporation that ostensibly strives to stop a rapidly spreading zombie apocalypse but in reality advances its own hidden agenda at all times. On the surface, Safe Industries is a private security company that earns its living working for countries around the world. You assume the cheestastic title of Global Operations Director. Yep. You’re G.O.D. It’s you against the world and you have an army, a gargantuan aircraft carrier and an arsenal of weapons to advance your agenda.
You begin the game on the tactical screen, which looks very similar to the main screen world map used in Plague Inc. [$0.99]. From the tactical screen, you can issue orders, move the Ark around the world and assess your strategy. The tactical screen uses an easy to understand icon system to let you know whether a country is hostile, friendly or indifferent. From the tactical screen you can navigate to subscreens for selecting squad mates, equipping marines, purchasing equipment and weapons, monitoring world communications and choosing missions.
Understanding how to play the game is a bit of a struggle at first. War of the Zombie has an excellent tutorial that explains the tactical squad-based portion of the game and gives you some extra money for making it through to the end. What the game lacks is ANY tutorial for the far more complicated management portion of the game. There is a glossary that explains some things, but it isn’t apparent at first that you can do things like move the Ark, engage in negotiations, replay scenarios or attack hostile countries. It takes a lot of guesswork to understand the tactical portion of the game and its many intriguing features. Why do I have an “infect country” feature? What happens if I engage in diplomacy with a hostile country? What happens if I move the Ark within striking distance of several hostile countries? None of this is explained and it forces you to engage in a lot of guesswork.
Although combat and management are real-time, there is a pseudo turn-based overlay that limits you to one major action per day. Each turn begins at the dawn of a new day. It’s a well thought out system that works fine and helps keep everything manageable.
Each day, you have a small number of squad-based missions to choose for your marines. Mission variety is excellent and requires a variety of tactics. Some missions require you to rescue diplomats, doctors or scientists from cities infected with zombies. Others have you sneaking through streets and alleyways looking for nukes while avoiding heavily armed militias that can take you down in an instant. In other missions you’ll be tasked with clearing infected countries of zombies. Each mission has a primary and secondary goal. The secondary goal is usually to clear all zombies, although this is frequently a tedious chore not worth the small reward as some cities have thousands of zombies to kill. Rescuing diplomats and scientists provides the added benefit of improving skills like research and diplomacy. Controlling your squad is as simple as choosing who you want from a menu and tapping the point on the screen you want them to reach.
Once you’ve rescued everyone, or once a certain amount of time has passed, you call in a Chinook helicopter to take everyone back to the Ark. Time is of the essence because the zombies actively hunt and kill civilians at the same time you are on your search and rescue missions. Rescuing as many civilians as possible is important. The more civilians you rescue, the more money you earn. One great feature in the squad based missions is an automatic win if you kill all the zombies in a given scenario. It’s great that the game doesn’t force you to manually find every survivor if all the zombies are dead.
At the beginning of each squad-based mission, you choose a team of four marines, equip them and drop them into a hostile zone by helicopter. War of the Zombie contains some RPG elements for marines. As your marines gain experience, you can upgrade attributes like constitution, bravery and stamina to improve their performance in later missions.
Everything is viewed from a birds-eye view. The game has a nice infrared map feature that lets you see where every zombie and living person is on the screen with the building roofs peeled back. Apparently, these zombies are hot-blooded because they show up in infrared. Your marines are easy to find because they wear little pastel-colored helmets and have pulsating rings that move with them to make them stand out against the background.
The game has some cleverly thought out features that make the world feel surprisingly alive. If you shoot living people, they turn into zombies after a few seconds and begin lumbering after you. Civilians run around panicked until you rescue them, but back up slowly if they run into zombies.
The tactical game graphics aren’t super-detailed but they do a nice job portraying infected cities and the people in them. The zombies are a solid red color so they’re easy to find. Civilians are solid green. As mentioned earlier, your squad members have different colored helmets and character rings so you can find them easily and distinguish among them.
You can ignore the squad-based missions if you prefer on any given turn and engage in diplomacy, scavenge cities for supplies or infect cities with the zombie plague. Scavenging and infecting countries requires specialized aircraft that you can purchase in the store. The shadowy nature of Safe Inc., is most apparent in the infect country feature. Why would a corporation committed to stopping a zombie apocalypse infect an entire country with a zombie virus? The game doesn’t explain the reason for this vicious tactic, but it seems to be used to bring a hostile country to its knees before going in and destroying the zombies. The only downside to this tactic is it requires a $50 million airplane that is extremely susceptible to enemy air defenses. Money is easy to earn in the game, but it takes a lot of time to amass enough funds for major weaponry. Losing a $50 million aircraft can be a big deal and necessitates lots of mission grinding to recoup your losses.
The world of War of the Zombie is a dynamic place. Hostile countries will attack you if you move too close to their coastlines. It’s not unusual to have a hostile country launch an air strike against the Ark. Fortunately, you can arm the Ark with its own fighter jets for air defense. The game does a great job of using flashing red lights and pulsing colors to alert you that an attack is incoming. It’s convenient that your air defenses deploy automatically as long as you have the right equipment. Friendly and neutral countries, on the other hand, don’t seem to do much. Also, there are no other naval vessels in the game. It’s odd that you have the only ship on the seas.
The best part of the game is its sheer scope and size. War of the Zombie is a big game that spans the entire globe. You can move the Ark anywhere in the world to obtain new missions, build alliances and acquire new equipment. The game has dozens and dozens of squad-based missions along with numerous opportunities to interact with countries around the world. Although the interactions with countries are rather spare, these minimal contacts manage to maintain the illusion of a broader conflict engulfing the entire world.
On the downside, the game is filled with bugs, glitches and design flaws. Here is a partial list of some of the problems I encountered in the game: Random crashes. Lost save game data. Frozen screens. Completed missions reappearing. Lag. Orders to move the Ark not working. Earned money not showing up in your account. Rescue helicopter command not always working.
Then there is the awful path-finding. Even after an update that improved things, Marines don’t follow orders effectively. You can’t choose formations for your squadron. Marines move as a group clumsily working their way around the scenery. Rescue missions are even worse because the people that need rescuing tend to get hung up on the scenery. You spend way too much time repositioning your squad in micro-movements so you can herd everyone sheep-like to a helicopter pick-up zone.
An even bigger problem is that you can’t leave rescued civilians in one place if you send one member out as a scout. You can send any number of squad members out and leave the others in one place, but the civilians stupidly follow any teammate who is on the move. Having civilians following you around at all times raises the possibility of them getting killed by zombies and reducing your payday. The game would benefit sorely from “follow” and “stay” commands for civilians.
Also, there seems to be some kind of problem with your fourth marine getting lost in later stages. When marines move, they tend to move single file unless they are maneuvering around scenery. The last marine in line tended to get lost on screen and move super slowly. A lost marine is a big problem because you’re Chinook won’t leave a cleared zone without everyone on board. No man left behind is a pain in the butt in this case.
Finally, there are some glaring balance issues with the gameplay. Some primary missions have you clearing cities of zombies. The problem is that these missions require you to kill thousands of zombies. Later in the game you can save enough money for nukes, but early on you have to rely on your four teammates and a few missiles that have limited effectiveness. The financial reward for clearing cities is immense, so you need these missions. The game balance is so off, however, that you can just park you marines in the middle of a city and let the zombies come to them. With autofire on, your marines shoot any zombie that comes near them. It helps that the AI knows to move your marines out of the way of zombies who come too close. You can leave the game running for a couple of hours while you do something else, come back and find the level completed. I’m doing it as I write this paragraph.
The game has no IAPs. I know it’s heresy to say this, but I almost wish the game had reasonably priced IAP features to allow you to purchase in-game currency. Look, I don’t want to pay all kinds of extra money for any game. It’s just a little too hard to gather enough money to purchase the cool weapons, like a $750 million stealth bomber for nuking zombie-infested or hostile countries. This is a great game and I wouldn’t object to supporting the development of more games like this. And, yes, I see the obvious. The developer could just make it easier to earn money in an update.
I played on an iPod 5 and an iPad 3. The game plays well on either device, but the bigger screen on the iPad is definitely better.
I really love War of the Zombie. I just wish it didn’t have so many flaws and broken features. The game is clearly a victim of its own lofty ambition to create as comprehensive a squad based tactical RTS game as possible on the iOS platform for under $3. It is extremely playable but it has a tendency to fail you in rather inopportune ways. Even with all the broken features, I couldn’t help but love the game because I could see that it was trying to create a fully featured gaming universe in miniature. Here’s hoping a couple of updates help the game realize its potential.
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