This post is from the now defunct website “A GameDev Plays…”, copied here for posterity
Is it a strategy game, or tower defense or orbital shooter? I’m not sure, but I do know that Atomic Zombie Smasher is a fun little game, that despite crossing multiple genres still manages to be simple to play, but hard to master.
Alert! There is a zombie outbreak in Nuevos Aires, as defense commander your task is to rescue civilians. Send your evacuation helicopter into infested city blocks and bring as many people as possible to safety. Various mercenary organisations may be available to help. Atomic Zombie Smasher is played in a top-down aerial square view of a few city blocks. Zombies are little pink squares and spawn at the edge of the map. Not many zombies spawn, but they head straight towards yellow civilians squares, and if they touch then the civilian becomes a zombie too. If there is a cluster of civilians then a fast cascade of zombification can result and rapidly turn the tide of the mission. The civilians are slow and generally just mill around, except for running towards helicopters and away from nearby zombies.
The actions normally available to the player are the initial positioning of the helicopter landing location and mercenary units. These mercenaries include the standards such as infantry, snipers and barricades, to the less common like bait lures and orbital strikes. During the mission, the player can reposition certain items while some others can be activated. For instance, bait can be placed to attract zombies and then that position can be targeted for an artillery strike. The game is quick and simple. Each missions only lasts a minute or two.
Using small squares to represent people works quite well with the scoring system, as the player soon starts making life and death as to saving certain groups at the expense of others. Maybe an artillery strike into that group of civilians about to be caught by zombies will allow another group to get away? Using an aerial view and little squares makes such choices seem less gruesome.
Each missions represents an attempt to save a particular part of the city; chosen by the player from a map showing the current zombie outbreaks. Rescuing civilians and controlling regions adds to the player’s score, while lost civilians and unresolved infestations add to the zombies’ score. These scores are shown on the victory track. As they progress various events may occur, like bigger zombies or unlocking orbital strikes.
This is where the strategy in the game comes in. Various regions have different levels of infections (corresponding to their difficulty). The player needs to chose where to try next - bigger rewards versus greater risks. There are also research options available to upgrade units. Plus each unit has a level associated with it. The more action it sees in a mission, the more experience gained, and at certain thresholds more upgrades are available.
This game is definitely repayable and has many progression options to try out. In addition to the upgrades, the maps are randomly generated. As are which mercenaries are available in each mission. Usually only half the units can be taken at a time, and the player does not chose which ones! Each mercenary unit has a different level of usefulness, trying to work out a plan when your preferred mercenaries are not available can be a challenge. There never seems to be quite enough of what you need, although it seems to balance well in the end. So far all my games have been close.
When starting a new game there are many options available such as being able to choose which mercenaries are available, or having more zombies. Although, it does not seem possible to make the game significantly easier. Selecting all “easy” options just jumps the player straight into mid-game difficulty missions from the start.
There is also a story in the game. Although it is told in short little comic-book vignettes. Unlocked out of order after successful missions, I have yet to see the whole thing (as their are gaps in my copy for as-yet-unseen vignettes). Although it does appear to be a humorous and diverting little addition to the game.
It is hard to think of anything negative about this game. Perhaps it makes the zombie apocalypse to much fun? It is a well designed, simple, yet very challenging game which has great replayability. The surf music is good, the brightly coloured graphics are visually appealing. It is a great game well worth a try.
Atomic Zombie Smasher is available at the Steam store on PC, Mac and Linux for US$9.99. It has been bundled many times.